OSWEGO — Mayor Billy Barlow delivered the 2016 state of the city address on Monday, telling a packed crowd at City Hall that Oswego was "strong, energetic and active" and poised to overcome a range of budgetary and infrastructure challenges.
Barlow, who at 25 is the youngest mayor in the state, highlighted the fulfillment of major campaign promises within his administration's first 100 days, including rebuilding a code enforcement office, reinvigorating the Community Development Office, improving the effectiveness and morale of the Department of Public Works and setting a waterfront development study in motion.
"We needed a jolt of energy and we needed a 'can-do attitude,'" said Barlow, who thanked his department heads, employees, the Oswego Common Council and the public for their part in building momentum. "Although we have some challenges ahead, I believe we have reason to be optimistic." The Republican mayor credited his administration for a "culture change" at City Hall, with simplified codes and permitting processes and a more "business-friendly" outlook.
Barlow argued efforts were ongoing to repair the Port City's reputation locally and statewide and to prove "to prospective investors and residents that we are indeed open for business." Prepping for a daunting budget process this summer — while at the same time handling mandated, costly consent decree projects overhauling water and sewer systems — are some of Oswego's biggest challenges, Barlow said.
Improving the effectiveness of the city's wastewater plants through privatization and investing in equipment, repairs and resources has had "an immediate return on investment," Barlow argued.
He added that after working with state and federal officials, the city would apply for grants that could lessen the consent decree burden on taxpayers, who saw water and sewer rates hiked by the last administration over long-term debt service for ongoing consent decree work.
After the mayor's speech, Oswego Common Council leadership praised the mayor's efforts thus far but noted daunting financial challenges ahead for the city.
"We've got to think outside the box," Council President Shawn Walker, R-4th Ward, said of the 2017 budget after the meeting. "We've got to look at a lot of departments, get different sources of revenue or look for things to cut." Officials said public budget sessions would begin in August.
Early on in his term, the council challenged Barlow on his proposal for an outright winter overnight parking ban, deciding to table the issue and discuss options before snow hits next winter.
But Barlow issued his first executive order restricting overnight parking, something he and DPW officials say helped roads remain clearer and safer this season. It should be noted, though, that the Port City saw only half the usual amount of snow this winter.
The council fought Barlow to a degree on the appointment process for a proposed ethics board, part of a universally lauded overhaul to Oswego's 36-year-old code of ethics.
Barlow proposed the mayor would handpick the board, and five out of seven councilors initially questioned the transparency of a board appointed by any single individual. An overwhelming majority of city ethics boards in the state go beyond their charters and current state law to require shared appointment power and bipartisanship.
But the council, in a 4 to 3 vote, approved the process and Barlow, who argued the charter grants him appointment power, promptly picked a bipartisan board.
Barlow and several other officials touted the board and ethics overhaul — updating the old basic code to tighter restrictions on conflicts of interest and other ethical concerns — as a step in the right direction.
"Despite our many quick victories or our undeniable progress, some folks probably still question if we will succeed or if we can keep up this pace," Barlow said. "[When] you look at things from an unorthodox or different point of view, people are going to question you and ... it'll get quite heated and controversial. But I refuse to be the mayor or be an administration that plays it safe and watches everyone else do the work." Barlow also made several announcements looking to the future, including plans to present ways to recover the city's "neglected buildings and equipment," reforming fees and committing to restructuring water rates, making efforts to capture Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed $10 million in downtown revitalization and the roll-out of a long-term capital budget plan to "forecast and plan" large projects.
Additionally, Barlow noted the city's new website, designed by Step One Creative, would launch sometime next week.
City Hall has also initiated the process of allowing payments with debit credit and cards.
"It hasn't been an easy first few months," Barlow said. "But we rolled up our sleeves and immediately got to work doing exactly what our constituents asked us to do."