Transfer Of Funds To OFD Sparks Debate

OSWEGO, NY – A resolution to transfer $100,000 to the Oswego Fire Department was approved 5-2 at Monday’s Common Council meeting.

The funds will be used to cover the costs of fire department personnel performing code enforcement duties, according to Chief Jeff McCrobie.

Councilors Shawn Walker (Fourth Ward) and Bill Barlow (Fifth Ward) voted against the transfer.

“I believe the system right now is broken,” Barlow said, adding that he thinks the fire department is spending too much time with commercial sites and not enough time with the (dilapidated) buildings. “It’s almost like they are driving by the dilapidated house to go downtown, to go to the hotel, things like that. I think our priorities are a little backwards. I think we need a more business friendly system. I don’t think we’re there now.”

He would support bringing back a “restructured” code enforcement department that would focus more on rentals, he added.

First Ward Council Fran Enwright said he’s been working with the fire chief on this and other issues.

The city is on the road to eliminating much of the overtime and comp time in the fire department, he pointed out.

“I support this (transfer) with the knowledge that we’re working for the better good. We’ve invested a lot in code in our fire department and I’d hate to throw that all away,” he said.

Third Ward Councilor Mike Todd agreed that he’d like more attention paid to the rental properties. But also noted the current is more financially efficient than the code enforcement office was.

“I’ve got to support this just because I don’t want to see us go backwards. We’re starting to see progress,” he said. “I think we’re starting to go in the right direction.”

“These guys are getting overtime and our taxpayers will be paying that for the life of that person,” Walker pointed out. “That’s where it’s hurting everyone. That retirement is killing us.”

“I’m pretty happy with the appreciation that most of the (councilors) showed on the resolution,” McCrobie said following the meeting. “I stand behind the job we’re doing. We have come a long way in getting this organized, and it’s not perfect, but I really like the job that we’re doing. Just the other day, an engine company is coming back from a call and spots a problem with the YMCA – that’s what happens when you have people out and about with different forms of code training.”

The chief added that he does take “a little bit of offense to a councilor who says we’re menacing downtown businesses.”

What they are doing is the fire inspections that they do every couple of years, he explained. “We’re not menacing by any stretch of the imagination.”

He said the department would love to spend more time in the neighborhoods (checking on rentals).

“And, I think we’re going to get there,” he said. “It’s complaint driven. We’re all over the place on it. We can’t get to all these complaints in time and it is a fine line to try to do it all on duty.”

If someone is going to do an inspection, but they get an emergency call – the call trumps the inspection, the chief said.

“It’s not a perfect situation, but I’m extremely proud of the job that the whole group is doing,” he said.

“Right now, codes is being used as an overtime tool,” according to Barlow. “If you’re going to abolish the department, the first thing I wouldn’t do is give it to a department that can use it to log overtime with.”

The way things are being down currently is repellent to businesses, “it’s not helping convince businesses to come here,” Barlow added. “We reconstruct and redevelop departments all the time. Why couldn’t we say this is our focus, our focus is rentals, dilapidated rentals rather than just abolish the department?”

“It was all complaint based. That’s how they (code enforcement) did their job. And, it should have been different,” Walker said. “We could have gone in there and reorganized the whole group. It didn’t happen that way.”