Spending plan holds property tax rate level
Despite fiscal challenges, Mayor’s budget invests in public safety, infrastructure, neighborhoods, and programs to create jobs and economic growth
Impact of COVID-19 delays but won’t stop fiscal progress as City projects draw on fund balance of $13.9 million
Review Mayor Walsh’s full FY 21 budget proposal: http://www.syrgov.net/uploadedFiles/Departments/Budget/Content/Book_ProposedBudget%202020-2021.pdf
In the midst of a global pandemic, Mayor Ben Walsh and the Syracuse Common Council are moving forward with the fiscal year 2021 city budget process. Mayor Walsh delivered a $253.3 million budget proposal to the Council on Wednesday recommending spending that will continue the delivery of all city programs and services. The proposal also includes funding for road and infrastructure projects across the City; full staffing of police and fire; improvements to parks and recreation facilities; as well as the implementation of the City’s proposed new lead ordinance and an improved online permitting system to streamline investments in the City when the recovery begins.
The Mayor’s 2021 budget, which covers the period between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, includes no increase in the property tax rate. The budget anticipates the COVID-19 pandemic will create a revenue shortfall of $11.1 million. The projected decline includes a 6.6% sales tax revenue drop of $6.1 million, as well as other reductions in taxes and fees to the City.
“The impact of COVID-19 on world and local economies has been swift and significant. It has also created uncertainties about what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be,” said Mayor Walsh. “Our budget proposal is based on what we know today. It will be subject to swings based on what happens at the state and federal level and with our economy. I look forward to working in partnership with the Council as it reviews the budget in the days and weeks ahead to react to the rapidly changing economic landscape.”
City departments cut projected spending across the board to offset impact of COVID-19
The measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect revenue in the City of Syracuse in mid-March, just as the City was finalizing its 2021 budget plan. To adjust to further anticipated declines in income, Mayor Walsh and all city departments completed full reviews of their budget proposals and reduced projected spending in every aspect of daily operations. With few exceptions based on essential needs and critical investments, the revised budget includes a hiring and salary freeze across City government.
Because of an increase in property values, the overall tax levy will generate an additional $1.5 million in projected revenue for the City. The Syracuse City School District levy will remain unchanged from last year. The proposal also includes an average water rate increase of approximately $3 per quarter for residential users. Other new revenues are expected from a Parking Fine Amnesty program, the first in a decade, and increases in off-street, non-metered parking fees. Even with the additional revenue and budget actions, the plan anticipates a draw on the City’s fund balance of $13.9 million.
“Through smart fiscal planning and strong Council involvement in recent years, we’ve been able to protect the City’s fund balance, so it remains virtually the same amount as when I took office,” said Mayor Walsh. “Our fiscal plan prior to COVID-19 had us on track to reduce our reliance on the fund balance in our budget for the third straight year, but the pandemic changed that. Accessing the fund balance at this time provides City residents some protection if other sources of revenue don’t materialize in the weeks and months ahead. We will do everything in our control to ensure the pandemic only creates a delay on the City’s road to fiscal sustainability.”
New lead program will protect children and families
The Mayor’s proposed budget funds the implementation of a new lead ordinance to protect the health of children and families. The Common Council identified passing a lead ordinance as a top priority in its legislative agenda and is expected to act on it this spring. The law will enable code inspectors in areas of the city with high lead risk to test for lead even when chipped paint or lead dust is not present. The Division of Code Enforcement will add two new housing inspectors to accommodate the addition of lead testing to the duties of all housing inspectors. The budget also funds a full-time program coordinator, critical component of the lead program to ensure quality control of testing and submissions by property owners.
Online permitting will streamline investment in projects that create jobs
The Mayor’s budget also includes funding for continuing major upgrades to the City’s permit process which will make permitting projects in the city faster and easier. It will fund the implementation of software systems for online permit submission and review, as well as fund a more efficient online permit management system. As Syracuse recovers from the pandemic, the permitting improvements will make the City more competitive to investors who will undertake projects in Syracuse that will create jobs and generate revenue for the City.
Continued investment in public safety
The Mayor’s proposed budget continues to invest in public safety for Syracuse residents. It maintains all funded positions in both the Syracuse Police Department and Syracuse Fire Department, and includes a planned new class of firefighters, the second since Mayor Walsh took office. While the budget does not currently anticipate a new cadet class for the Police Department, which has brought on three cadet classes since 2018, budget dollars allocated for funded positions could be used to bring on an additional class, if needed.
The budget and city capital plan includes:
- Multiple infrastructure projects:
- completion of the Onondaga Creekwalk Phase II stretching into the southwest and Southside of the city
- Downtown Syracuse mill and pave project (begins in FY21)
- Hiawatha Boulevard Sidewalk Expansion (mill and pave from Van Rensselaer Street to Solar Street, expanding the sidewalk across the Hiawatha bridge and additional sidewalk improvements)
- Butternut Street Dig Once project (begins FY21)
- repair of Morningside Reservoir
- mill and pave, crosswalk restoration and road restriping on sections of University Avenue between Waverly Avenue and East Genesee Street
- Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs facility improvements
- Homer Wheaton Park installation of new concession stand
- Thornden Park Amphitheater renovations and facility structure repairs
- basketball and tennis court improvements (McChesney, Schiller, Homer Wheaton, Dunbar Center, Castle and State Street)
- Westmoreland new playground installation
- Implementation of a geographically-focused code inspector program allowing greater familiarity with neighborhood dynamics and changing needs
- Critical administrative systems including:
- implementation of an electronic time and attendance system which will generate efficiencies and greater overtime transparency
- updated accounting and cash management resources to ensure taxpayer’s dollars are managed efficiently
- completion of a centralized City Payment Center providing residents with a more streamlined process to pay taxes and water bills – including better online options
The budget continues to fund staffing and resources for the City’s leadership and involvement in neighborhood, economic growth and jobs initiatives, including: Syracuse Surge, the City’s strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy; Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, a neighborhood and business corridor revitalization program, including the Infill Housing Strategy, which will create new housing construction in neighborhoods across the City of Syracuse; and Syracuse Build, the City-led partnership for construction training, workforce development and local hiring.
The proposed budget recommends using newly expanded Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support housing and neighborhood programs that will be affected by the pandemic. In addition to supporting partner agencies like the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, CARES Act funding will also fund the following city services: blighted and emergency property demolitions; code enforcement housing, lead, and sanitation inspectors; and a GIS analyst to assist with neighborhood planning and emergency response.
Council Budget Hearings and Public Engagement
The Syracuse Common Council will review the budget proposal in committee meetings to be conducted during the month of April. A public hearing on the budget will be held on May 4 at 5 p.m. Based on the limitations for public gatherings due to COVID-19, it is expected the committee meetings and hearing will be conducted online and via web conference, in accordance with Governor Cuomo’s State of Emergency Declaration. The committee meetings and hearing will also be made available on the City’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/CityofSyracuse. According to the City Charter, the Council must act on the Mayor’s budget proposal by May 8.