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New Oswego mayor faces several financial crises

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Payne Horning
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WRVO News
New Oswego Mayor William Barlow addresses a crowd of city residents who were upset with a hike in sewer and water fees.

Oswego's new mayor, William Barlow, said 2016 is a new beginning for the port city.

At his inauguration ceremony, Barlow wasted no time acknowledging that the Port City faces several uphill battles tied to city's finances. Still, he said the community has faced adversity before. Others, like former Common Councilor Michael Todd, are not quite so optimistic.

"There’s so many fires to put out, people are doing triage to try and fix what few things they can fix because the problem is so great and there’s no clear solution," Todd said.

Todd notes that Oswego is only halfway through its $87 million dollar consent decree. It's a federal mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to update the city's sewer pipelines and water treatment plants. It's causing a hike for rate payers that has some residents up in arms. In other bad news, a long-running contract with the Onondaga County Water Authority, which has supplemented Oswego's budget with an annual $1 million check for decades, expires this year.

"Immediately for the 2017 budget, which will be my first budget as mayor, we will be $1 million in the hole," Barlow said in an earlier interview.

Barlow said he will cut overtime costs to help make up that loss, but Todd said ultimately, it will result in tax hikes or major service cuts.

And finally, to top it all off, Oswego County is losing one of its major employers as Entergy plans to close the Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant this year or early next. Barlow was elected the day after that announcement was made. Even in the wake of that news, he said the future was still bright for Oswego.

"Obviously, I know in my first four years there are going to be all sorts of challenges," Barlow said. "This is obviously the first one. I look forward to coming up with ways - working my way through whatever may come my way. The city of Oswego is resilient."

Outgoing Mayor Tom Gillen said Barlow's youth (he's 25) could be a benefit or detriment for the city.

"I think young people bring an energy, enthusiasm and a new perspective. I also think they may not have some of the life experience that you’re going to need every now and then," Gillen said. "But, I tell you. He’s going to get a lot of life experience in the next four years."

Despite Oswego's many challenges, Gillen, too, is optimistic about the future. He notes that Oswego sales tax revenues are up and it is now off New York state's distressed city list.

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.