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Politics and Government

Oswego adopts 2017 budget, slashing 16 firefighter positions

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Payne Horning
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WRVO News
Oswego Firefighter Association President John Geraci galvanizes a group of firefighters and citizens to oppose the city's proposed cuts to the fire department ahead of the Oswego Common Council's vote Monday night.

Despite pleas from a passionate crowd, the Oswego Common Council approved a budget Monday night that will eliminate 16 firefighter jobs and a city department next year. The city was facing a major budget deficit because a contract with the Onondaga County Water Authority for the sale of a water tunnel connected to Lake Ontario, which had provided the city with an annual  $1 million payment for 20 years, has expired.

At a public hearing ahead of the council's meeting, citizens begged the city's leaders to look for an alternative to slashing 16 jobs, including 8-year-old BrookeTrevett who offered up $40 of the money she has saved for a puppy to help the city fund the department.  

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Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
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WRVO News
Eight-year-old Brooke Trevett asks the Oswego Common Council to avoid eliminating 16 firefighter jobs at the budget hearing. She handed over $40 of her "puppy savings" to help fund the department.

"Can you not cut the firefighters," Trevett asked. "I have money to help the firefighters."

Barlow said trimming the Oswego Fire Department will put the city in line with other municipalities of comparable size.

"Ultimately, we were after a restructure of the fire department and it just so happened that the savings of 16 positions was $970,000 in a time when we had a $1 million deficit," Barlow said. 

The council also made more than $360,000 in additional cuts to the budget last night, most of which came as the result of the elimination of the city's Planning and Zoning Department. Those savings were applied to reducing the property tax increase to 1.97 percent. The total budgets cuts will reduce a financial burden on residents who Barlow said have endured nearly 60 percent in tax hikes over the last four years.

"I think that the average city taxpayer they may not like cuts to the fire department, but they want to see cuts city wide," Barlow said. "They contemplate month to month if they can afford their house. That's a real-life situation and I think they're finally seeing what they want to see out of city government: that's the tough, hard decisions being made."

Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie said the department will likely only have to actually fire about a dozen from his staff because of attrition, but he said that doesn't make it any easier.

"I'm looking at the room tonight and I know who's going and who's not," McCrobie said with tears in his eyes. "It's taken its toll more than we thought."

But others in the crowd expressed anger over the vote. Retired firefighter Gary Richardson yelled at Barlow after the meeting that he wanted to see a recall of the mayor. Oswego Firefighters Association President John Geraci blamed Barlow and the councilors for not working with his union to find another solution. 

"Isn't there a better way than sending 16 people home? There's federal funds, there's grants out there that are meant for just these reasons," Geraci said. "Had we been given a little more than 10 days notice that this was going to happen, those could have been secured and the city could have stayed protected."

But even with grants or other state and federal resources, Barlow and the council maintained that it would only offer temporary relief.

"We can't keep kicking the can down the road because then we'll just be back here next year," Council President Shawn Walker said.