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Oswego leaders reflect on 'unprecedented' year

Payne Horning
WRVO News File Photo
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow commemorates the transformation of the Oswego Speedway in preparation for its role as host of the Super DIRT Week Race.

Oswego Common Council President Shawn Walker calls 2016 the most productive year for the city he's seen in his nine years on the council. The city's leaders tackled several issues in the past year that had previously been kicked down the road. The council passed a new winter parking policy, went after negligent landlords with stricter regulations and new code enforcers and updated the city's taxi cab laws.

Freshman Councilor Robert Corradino credits much of that work to Mayor Billy Barlow.

"There was a lot going on this year and he set the tone and the council certainly worked with him, but it starts at the top," Corradino said. "I think this mayor shows that he’s willing to put his neck on the line and shakes things up and that’s good for the city, I’ve lived here a long time and we needed a lot of shaking up."

Barlow says under his leadership, Oswego enjoyed several victories this year. It won just shy of $16 million in grant money, $10 million which came from the state to revitalize the city's downtown. Oswego also played host to the 2016 Super DIRT Week racing event and will do so again next year.

But there were tough times as well, like when the city cut 16 positions from the fire department to cover a $1 million budget deficit. However, Barlow says it's all part of a larger mission to rein in government spending.

"The stories of people out in the public who literally do math to make sure they can pay their bills every month or every year is real -- I saw it in the campaign, I saw it first hand," Barlow said. "I think they would consider this year a success."

One of the veteran Oswego Common Councilors, Eric VanBuren, says this was a tremendous year for the city. While he commends Barlow's leadership, he says there are times when the mayor can be obstinate. He recalls Barlow's fight with the council over an ethics board in which the mayor wanted to appoint all three of its members. 

"One of the points I brought up at the time was the council should have the ability to point one of the members," VanBuren said. "That was shot down. I still disagree with that. I believe the council should have a member on the board. That’s the points of the branches, checks and balances. We shouldn’t be giving up our power and that’s one of the areas where I think that’s the case."

As the council heads into 2017, they're coming up on the one-year anniversary of a spike in sewer and water rates to help pay for federally and state-mandated repairs. Barlow notes that the city has won some grant money and increased rates on commercial users to avoid another increase. But he's not prepared to promise that they will revisit the increased residential rates yet. 

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.