With help from American Rescue Plan, Mayor’s budget restores city services to pre-COVID-19 levels and invests in housing quality, public safety, schools and parks, recreation and youth programs
$264.9 million plan includes no property tax rate increase
Walsh creates new HOME Unit focused on housing safety monitoring and enforcement at large residential complexes
Mayor Walsh makes online budget simulation tool available to increase transparency for residents
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh proposed a fiscal year 2022 budget which restores city services to pre-pandemic levels and makes strategic investments in housing quality, public safety, schools and parks, recreation and youth programs to help the City recover from COVID-19. The Mayor’s plan for fiscal year 2022 deploys a share of American Rescue Plan relief to offset the continued negative impact of the global pandemic on city revenue. Walsh delivers the budget to the Common Council Thursday. A link to the full budget is here.
FY 2022 Budget Facts
- $264.9 million budget
- No property tax rate increase
- More funding for priorities critical in COVID-19 recovery: housing quality, public safety, schools and parks
- Uses $20.7 million in American Rescue Plan assistance
- More than $105 million in federal aid remains to deploy
“With responsible decision-making in coordination with the Common Council, the City of Syracuse has withstood the first wave of fiscal damage delivered by the pandemic. This budget brings relief to residents as we manage the continued impact of COVID-19 on city finances,” said Mayor Walsh. “The harmful effects of the pandemic are still being felt and, more than ever, people need city government to ensure they have access to quality housing, clean and safe neighborhoods, and great parks and recreation spaces.”
The $264.9 million spending plan includes: a new housing quality and safety enforcement unit; staffing for improved code enforcement and compliance; multiple investments in the City’s parks, trails and urban forest; staffing for improved maintenance and management of sidewalks; new police and fire classes to offset retirements and more funding for schools. As city residents and businesses continue to be affected by the pandemic, the FY22 budget, which covers the period between July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, includes no property tax rate increase.
While the budget anticipates the City’s two largest sources of revenue will rebound from COVID-19 declines, overall revenue growth will be stalled by the continuing impact of the pandemic. The budget projects state aid will remain flat and sales taxes will increase modestly. Because of an increase in property values in the city, the overall tax levy will generate an additional $858,000 in projected revenue. The City will receive nearly $335,000 of the levy, and Walsh proposes to distribute $523,000 to the Syracuse City School District.
Instead of drawing on the City’s fund balance, the budget proposes to use $20.7 million in American Rescue Plan funds to offset the fiscal impact of COVID-19 on the FY22 budget. Walsh said the Administration will ask the Common Council to hold a special meeting during its upcoming budget hearings to review preliminary plans for investing the remaining more than $105 million in federal aid Syracuse is scheduled to receive.
“First and foremost, the federal relief is designed to rescue communities from the devastating impact of the pandemic, and that is our highest priority for the assistance we are receiving,” Walsh said. “The American Rescue Plan also presents an unprecedented occasion for community recovery and transformation. As we await federal guidance on use of the funds, we are listening to internal and external input and developing priorities. I am committed to presenting a plan that is worthy of this moment and to ensuring the Council and the community have the opportunity to be heard.”
Budget creates new HOME Unit for safety monitoring and enforcement at large residential complexes
Mayor Walsh’s proposed budget includes new staff in the Division of Code Enforcement and the Syracuse Fire Department to support the creation of a new High-Occupancy Monitoring and Enforcement (HOME) Unit, a multi-department city team charged with proactive monitoring and enforcement of housing conditions in large residential complexes. With representatives from Codes, Police, Fire, Law and Neighborhood and Business Development, the HOME Unit will be charged with: enforcing provisions that protect tenant health, safety and well-being; improving the quality of existing affordable housing; developing new safe housing initiatives; and helping both tenants and landlords in need of assistance.
The budget will strengthen the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication (BAA), the city office that improves compliance with property codes by speeding up the charging of fines and penalties against property owners that have unresolved property code violations. To increase the number of tickets and hearings the office can process, the BAA will hire a new paralegal and reinstate a part-time staff Administrative Law Judge cut during the pandemic. The BAA will also provide an online platform to streamline hearings and begin accepting payments online.
In public safety, the proposed budget includes funding to hire new academy classes in both the Syracuse Police Department and Syracuse Fire Department. Both departments are working to ensure proper staffing for public safety services in the face of increased retirements. The Fire class would be the third under Mayor Walsh. The SPD class would be the fifth during the Walsh Administration.
While the proposed budget holds the overall Syracuse Police Department budget flat, it provides funding for continued investment in ongoing reform efforts and community engagement, such as the new Police Athletic League. It also funds key crime and safety programs, including special details for Gun Violence Suppression, Burglaries, Street Racing, Dirt Bikes/ATVs, and Fireworks as well as the reinstatement of ShotSpotter.
Investments in parks, trails and recreation programs
As city residents seek options to exercise and enjoy the outdoors safe from the risks of COVID-19, Mayor Walsh’s budget will increase Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs resources to support the Onondaga Creekwalk, which has been expanded into the city’s south side, and the newly-opened Empire State Trail along Erie Boulevard, for which the City assumes maintenance responsibility in 2021. A new dedicated Parks staff person will oversee cleanliness and maintenance of both popular trails.
The Mayor’s budget will also reinstate a Parks Department supervisor focused on the appearance of the more than 100 Parks-maintained public spaces citywide. Working from the city Greenhouse, the crew leader will be charged with ensuring the areas, which range from corner green spaces to grass strips in the center of roads, enter each growing season with proper care and attention.
The budget will also allow for a new Forestry Technician as the Parks Department’s Forestry Bureau continues its restoration of embankments and buffer areas along the Creekwalk and reduction of overgrowth at city parks. The Department is also preparing to issue its Urban Forest Master plan this year, a multi-year program based on community input to increase the tree canopy in the city.
The plan funds the reopening of seven outdoor city swimming pools this summer. Last year, the City opened four pools, two of which were paid for by an online community fundraising campaign. The pool at Burnet Park will be closed for maintenance and repair this summer.
Other budget and capital plan investments
The budget and capital plan also includes:
- Code enforcement staffing for housing quality, lead enforcement and rental registry compliance
- Investments in the City’s information technology, digital infrastructure and cybersecurity
- A new Environmental Services Division in DPW with additional dedicated litter pickup staffing
- Staffing in anticipation of a municipal sidewalk maintenance program
- A public information officer to support the increased activity and need for public communication and resident engagement within Public Works, Engineering, Planning, and Water departments
- Purchase of outdoor recreation equipment for “pop up” family events at city waterways
- Installation of a new playground at Grace Massena Park on the west side
- Creation of the City’s first natural playground at Onondaga Geddes play lot, using natural materials collected by the City’s Forestry Bureau and constructed by city carpenters
- Continuing centralization of city finance services with the integration of Water Finance into the City Payment Center
- Improving access and timeliness of responses to Freedom of Information Law requests
Online simulation available for budget engagement and education
In releasing his proposed budget, Mayor Walsh also announced the opportunity for Syracuse constituents to engage with the plan using Balancing Act, an online platform that simulates municipal budgets. Balancing Act is being used in communities across the nation, including recently by the Syracuse City School District, for citizen engagement on government spending. The tool is populated with actual numbers from the Mayor’s proposed budget, so users can experiment with allocating funds among city departments and initiatives while considering current operational needs. The Balancing Act simulation will go live at bit.ly/syrlivebudget2022 on Thursday.
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 Common Council public hearing on the budget will be conducted on a date to be announced by the Council. A schedule of meetings is available on the City’s public calendar at www.syrgov.net. According to the City Charter, the Council must act on the Mayor’s budget proposal by May 10.