Oswego Mayor William Barlow delivers State of the City address

Oswego Mayor William Barlow delivers the State of the City address Jan. 12. Screenshot photo.

OSWEGO — The long list of accomplishments of the Barlow administration, enumerated by the mayor in his 2021 State of the City address Jan. 12, cannot be denied and is generally well-known throughout the community.

So, the first three-quarters of that speech, required annually by law, should come as no surprise. It is filled with achievement and promise of more to come.

It is the final one-quarter of the speech, though, that stands out from the rest and is remindful of other speeches this mayor has given. There is a philosophy to it, an altruistic, hopeful, and kind philosophy urging all within this community to help one another when you can, however you can. And it’s that philosophy, that must come from somewhere, that the mayor spoke on in a recent interview.

In essence, he explained, it’s the reason he got into politics in the first place.

“I thought that we could move the needle forward on the community and use city government as the vehicle to do it, and I think we have,” Barlow said. “And it wasn’t until after really becoming mayor that I realized how helpful government can be, not just in terms of moving the community forward, but helping individual people, or groups of people, whether it’s small business owners, or the homeless population, or a specific family, as I somewhat referenced in the speech, like Mayor Cahill did years ago, that I realized the mayor’s position in city government can directly help people in a significant way. And that’s what we try to do each and every day.

“If every day,” he continued, “you can turn the lights off at City Hall and say, ‘Well, I helped x amount of people today, or we moved the community forward by doing this today,’ then that’s what it’s all about, and that’s the only reason I’m here and the only reason I ran for office to begin with. So, that’s been the guiding principle, and I try to remind the pubic and department heads and the Common Council and remind myself of that every time that I give a speech. I try to outline what we’ve done, what we’re going to do, and why we’re doing it. And they’re the two reasons: to help people and to make the city a better place.”

But too, there were earlier influences Barlow hasn’t forgotten.

“Growing up, my parents were very hard workers,” he said, “and I saw how hard they worked, and I saw people along the way who had helped them in one way or another, and I also saw them help others when we didn’t have much ourselves. And that had a lasting impression on me.”

That early impression has carried through to today. As he said, “I try to carry myself in a way where if I’m in a position to help somebody, I do it, and why wouldn’t you do it? That’s what you’re supposed to do, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a neighbor, the community as a whole, that’s what you’re supposed to do, especially if you’re a public servant. That’s really the basic responsibility we have as a society, as people, is to help each other and lift each other up.”

If you happened to miss the speech broadcast online and local television, here are excerpts from it. It’s filled with accomplishments and the promise of a helping hand.

“2020 was a challenging year to be sure, but from 2016 to 2020, we made it happen. From our downtown revitalization efforts resulting in historic buildings being rehabilitated, new buildings being developed, public space improvement projects, neighborhood revitalization efforts, strong code enforcement, new parks, more public amenities, paving city streets, to lowering taxes and attracting new businesses, the record of what we’ve done is staggering.

“Once the virus arrived in New York State, my primary obligation as Mayor was to do all I could to protect the general health and wellness of Oswego residents. We fended off the first wave and held a low caseload through spring and summer. In addition, we promptly partnered with Little Luke’s and the Oswego YMCA to offer free childcare to Oswego families, with priority given to first responders and those working in healthcare. We built an emergency COVID-19 resource website, implemented virus detection into our city wastewater system and partnered with SUNY Oswego to test all essential city employees weekly to protect our workforce and maintain adequate staffing levels to deliver the services our residents expect. We made $275,000 in no-interest commercial loan funding available to businesses and worked swiftly to distribute funds within ten days. We developed a restaurant business guide, informing the public of restaurants still open for to-go and delivery options through the shutdown and mailed it to every household in the city. We assisted with PPP funding applications, re-opening guidelines and directly circulated safe practice materials.

“Our focus is shifting to an economic recovery. Many of our small businesses survived the shutdown but the struggle continues. I want our business owners to know local government remains committed to maintaining the vitality our small business community experienced pre-pandemic. To help, in the short term, we’ll provide another $10,000 in immediate funding for a second round of the successful ‘Buy One Get One’ program we developed last month. The ‘Buy One Get One’ program quickly infuses money into our downtown area and gives residents a reason to shop local. January through April is ordinarily a slow time for our local small businesses anyway, so a mid-winter ‘Buy One Get One’ round will be welcome news to residents and businesses alike.

“We owe it to our small business owners, front line workers, friends, family and to ourselves to do the right thing, and the state of our city, rests on our ability to beat and fully recover from the current health crisis.

