Barlow COVID conference

Mayor Billy Barlow, pictured above speaking at a Tuesday press conference, announced a series of sweeping reforms to the day-to-day operations of city government. 

OSWEGO — Port City police and firefighters are continuing normal, everyday operations, but a variety of city offices and services will be altered in the coming days due to the looming threat of COVID-19.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow announced a series of sweeping changes to the functions of city government as businesses and organizations across the nation alter their operations and shutter their doors in response to COVID-19. Barlow’s executive order reduces the city workforce and closes certain offices to the public starting Wednesday. Other measures announced by Barlow include delaying certain tax and loan payments and live streaming council and other board meetings.

Here are some changes likely to impact Port City residents:

  • City Hall limited to first floor only, and closed from noon to 1 p.m. each day
  • Economic development, rental assistance and animal shelter offices available by appointment only
  • Oswego Police Department (OPD) walk-in lobby closed and not accepting cash or fines. Payments can be made online or by mailing a money order.

“We’re keeping an eye on the situation and we’re going to be more safe than sorry,” Barlow said Tuesday. “I will be guilty of being more proactive and maybe overreacting rather than being caught flat-footed and not being ready to make these adjustments or cancel events if we need to.”

Barlow called a Tuesday press conference to announce the various measures city government is taking to respond to the global pandemic. Though some of the changes are certain to cause inconvenience, Barlow said “it would be irresponsible for government to continue to operate as-is” with the private sector taking action to limit the spread.

Council Vice President Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, said the community is “facing unprecedented challenges” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and community members and local officials must work together in the most effective way possible to address those challenges.

“The recent changes to city government operations, while inconvenient, are necessary to keep both members of the public and our city workforce safe, while maintaining the essential services our residents rely on,” Hill said of the measures put in place Wednesday.  

As of Wednesday, the city is immediately transitioning about 65 to 70 percent of non-essential workforce to operate remotely, Barlow said, and in order to accomplish that Oswego City Hall will be closed from noon to 1 p.m. each day.

The mayor’s executive order also amends the city’s sick leave policy, allowing employees who may be quarantined or miss extended periods of work due to COVID-19 to be paid without using accrued sick time.

All business at City Hall will be conducted on the first floor, with city officials planning to establish a lobby or reception area. Barlow said city workers would take down residents’ requests and information, provide the necessary forms or applications and complete transactions “within a day or two.”

Barlow said city officials in recent days also uploaded every city document, form, application and permit to the city website. He encouraged anyone needing to conduct city business to download those forms and mail completed forms to City Hall.

City offices outside City Hall, such as the economic development, animal control, rental and rental assistance offices are closed to walk-ins as of Wednesday. Services are available by appointment.

A City Hall assistance line has also been established, and anyone seeking help with city services or information is encouraged to call 315-343-4990.

“With all the changes taking place in city government we wanted to have one phone number people can call for all questions to get direction on where to go and who to talk to,” Barlow said. “That is a way to expedite your request… we ask that you direct inquiries to that line.”

Barlow asked the community to be patient as city and other services may be a little slower than normal, but assured the public the city would continue to conduct the same type of business and deliver the same services.

“I encourage people to hang in there,” Barlow said. “I understand it’s a difficult time, stressful time, but I think city government is doing our part to be prepared and send the right message.”

Barlow said city Department of Public Works crews would also still be maintaining critical services around the city, but taking a variety of precautions such as shifts reporting to different areas at different times to practice social distancing.

Oswego Fire Chief Randy Griffin said emergency responders are practicing caution with certain emergency responses and screening potential patients using personal protective equipment.

“We would do those things normally, but we’re a little more cautious today because we’re dealing with this virus,” Griffin said. “It’s really not new for us, it’s just the potential of it happening more often.”

Barlow urged constituents to remain calm, noting city officials have been preparing for these changes for more than a month. He also urged residents to follow the state rules and guidelines aimed at limiting exposure.

“We are a community that is truly sticking together,” Barlow said. “We will continue to prepare, we will continue to respond so that our constituents can live life as normal as possible.

Efforts to provide financial relief to residents and the business community are also underway, with Barlow announcing Tuesday the city would suspend tax and fee payments for at least 30 days. City taxes were due April 1 and water and sewer fees due March 24.

The city also suspended payments for the small business commercial loan program for 120 days. Barlow said both those measures would be revisited as time goes on to see if a further delay is appropriate.

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