When Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow took office, city residents had seen four consecutive tax increases and then a major spike in their sewer and water rates to help pay for a federally mandated sewer and water separation project. And things were about to get worse as a contract that provided Oswego with $1 million in revenue each year was coming to an end.
"There were so many fires that just needed to be put out," Barlow said. "The first year was literally just worrying about what was under the next paper I was going to flip over."
Barlow says he has helped turn the tide in Oswego. He was able to balance budgets by bringing in new revenue - like implementing a commercial water rate on large businesses to prevent rate increases for residents, and by securing $20 million in state grants and awards. Barlow also reduced costs by reducing the size of city government, cutting personnel and eliminating the planning and zoning department altogether. His decision to eliminate 16 positions at the fire department evoked a strong backlash from the firefighter union and many residents. But Barlow says it was necessary to balance the budget, and later led to Oswego's first tax cut in 20 years.
"It’s not so much that it was a 2.4 percent reduction - I think it was just the overall summary of being able to lower the cost of property taxes," Barlow said. "We’ve cut overtime, personnel, and reined in spending in city government and I think that was what people were longing to see instead of just being taxed over and over again."
Barlow has also overseen an aggressive code enforcement campaign by bringing back the city code office, increasing reported code violations by 300 percent, and raising the cost of rental permit fees. Those changes have upset some landlords, and even left some families homeless when the city condemned several rental homes. Barlow stands by them, saying they have improved housing conditions for residents.
The Republican says he thinks he has a good case to stay at the helm for another term to keep this momentum going and to finish the many projects that New York state is funding in Oswego, like the $10 million the city won to renovate the its downtown district. But Thomas Drumm, chair of Oswego's city Democratic committee, says there is more to this story that has yet to be told.
"I don’t think you are going to get anybody to throw discrepancies about what the community development office has done in the city of Oswego, money coming in like that is a good thing," Drumm said. "But there's certainly two sides to every story as we talk about this administration as a whole."
Drumm says city Democrats are currently in talks with several potential candidates for mayor, and will roll out their campaign platform in the next couple of months.