“Local government can’t do it alone, and I am forever grateful for the leadership and partnership SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley and the leadership at Oswego Health have extended to me personally, and to our community, during this chaotic time.

“Beyond city government, local doctors, nurses, and staff who work right here in town, or commute to Syracuse area facilities, continue to work long hours in high-risk situations. These frontline workers are family members, friends, and neighbors and deserve our upmost respect and appreciation. This year, they were and continue to be heroes, in every sense of the word. Our community needed them, they stepped up, and we’ll continue relying on them through 2021 and beyond.

“I’m announcing the creation of a new program that will serve a dual purpose. First, the program will acknowledge and thank our frontline workers and first responders for their continued heroic service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, it’ll incentivize and encourage our first responders and health care workers to not only work here in Oswego, but to live here in Oswego. The new ‘Heroes as Neighbors’ program will partner city government with Pathfinder Bank to cover the closing costs associated with the sale of a home in Oswego to a frontline worker, first responder or active member of the military. Closing costs can quickly accumulate, surprising young professionals when they go to close on a home for the first time. It can mean the difference between buying or renting, moving or staying put. We want and need more nurses, doctors and police officers in our community, as residents, making our community a better place. They’re assets to our community, both in and out of the workplace, and encouraging them to live in Oswego adds to our fabric and character. The ‘Heroes as Neighbors’ program can be that extra nudge to potentially capture more young professionals and families to consider staying or moving here and serves as a gesture of appreciation for the work they do, and I thank Pathfinder Bank for partnering with us to administer this new program.

“I’ll bring a proposal later this year to reduce the fees for building permits, across the board, by 50%.

“City government needs to make investing, maintaining and living in your property practical and affordable. We’ve tightened the belt at City Hall to control spending and cut waste. City-wide overtime is down to the lowest point in over a decade, processes have been streamlined, efficiencies found and, as a result, for three straight years, with the help of the Oswego Common Council, we’ve either lowered or held the line on taxes, without using the general fund to offset expenses, the first time that’s been done in at least fifty years.

“In 2019, we reduced the flat-rate annual water and sewer bill by $200 and promised then, to do more.

“We can now take a serious look at our sewer charges to homeowners. As we reduced the bill by $200 in 2019 for flat-rate users, I promised another adjustment not only for flat-rate users, but metered-users as well, so we cover all users in our efforts. In the coming weeks I’ll propose to the Common Council another $100 annual reduction in the water and sewer bill, across the board, for both flat-rate and metered-users to offer financial relief to all residents.

“All told, our waterfront is in the midst of a $16 million transformation, and once completed, Oswego will be using the water as an economic tool and viable attraction like never before.

“Our upgrades to Breitbeck Park with seating areas and fire pits, and facelift to Harbor Trail have attracted crowds of people on a nightly basis. On the east side, our new Lakeside Park at East 10th ½ street, complete with a pavilion, volleyball court, small beach area and a kayak launch has been a big hit. This is just the beginning.

“On June 1 we will re-open the new Wright’s Landing Marina, following our $3.5 million investment, completed in-house by the Oswego DPW led by Tom Kells, with a new, all-inclusive pavilion, fully remodeled rest rooms and bathhouses, a welcome center and gift shop, marine fuel availability, another firepit seating area on the water and the entire marina will be accessible to those with physical limitations. And remember the water plan that raised water levels, closed our marina and caused millions of dollars in damage? We’ve addressed that, too, by literally raising the entire marina three feet in elevation to prevent future flooding and eliminate the issue created by the new, high water brought forth by the flawed Plan 2014. Once complete, Wright’s Landing Marina in Oswego will be one of the premier marinas along Lake Ontario and will easily attract more boaters from the water and more pedestrians and residents from land. And ... should the water rise again as the plan projects, Wright’s Landing will be one, if not the only marina, built to handle the new water level and able to stay fully open and easily operating.

