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Oswego mayor at odds with fire department over jobs, overtime

Matt Richmond/Innovation Trail

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow is fighting with the city's fire department. He recently issued an executive order directing the department to stop its in-house practice of giving more overtime shifts to senior members, which he said costs the city far more than if it was distributed evenly.

“For too long the culture of the fire department allowed this pension padding to occur where firefighters were encouraged and allowed to take as much overtime in their last years before retirement thus increasing their pension benefits," Barlow said in a press release. "I put an end to this practice.”

And in Barlow's 2017 budget proposal, he calls for the elimination of several firefighter jobs to help the city make up a  budget shortfall.

For 20 years, Oswego has received an annual payment of $1 million from the Onondaga County Water Authority's purchase of a Lake Ontario water tunnel. That contract is now over. To cover the deficit, Barlow has proposed raising property taxes by 3.87 percent and cutting 16 firefighters positions, saving the city $970,000. That will leave 10 firefighters per shift, which Barlow said is enough.

"I contend that you will not see any difference in the quality or level of service that the taxpayer receives and ultimately the big picture is I'm making the city of Oswego Fire Department the same size of other departments and municipalities comparable to the size of Oswego," Barlow said.

Barlow said anyone laid off could work part time which would also reduce overtime expenses. Fire chief Jeff McCrobie said he could spare a few more jobs with retirements, but he said other departments should share the burden of budget cuts.

"I know he's in a tough spot," McCrobie said. "It seems like an awful lot on emergency services. I can't say we agree on everything."

However, Barlow notes that his budget also cuts a lieutenant position in the police department. 

Negotiations over the proposed $47,886,284 budget are ongoing. The Common Council will vote on August 22.

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.