OSWEGO — County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup delivered the 2019 state of the county address Thursday, extensively highlighting the important services county government provides and stressing cooperation to overcome the socio-economic challenges facing Oswego County.
Weatherup, R-Central Square, spoke for about 35 minutes in front of the county lawmakers and officials at the Oswego County Legislature’s June meeting (see page 4 for excerpts from the speech). In addition to detailing the role of various county departments, Weatherup urged lawmakers and residents to work together to improve their communities and overcome the obstacles that the county has struggled with for years.
“There is no question that for years we have been plagued by undesirable results in many education, health, employment and other socioeconomic categories,” the chairman said. “But I am here to tell you today that the data is also there to prove that in many of these areas, progress is underway.”
Officials must seek ways not just to save money in an era of diminishing revenues, Weatherup said, but also find effective ways to deliver services to taxpayers. He said the county must also examine the root causes of poverty, economic development, infrastructure and other issues to effectively implement change.
“We can’t be afraid to take on these physical and financial challenges if we really are committed to making Oswego County grow,” he said. “We just need to commit to work together… We need to share a common vision, we need to believe in each other, we need to believe that good people, with a good plan and the guts to make hard decisions can, in fact, drive change, can in fact, move the needle.”
Weatherup offered an in-depth view of the county’s finances and services, notably pointing out the average county taxpayer pays about $713 per year in property taxes to the county to provide the myriad of services county government provides.
Much like his predecessors, Weatherup pointed out the significant cost of state and federally mandated services. Roughly 80 percent of the county’s $209 million budget pays for state and federal mandates, the chairman said, pointing out the state and federal governments only provide the county with about $61 million to cover the $168 million in mandates services.
Throughout his six years on the county Legislature, which were preceded by his time as Hastings town supervisor, Weatherup said in conversations with people from all over the political and economic spectrum the one thing that stood out is a common goal to make Oswego County a better place to live, work and raise a family.
Weatherup called on all community stakeholders and residents to find their own ways to improve the county.
“You all have the opportunity and I invite you to find a role, accept a role and become a partner in what should be a community commitment to keep moving the needle, to change the status quo and do our own unique and individual parts to make our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities and Oswego County a better place each and every day going forward,” the chairman said in his closing remarks.
County legislators offered a standing ovation to Weatherup following the state of the county speech Thursday, but afterward the reactions unsurprisingly differed along party lines.
Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, said the presentation given by Weatherup provided many examples of what county officials have been able to accomplish, some of which are ongoing projects officials continue to work toward “for the betterment of the county.”
“The chairman, along with the legislature as a whole, are continuing to move the needle forward as he referenced in that speech,” Wilbur said. “It’s been something we’re working with in every department to help progress our county foreword with economic development, public safety and the health of our community.”
Wilbur said the work of county government is “never ending,” but noted he’s glad Weatherup acknowledged such and is at the helm leading the county forward.
Minority Leader Frank Castiglia, D-Fulton, said “the only great thing” about Weatherup’s Thursday speech is that it was moved back to the county building “where it should have been,” a reference to last year’s speech held at the Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation in the town of Mexico.
“Other than that it was nothing more than a book report on our departments and what they do,” the minority leader said.
Castiglia said the speech should have addressed solutions to the daunting problems the county is facing, such as the opioid addiction issues and problems at the county Department of Social Services.
“He did not address the issues and how he’s going to take care of the issues,” Castiglia said. “I’d like to have seen what his game plan is to address the situations that we have.”
Weatherup’s full speech can be found online at www.oswegocountynewsnow.com