“Success along our waterfront will certainly translate to success for the rest of our community, as demonstrated by the projects we’ve already done. The new Wright’s Landing Marina may serve as an extra propellor for our local economic engine, but the next waterfront project, will serve as an entirely new apparatus for our community to leverage. The pier extending out into our harbor, known as the International Pier, since its creation, has been underutilized. If you study other communities with as much waterfront property as Oswego, the waterfront and a pier is the most valued, coveted piece of property in the community. For whatever reason, our pier is a gravel driveway, used only for access to a former private club, providing little to the greater community in terms of value. It is time to use this unique piece of property as a community attraction and economic asset. This spring, we’ll break ground on a $9 million project that repairs and stabilizes the pier, placing new sheeting piling around the perimeter, and transforms the surface from a gravel driveway to nowhere, to a pedestrian only, interactive boardwalk, complete with public dock access, more seating areas and community space for gatherings, events and different public activities. The new boardwalk pier will welcome travelers coming into Oswego from Lake Ontario and serve as another reason for Oswego residents to engage the waterfront. We’ll be extending Harbor Trail to connect through the marina, to the pier boardwalk, and between the three completed projects, our westside waterfront area will be complementary and comprehensive. Harbor Trail, Wright’s Landing and other upcoming projects will present an attractive, desirable, impressive area along Lake Ontario, adding value to our community and creating a destination point worth traveling to experience. The City of Oswego has, for decades, failed to fully capitalize on our waterfront and natural assets. In 2021, that changes as we use our waterfront to our advantage and capitalize on the natural resources, we are so fortunate to have right here in our own backyard.

“Mayor William S. Cahill, Jr. made significant improvements to Oswego’s waterfront at a critical time in history. The projects he managed are still coveted today, 40 years later, and even though we lost Mayor Cahill last year, we think of him as we re-develop our waterfront some four decades since he did it last.

“Oswego is a better place because of Bill Cahill. He did a lot for our community, as Mayor and as a businessman, particularly along the waterfront, but he’ll be most remembered for being a genuine, hardworking and absolute gentleman.

“To recognize, remember and honor Bill Cahill for the mark he left on our community, upon completion, we’ll dedicate the new pier to him, bearing his name, a name so closely affiliated with our waterfront and city.

“We’re in the midst of developing a multi-faceted police re-imagining plan that I presented last month, designed to bring law enforcement closer to our community, while supporting our police department and officers. While some thoughtlessly chant to defund the police, we’ll do the exact opposite and defend the police. Our intelligent plan invests in our officers by supporting modern training programs, funds special initiatives to place more officers on routine foot and bike patrols in parks and neighborhoods and implements quality assurance surveys throughout the department. Our plan is thoughtful and in touch with the real-world conditions in our city. We plan to incorporate mental health counselors to co-respond to appropriate calls, use our community policing unit to coordinate with service provider groups in an effort to better connect individuals to the helpful resources they need, and we’ll participate in key initiatives and programs like Service to Aid Families, HOPE and Handle with Care, all designed to offer support to folks who want it.

“We’ll open the new splashpad water playground at Breitbeck Park, install a river dock along west linear park, refurbish the box lacrosse court at Fort Ontario, continue cutting costs, lowering taxes, improving municipal services, cutting bureaucratic red tape, eliminating government obstacles and making Oswego a desirable place to do business and a better place to live, work and raise a family. Yes, this agenda in the midst of an on-going pandemic is aggressive. Yes, it is optimistic. Yes, it will be a challenge to pull off. But, what else would you expect? This government, this administration, is about getting things done. Not just talking about change or imagining what we could or should do. We get it done. We’re competent, effective, results-oriented. Local government, more than any other level of government, needs to produce real, tangible results because it’s closest to the people. We need to make the most of the opportunity we have in front of us. Anything less would be an injustice. We’ll do this, because it’s what it takes to keep improving this community, enriching the lives of our residents and helping our neighbors.

“After all, that is what government and public service should be about.

“Our Founding Fathers intentionally constructed our government system to be complicated, and complicated it is. But when it functions, and people respect each other, tolerate different views, consider others, and want what’s best for the collective, anything is possible.

“Look at Oswego. Look at what we’ve done in a short time. Mayor and Council, working together, republican and democrat, public and private, east and west, old and young, look what can happen when government functions and people work together.

“When you can help somebody, you help them. That is what we do. That is what public servants, government officials, friends, family and neighbors are supposed to do.

“During every famous Oswego sunset, we must ask ourselves two fundamental questions. ‘How did we improve our community, today?’ and, ‘who did you help?’ Not in 2016. Not last year. Not yesterday. But today.

“It is our obligation, our most basic responsibility, as leaders, as parents, as community members, as human beings, to do all we can with the short time we have on this earth to make a positive impact and improve the lives of those around us. There is more happening in this community now than has happened in decades. We are doing things today that other people have been talking about doing for 40, 50 years!...and, despite whatever is working against us, we just need to keep moving forward. This city has limitless potential, and we are unlocking more of it every moment. All we have to do is work together, be positive, be confident, believe in ourselves, lift each other up and work hard to improve our city each and every day. That’s exactly what we’re going to do in 2021 and is precisely why the state of our city is strong!”

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