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Oswego plans for much quieter tax season compared to 2013

Gino Geruntino
Oswego Common Coucil members talk during a meeting. (file photo)

Property owners in the city of Oswego were hammered last year with a 43 percent property tax increase. But this year, the city's mayor says he expects a much more pleasant result for the city's taxpayers, citing several positive changes in the city.

Nearly one year ago, Mayor Tom Gillen and the Oswego Common Council were heavily criticized for their passage of the massive tax hike.

"We were looking at a policy of diminishing revenue streams, diminishing assessed property values and increased costs, whether it was retirement or healthcare and benefits for city employees, and an aging infrastructure, ergo, the consent decree," Gillen said. "So we had a lot of expenses on the board, but not a lot of revenue to offset that."

Since then, there has been a lot of attention paid to the city's finances. Gillen says the tax hike helped Oswego manage several bills it has to pay in the coming years, including $12 million it owes National Grid from a prior agreement, and its ongoing consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We've adjusted and taken on some difficult financial situations and we've come up with working solutions for them," Gillen explained. "So I'm pretty pleased with that."

The mayor says the city is enjoying an increase in collected sales tax revenue this year, compared to 2013. The city's bond rating has also improved because of Oswego's recent financial decisions.

"So going forward, I think what we did was we re-centered this," Gillen said. "So now we're basically a very stable economy, our bond rating has gone up, we're not in fiscal stress. Our rating has improved because of some of the decisions we've made."

Common Council Vice President Eric Van Buren agreed, saying the city has been taking a more proactive approach to its operations.

"We've been paying attention to our revenue streams and the projections that we have there, as well as watching a lot of our expenses," Van Buren said. "You know, I think a lot of the changes we've made over the year has helped keep the budget in check. We've done a lot of restructuring. We've looked at a lot of departments very closely."

But next year's budget is not set in stone yet. Gillen says he still needs to analyze each department's finances with the city's chamberlain and will present his formal budget in November.