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Oswego's tax cap could make budget process more transparent, efficient

Gino Geruntino
Republican Fifth Ward Councilor Billy Barlow (second from left) says the new five percent tax cap will make the city more efficient. (file photo)

Oswego city voters overwhelmingly approved a five percent tax cap on Election Day, and some lawmakers say they are on board with the new law, which they hope will bring more accountability and efficiency to the annual budget process.

Republican Fifth Ward Councilor Billy Barlow says he's excited to see the city's new five percent tax cap in place. But it isn't just about the city's taxpayers drawing a metaphorical line in the sand regarding the city's budget.

Barlow says the new law gives councilors more time to make thoughtful and prudent decisions with how it spends money.

"Just scanning through the budget, there's a lot of questions I have and a lot of stuff that I think requires thought," Barlow explained. "And for us to crunch it in the last, you know, if we start the budget process in late October or early November, that gives us not a whole lot of time."

The new law mandates that the city's mayor have a budget ready by August 1 and approved by the Oswego Common Council by August 31. If the budget has a property tax increase above the five percent threshold then it has to go on the ballot to be approved by voters.

Barlow says the downside is that some of the numbers the city needs to plug into its spending plan will not be available before August. But he says if the city can put together a loose budget in the spring and come up with goals, the process could be more efficient and transparent.

"Is it going to make the budgeting process maybe more difficult for us? I think so," Barlow said. "Does it take some say away from the councilors? Sure it does, because now the public has more say. But I don't think the seven of us, I don't think anybody disagrees that the public shouldn't have a significant say in the budgeting process."

He says it will help the city make better spending decisions without threatening cuts to items that improve the city's quality of life.

"Once we do those things, if a substantial tax increase is warranted, then we may have to make some difficult decisions," Barlow said. "But with this tax cap put in place, I think the duty of the council and this administration is to just be as efficient as we can. However that affects the budgeting process, we're going to have to do it to stay under the cap."

The new law will be applied to this year's budget, though city councilors say the budget, which will be formally presented on Monday, includes a tax increase lower than the cap.