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Oswego residents angry over hike in water and sewer fees

Payne Horning
A packed room of Oswego residents spoke against and in favor of increased sewer and water rates the city hopes will pay for its required infrastructure repairs.

Anger was palpable at Oswego's Common Council meeting Monday evening over an increase in sewer and water rates. 

Many in the crowd voiced their displeasure with the Council for its December vote that increased flat water rates by $212 a year and metered rates by $152 a year. Some residents feel the cost of living in the city is becoming too high.

"I've lived here in Oswego for 70 years. I'd like to know when it is all going to end. I called my councilor, as it's always suggested to do. My councilor said to me, 'Darlene, it's going up next year and it's going up the year after that and the year after that. He said, 'I recommend you move out of Oswego,'" said Darlene, a member of the crowd.

Former Oswego Councilor Michael Todd, who introduced the resolution to the council in December, said the rates are going up because of decades of inaction from previous administrations.

"For forty years, the DEC [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] and the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] started coming to the city of Oswego and said 'you have to stop dumping raw sewage into the lake,'" Todd said. "The administrations looked at it, the cost of fixing the problem was exorbitant. They all ignored it."

The two agencies have ordered the city to update its antiquated wastewater treatment plants and pipelines and to separate its sewer and storm water systems in an attempt to end sewage pollution into Lake Ontario. The $87-million "consent decree" project is about halfway done.

"It’s their schedule, what they want done, how much they want done, the capacity levels that they want the wastewater treatment plant to be able to handle," said current Oswego Councilor Eric VanBuren. "Those are all of the things that we are now doing on their terms, not ours."

VanBuren said the city's hands are tied. But, members of the public like Cindy Snyder said the council should have explored other options for raising the money.

"They need to research other ways of paying the money that is needed to fulfill the consent decree besides passing it onto the taxpayers," Snyder said.

Councilor Pat McLaughlin, who initially voted for the hike, said he made a mistake. Now, he plans to draft a bill for next week's meeting that would rescind the new rates.

"The next step is to get together as a council and try to adopt a way to raise money from areas that haven’t been touched," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin and Oswego Mayor William Barlow said the council should look at potentially increasing the rates for businesses that use larger amounts of water. Even so, Todd said the rates will go up. If not now, then certainly later on.

"The only solution the federal judge has given us is to raise rates," Todd said. "Anybody that thinks you don't have to raise rates, that there's some way around it - it's just theatrics."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.