Barlow proposes raising water rates but lowering sewer rates saving homeowners $100 a year

Oswego Mayor William Barlow addresses members of the city’s committees Monday night, March 1 in City Hall. Randy Pellis/Oswego County News

OSWEGO — The Barlow administration on Monday made good on a State of the City promise, proposing a hike in water rates combined with a larger decrease in sewer rates that will put an extra $100 a year in homeowners’ pockets.

That was followed by a correction to a two-year-old local law meant to lower tax and water rates to low-income seniors that had mistakenly raised water rates to some of them.

The income thresholds for seniors claiming the tax and water exemptions were raised from the standards originally set in 1995 to present-day standards, thereby making more people eligible for the exemptions. That was the original intention. Unfortunately, the changes made in 2019 made more people eligible, but when the water exemptions were mistakenly lowered to equal the tax exemptions, some seniors wound up with higher water bills than they’d had before this attempt to help them had been construed. This was an unintended mistake, and Monday night’s recommendation to the Planning and Development Committee corrects that. Seniors earning up to $30,500 annually will see a 35% reduction in their water bills, while those earning up to $22,500 will receive a 75% reduction. Those with incomes between $22,500 and $30,500 will be entitled to a reduction somewhere between 35% and 75% based on a sliding income scale. The more a senior earns, the lower the reduction.

The water/sewer combination rate hike/rate decrease plan benefits the average homeowner by $100 a year but obviously costs the city. That lost water revenue is somewhat made up for by another part of the proposal: very large water users, such as car washes, schools, and the hospital will see a one dollar increase in their cost per thousand gallons. Their rate will increase from $1.50 per thousand to $2.50 per thousand gallons of water. Mayor William Barlow said the increase brings Oswego’s rates more in line with other cities’ rates throughout the state.

The mayor also reminded homeowners that metered water rates are cheaper than the flat rate and recommended they buy a meter in order to do so. He said it would pay for itself in a few years.

In other business, the city is buying its own two-megawatt emergency generator for the westside water treatment plant at a cost of almost $923,000 for the generator alone. That cost is fully funded by a grant. The complete project’s purchase and installation cost, however, will total about $3 million. The project should be complete by the end of this year, at which time the mayor will no longer have to call upon the state to truck one of their generators here from Schenectady to prevent the water plant from going offline in bad weather with no backup, a potential scenario the mayor said keeps him up at night.

And in a final note of interest, the former home of the Oswego Yacht Club that sits at the end of what will become the William S. Cahill Jr. International Pier alongside the westside’s Wright’s Landing marina will remain a part of that pier. It will be repaired and will not be torn down.

“That building is actually part of the pier structure,” Barlow said. “It’s not just a building or a structure set on the pier, it’s actually built right in. My personal preference was always to keep that building. I think it’s in the perfect location. I like the way it’s built. I like the way it’s built up with a wrap-around deck, and I really see it complementing the use of the pier quite well. It was just a matter of if the construction was going to allow us to keep the building, and if it was going to be prudent to do so. It turns out, at least right now, that it is.”

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