Mayor takes stock of first term and looks forward to four more years
OSWEGO — “Our city is in a state of renewed pride and confidence,” Port City Mayor Billy Barlow said Monday night to open his 2020 State of the City Address, adding “after years of hard times and stagnation, our community pride is restored, our potential is being realized and we are a community on the rise.”
The State of the City Address, Barlow’s fifth as mayor, focused largely on the many ongoing and forthcoming projects in the Port City, and introduced a series of initiatives he said are aimed at making Oswego more business friendly, improving neighborhoods and enhancing residents’ quality of life. Barlow, who started his second term as mayor in January, said much was accomplished in his first term, but officials will not stop or slow down in the years ahead.
“The last four years have been filled with accomplishments and undeniable progress,” the mayor said. “It’s our responsibility to carry the momentum for another four years, building on our work and compounding our success.”
Much like previous years, Barlow used the moment to highlight the development in the city’s downtown and along the waterfront, including plans to revamp portions of Wright’s Landing Marina this year and create a “pedestrian friendly, interactive boardwalk” at the International Pier. Barlow also unveiled plans to build a small boat launch for kayakers near East 10 ½ Street.
Shapiro Park will also receive a renovation of its street hockey rink, Barlow announced, along with a dedication of the space to Jack Bobbett, a Fitzhugh Park Elementary 11-year-old who died in a tragic accident last year.
“We will dedicate and officially rename the rink as the Jack Bobbett Street Hockey Rink to appropriately honor and remember Jack and give our youth a place to play for the summer months,” Barlow said, pausing in his address to recognize Bobbett’s parents who were among the crowd.
Progress in the city is not limited to downtown, parks or the waterfront, Barlow said, noting improved code enforcement has “raised the standards and expectations” but some unsightly issues, such as windows and doors boarded over with plywood and vacant and unkempt buildings remain.
Barlow said in the coming year he would introduce legislation to prohibit the use of the material as a makeshift building patch.
“Plywood being used to seal a window or door is not a fix, temporary or permanent, and will not be allowed to be used as a short cut,” the mayor said. “Prohibiting plywood for this use will force property owners to tend to dilapidated properties in a timely manner, eliminate the most obvious source of blight from our neighborhoods and likely expedite other mandated and necessary repairs.”
Barlow also took aim at “For Rent” signs posted in front yards and windows, announcing plans to eliminate them as a source of advertisement in the city’s residential neighborhoods. Barlow called the signs “flimsy, unprofessional” and “tacky,” and said there are more effective ways to advertise.
“It does not send a positive message to neighbors, is an out of date, unsightly technique and our neighborhoods should no longer be used as the location for the advertisement of rental properties,” Barlow said.
Creating a more business friendly environment in the city has been an objective Barlow said he identified from his earliest days in office, and Monday he introduced a plan to cut the cost of building permits in half. Barlow said the city should welcome investment and encourage development.
“The activities requiring a building permit are activities we should encourage, like fixing a fence, repairing a facade, rebuilding a porch or replacing a deck,” Barlow said, noting the fees were last adjusted in 2005.
Barlow also said he would pursue a restructuring of the process for acquiring plumbing and electrical licenses for work to be carried out within the city. The licensing system is “antiquated, convoluted and lacks transparency,” he said.
The Oswego Police Department (OPD), Barlow said, is establishing a Neighborhood Engagement Team, tasked with quality of life patrols and other community policing techniques. The city is seeking grant funding to potentially hire two additional officers to supplement the Neighborhood Engagement Team and the Oswego County Drug Task Force.
Barlow said combating the presence of drugs in the community would be a major focus of his second term, and the city would increase its financial commitment to the drug task force.
As part of the city’s efforts to improve neighborhoods, Barlow also announced an “organized, city-wide community cleanup program,” that would locate dumpsters in neighborhoods for short periods of time to allow residents to dispose of brush, branches and lawn debris.
Council President Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, said Barlow’s speech illustrated a commitment to continue the aggressive approach to improving residents’ quality of life and enhancing city’s neighborhoods and public spaces.
“I’m on board with the mayor’s proposed plans for this year and down the road,” Corradino said. “Quality of life is important and, I think he pointed out, for too many years landlords and issues in the neighborhoods were neglected. I’m happy to see that we’re refocusing our attention.”
Corradino noted residents would welcome improvements to Shapiro Park, which is located in the city’s Seventh Ward, and the hockey rink would be “a great addition.”
Council Vice President Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, said his top priority is quality of life, and expressed excitement about Barlow’s plans to put more emphasis on continuing to improve city neighborhoods and code enforcement efforts.
“One of the most exciting things for me is the more in-depth community policing, expanding that program and having it be a permanent part of our policing strategy,” said Hill, who spearheaded the passage of a Social Host Law that provided police with another way to crack down on house parties and noise disturbances in residential neighborhoods.
Corradino and Hill also expressed support for Barlow’s proposals to ban “For Rent” signs and the use of plywood to board up windows and doors. Hill said it’s not fair to residents that landlords are able to market properties to the detriment of others in the neighborhood.
“It’s a step in the right direction to remove those signs and remove the feeling that it creates in the neighborhood,” Hill said, adding it’s “remarkable” the city is still dealing with issues like plywood being used for windows that can “have a severe impact on neighbors and neighborhoods.”