Oswego city taxes up about 80 percent in proposed city budget

By Debra J. Groom

Oswego city residents could see their taxes go up nearly 80 percent if the proposed 2014 city budget is adopted by the Common Council.

But Mayor Thomas Gillen is hoping work with the council in coming weeks will find some places to cut in the plan. He already cut $65,879 from the budgets submitted to him by department heads.

The proposed budget totals $34,574,842, an increase of 14.2 percent compared to the 2013 budget of $30,112,264.

This is an increase of $4,462,578.

Gillen said this would increase the tax rate paid by residents and businesses from $10.03 per $1,000 to $18.25 per $1,000, up more than 81 percent.

He said it amounts to about an additional $575 in taxes for people who own an average home in Oswego assessed at $70,000.

“By all means, I am not minimizing this at all,” Gillen said. “That’s a lot of money to people.”

He said one reason taxes are going up is the city has lost more than $48 million in assessed value. He said the Port of Oswego and Oswego Hospital — both tax exempt entities — have bought up land whose owners used to pay taxes on that land.

Other budget increases came in the following:

A loss of $804,879 in non-property revenue. Gillen said this is items such as reduced payments to the city by Brookfield Power and National Grid for use of hydrostations on the Oswego River.

Mandated retirement rates. Gillen said the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System rate is increasing from 25.1 percent to 28.4 percent. The Employees Retirement System rates are increasing from 18.5 percent to 22 percent.

Affordable Care Act. Mandates a 2.3 percent increase for Medicare contracts and a 8.46 percent increase in insurer fees for active and non-Medicare contracts.

Union contracts. Gillen said constracts with the city’s unions resulted in higher pay for workers, lump sum payouts and retirement cost increases.

Gillen also said in his budget message:

“We also have to prepare ourselves for the potential loss of revenue in on-going and future negotiations with NRG, National Grid and the Metropolitan Water Board,” which own property in the city.

Gillen said the proposed budget includes no layoffs or cuts in city services. No elected officials are getting raises.

In his budget message, Gillen said if all new positions were removed from the budget, the tax rate would decrease to about $17.46 a $1,000. If all equipment purchases also were removed, the tax rate would be about $17.18 per $1,000.

If the city did both, the tax rate would be about $16.39 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“For every $1 million we cut from the budget, the rate changes by $1 per $1,000,” Gillen said in his budget message.

Other areas where the city saw decreases in revenue was in fewer launches at its marina, Medicare subsidies, loss of revenue from Midtown Plaza redevelopment and a new hotel due to lawsuits.

Even with the increase, Gillen believes Oswego residents get a lot for their money.

“They get ambulance, fire, police, DPW, clearing of leaves, parks and recreation. The value of living is a safe and clean city is worth something.”

For about four years straight, Oswego’s tax rate didn’t change, staying at $8.98 per $1,000. then it went up to $10.03 a $1,000

Gillen said Oswego’s rate for 2013 still is below most cities close to its 18,200 population: Amsterdam, 18,620, 2013 rate of $13.07; Auburn, 27,000, rate of $13.05; Cortland, 19,204, rate of $15.34; Ogdensburg, 11,000, rate of $16.75.

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