Walsh holds property tax rates level for third straight budget
Mayor’s proposed spending plan uses revenue fueled by growth, pandemic relief and a share of the City’s fund balance to improve city services
City fund balance, once projected for depletion, expected to reach $100 million by end of current fiscal year
Syracuse, N.Y. – On a foundation of smart fiscal management and a resurgence in the city, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh presented a fiscal year 2023 budget today to forge a stronger Syracuse. Mayor Walsh’s plan proposes major new investments in schools, public safety, parks, neighborhood quality of life and improving sanitation and litter pickup. Mayor Walsh’s $294 million budget holds property tax rates level for the third straight year.
“Syracuse has maneuvered through challenging times in a sound fiscal state. The City is experiencing investment and growth, which is creating additional revenue without increasing property tax rates,” said Mayor Walsh. “With this budget, we are able to invest in better services for residents and in our city workforce. We will increase funding to schools; put more police officers on our streets; build healthier neighborhood business corridors; and introduce more parks programs for children, adults and seniors. We will also invest in sanitation pickup citywide and expand our crackdown on nuisance properties.”
Walsh delivered a budget address to the Common Council Monday. The Council will review the plan and conduct public hearings on department spending proposals over the next month. It will act on a final city budget by May 9.
2023 budget invests in city services and workforce
Investments in the 2023 budget enable major improvements in services and programs for city residents. It also accommodates the full cost of updated labor agreements with all unions, including those representing the City’s biggest departments: Police, Fire and DPW. Budget highlights include:
Schools – The Syracuse City School District will receive nearly $68 million from the school tax levy, an increase of more than $1 million.
Public Safety – The Syracuse Police Department will continue to transition more administrative functions to civilian positions to free up more police officers to be on the streets in patrol and to help reduce crime. The budget provides funding to complete the conversion of 17 positions currently filled by sworn officers to civilian staff. The budget also funds expanded police diversionary response strategies to involve qualified mental health professionals and supports community violence intervention programs.
The Syracuse Fire Department will increase on-duty professional firefighter staffing for the first time in nearly 50 years. The department will add an around-the-clock firefighter to the Squad Company located at Station One in downtown Syracuse. The Squad Company provides lifesaving responses citywide to all structure fires and the highest-priority medical calls.
Neighborhoods – The Department of Neighborhood and Business Development (NBD) will bring on a dedicated Business Corridor Manager to focus on maintenance and growth of commercial business districts in neighborhoods around the city.
Lead Abatement – The Division of Code Enforcement will fully implement the City Lead Abatement and Enforcement ordinance allowing city inspectors to conduct more lead inspections in rental properties and requiring abatement by landlords. The budget funds staffing a lead paint program coordinator and office manager who will work with Code Enforcement inspectors to conduct and process inspections. It also includes funds for dust wipe sample kits and lab testing.
Parks – The Department of Parks Recreation and Youth Programs will implement the new Health and Wellness, Family Recreation and Therapeutic Recreation bureaus. The department will expand its schedule of events and programming for city residents, including activities such as kayak rental, ice bicycles, and outdoor movies.
Quality of Life – The budget increases funding for the Department of Law to address concerns impacting quality of life: nuisance abatement actions, property seizures, code enforcement, zoning, and public safety. The investments will increase city efforts to pursue compliance through legal action and help improve the timeliness of city response to neighborhood issues.
Sanitation and Litter – The Department of Public Works (DPW) will increase staffing for trash, recycling and litter pick up. DPW will add a new assistant supervisor for sanitation and two new members of the Environmental Services crew dedicated to litter collection. The department also expects to receive ten new sanitation trucks before the end of 2022 and will begin the implementation of uniform trash and recycling carts citywide. The department will continue to prepare for the introduction of semi-automated trash collection.
Road Reconstruction – The Department of Public Works will reconstruct at least 24 miles of city streets. It will fund 20 miles of slurry real resurfacing on streets without curbing.
Interstate 81 – The City will hire an Interstate 81 City Project Director to provide planning and oversight for city assets and infrastructure and ensure the interests of city residents are protected during the massive infrastructure project. The budget also funds retaining a national urban master planning firm working for the City to plan and design opportunities for city neighborhoods not covered by the state or federal government.
