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Sewer agreement has Oswego mayor, council at odds

Payne Horning
The Oswego Common Council and mayor are at odds over a sewer agreement with the adjacent town of Oswego. The council voted to rescind the contract, claiming they were misled when it was initially approved in October, and the mayor has now vetoed that move

The Oswego Common Council and mayor are fighting over a proposed housing complex for students at SUNY Oswego that may now be in jeopardy. The council voted Monday to rescind a sewer agreement with the town of Oswego that would have affected the project. But now the mayor has vetoed the council's move, adding to what is already a contentious battle.

The off-campus student housing complex is still in the planning stages. It would include up to 320 beds in town house-style units. The private developer had hoped to connect to one of the town of Oswego's sewer districts for the project. But several Oswego councilors say they were not aware of that when they approved a contract this October to treat the town of Oswego's sewage. Councilor John Gosek said he feels he was misled.

"We point blank asked the city attorney if this sewer agreement would allow the student housing development to hook up and if it was connected and we were told in no uncertain terms no," Gosek said. 

Gosek said he and his fellow councilors are "not necessarily" against the housing project. He said the council just wants the chance to review who taps into the city's sewer districts on a case-by-case basis.

But Mayor Billy Barlow says this is really about opposition to the student housing project. He suggested that the council had been lobbied by landlords afraid of the potential competition. 

"I do think what the council did is really stupid," Barlow said. "I think they will have a hard time explaining to their residents in the city who pay the highest water and sewer rates of everyone around of why they turned down additional revenue not from city residents, that’s a battle they’ll face." 

Barlow vetoed the council's vote Tuesday after Oswego City Attorney Kevin Caraccioli warned the move would leave the city open to a lawsuit. Carracioli denies ever telling the council that the student housing complex couldn't fall under the sewage agreement. 

"I never represented to anyone that the project in Oswego could not be built. Most definitely it can," Carracioli wrote in an email. "The councilors are choosing to create excuses for not reading a clearly written agreement."

The town of Oswego's supervisor Richard Kaulfuss says it was as a breach of contract to rescind the agreement.

"We also see it as the city trying to tell the town what to do and how to conduct its business," Kaulfuss said. 

If the council is able to override Barlow's veto, they have said they would be willing to renegotiate a contract with the town in which they would have input on who can connect to the sewer district.

"I think we should have more control over what it is that we’re doing and who hooks in," Councilor Eric VanBuren said. "I understand it is their sewer lines, but it’s our sewer district."

Kaulfuss said he would be willing to renegotiate as well, favoring a "calm, rational approach" to resolve the issue. But he thinks the council's vote Monday was driven by opposition to the housing complex and Kaulfuss says the town needs the commercial development from that project.

The Oswego councilors are already planning a vote to override the mayor's veto. The initial vote to rescind the contract was 5-2, the same amount needed to override Barlow. 

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.