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Oswego decides against employee furloughs

Doug Kerr

The city of Oswego is making some changes to the budget it passed in December, by moving away from the city-wide furloughs it had previously imposed.

The furloughs included in this year's budget would have equated to about a four percent pay decrease to every city employee in Oswego. But now those mandatory days off aren't taking place, following the Common Council's decision to dip into the city's enterprise fund.

In a 3-3 vote held during executive session, and broken by Mayor Tom Gillen, the council approved a measure to pull funds from the account used for sewer and water services and restructure city departments, rather than furlough all employees for ten days.

Newly-elected councilman William Barlow was one of three councilors who voted no on the proposal.

"My theory was if we keep the furloughs in place and the unions didn't want to take them, the only alternative would be to do layoffs," Barlow said. "At that point, we were putting the ball in the unions' court. They could either take furloughs or layoffs, it was up to them at that point. That's why I voted no. But yeah, we were speculating that the unions were going to fight the furloughs to begin with."

Gillen says pulling some money from the enterprise fund, which is separate from money kept in the general fund, will help the city maintain its budget without rising the tax rate.

"The furlough is kind of a blind one-size-fits-all solution, which really in rare occasions it might work," Gillen said. "But it was a broad sweep that didn't address any of the specific problems. It was a very general solution to very unique problems."

But the mayor also says when the city was under the gun to pass a budget before their Dec. 31 deadline, decisions had to be made. Now he and the Common Council have to help the community understand what changes are happening.

"I think a big situation in the city is how do we explain this to the people, that we're not making promises then falling back on them and changing strategies," Gillen explained. "We're being transparent. We're telling people. When my budget first came out, if things remained unaltered we'd need an 81 percent tax increase, just based on reality of unfunded mandates, retirement funds, healthcare, things like that. Could we do better? We did. We chipped away, we trimmed, we cut, we laid people off... and we got it down to 43 percent."

The city is also going to look for more cuts in the budget. Gillen says there is a possibility of layoffs happening, but that the tax rate increase in the city will remain at 43 percent.