Communications – The Office of Communications, created by Mayor Walsh in 2019 to improve public information and community engagement, will introduce a digital marketing apprentice in partnership with MACNY to increase the performance of communications across the City’s 28 social media platforms, including its YouTube channel as well as its new website. It will also bring on a new position to keep the community informed about the impact of the ARPA investments in the city.
City growth generating higher revenue without increasing property tax rates
The 10.5% increase in city spending in the proposed plan is supported by higher collections of both sales and property tax. Sales tax is the City’s largest revenue source and has increased by more than 10 percent over the past two fiscal years (FY21 and FY22). In the 2023 proposal, sales tax is budgeted to grow by less than the historic average of 2.5 percent. As a result, sales tax is now budgeted to be over $112 million, while it was just $85.4 million in FY20.
The taxable assessed value of property increased by 3.1%, almost four times previous growth. This allows the City to provide the Syracuse City School District with the additional $1 million in property taxes they requested, and it provides an additional $2.2 million to the City’s general fund.
To utilize the additional revenue created by tax base growth, the budget proposes to exceed the state property tax cap. This outcome occurs without the loss of the STAR tax rebate to property owners, which New York State allowed to expire in 2019.
The 2023 budget is also supported by a $1.5 million services agreement payment to the City by Syracuse University, a $500,000 increase in revenue compared to the prior budget year. Under terms of the new agreement reached in 2021, the payment will go up an additional $250,000 in the next two budget years. SU also makes a $500,000 payment to the City to fund UNSAAC (University Neighborhood Agreement Advisory Council).
The budget uses $16.5 million in American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) pandemic relief, 25% less than the prior year.
Syracuse reserves expected to reach $100 million
The city fund balance, which was once projected to be depleted before the end of Mayor Walsh’s first term, is projected to reach more than $100 million by the end of the current fiscal year in June. The reserves have grown through proactive, careful fiscal management by the Walsh administration and the Syracuse Common Council.
With reserve dollars available, Mayor Walsh is proposing to use $8.2 million for 2023 city expenses and to set aside $7 million for a new Revolving Capital Fund for city government to reduce future costs to taxpayers. When the City needs to provide up-front funding for projects, it will access the funds which will then be replenished when the state or federal government reimburses the City. The fund will reduce the need for city government to pay for external sources of short-term financing and will save in excess of $70,000 annually.
“While the financial picture for the City is solid now, we still face a structural deficit in the long term. The Revolving Capital Fund is one of the many ways we are using this budget to invest in our future,” said Mayor Walsh. “We will never be able to cut our way to fiscal sustainability. This budget makes long overdue investments to improve city government services.”
Municipal sidewalk maintenance fee and increase in water charges
The proposed budget includes an increase in water charges for property owners. The average residential increase will be about $9 per quarter based on water usage and parcel size. Commercial property increases will be larger and will vary more widely also based on usage and property size. The changes impact the rate for water usage; the water frontage tax; and the water infrastructure fee used to offset the cost of materials and supplies for maintenance of the system.
Fiscal year 2023 will be the first year that a fee to residential and commercial property owners is applied for the new municipal sidewalk maintenance program. Residential properties will pay $20 per year, and commercial properties will pay $60.
“The pandemic continues to show us the importance of protecting our critical infrastructure. The City Department of Water delivers vital services that keep us healthy and support our economy 24 hours a day. We must invest in our water system,” said Mayor Walsh. “Making Syracuse more walkable for all of our residents not only protects our health, it makes getting to work, school, and the store, as well as using our parks more accessible.”
Mayor and Council Finance Committee to create Revenue Enhancement Working Group
To address the City’s continuing structural deficit and revenue shortfall, Mayor Walsh said he will partner with the Common Council Finance Committee to establish a new “Revenue Enhancement Working Group.” The advisory body to the Administration and Council will be charged with identifying new short- and long-term sources of funding to reduce the gap between the City’s revenue and its expenses while preserving the city fund balance.
Mayor Walsh’s full fiscal year 2023 budget is available for review at https://bit.ly/syr-propbudget2023.