Madam President and members of the Common Council, in accordance with the Charter of the city of Syracuse, it is my honor to deliver to you tonight the State of the City of Syracuse as we begin 2020.
Syracuse is surging
As I start my third year as Mayor of the City of Syracuse, I am pleased to report that the state of our city is surging. Surging forward with optimism and newfound confidence based on the experience and evidence that our City is, in fact, getting stronger.
After years of decline that turned far too many of us into cynics and defeatists, people are actually starting to believe again, and there is good reason for that. Our population began growing again in 2018; we are the only major city in New York State that can say that. Syracuse has the third-highest growth rate of millennials in the nation moving here. Monthly job growth outpaced statewide numbers in all of the months measured in 2019.
Global banks and big technology companies are coming to Syracuse because they like what we are doing and believe in our strategies to create opportunity for more people. Vacant housing is down significantly. Poverty rates, still too high, are lower than they’ve been in a decade.
One of the world’s top financial ratings agencies upgraded its outlook for Syracuse. We’ve cut our projected budget deficits consistently, while still making strategic investments. We hired more police officers and firefighters; took ownership of our street light network; paved a lot more roads; started clearing sidewalks of snow; and opened a new community center, just to name a few. And yet, our financial reserves, once predicted to be near exhaustion by now, are holding steady.
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success,” Edward Everett Hale, the American author and historian said that. A statue of him still stands in Boston Public Garden. How right he was about working together and what powerful advice for us today, at this point in our community’s history.
The rising tide of our progress has been powered, I believe, by working together. It is happening at all levels of government: in our city; in towns, villages, throughout Onondaga County, and with our state and federal government. Our own city employees are leading the way by working across departments more than ever before, to make your City work for you. Cooperation is also occurring among education and health institutions, community organizations, and private businesses, where we are knocking over walls, breaking down silos and aligning strategies. We are working together in ways that, instead of dividing, multiply our strengths as a city and a region.
Yet, we have gotten so used to accepting a worn-out narrative of demise, it can be hard to accept that our prospects have already begun to change. At this critical juncture, we have a choice to make. Do we continue to forge ahead into the uncharted waters of partnership and progress, or do we allow ourselves to slip back into the status quo of discord and division; back into a cycle of competition and conflict; of self-limiting thought and action? Of what we can’t afford – not what we can accomplish through smart collaborative action.
Seizing a Window of Opportunity
We still face daunting challenges and too many of our residents and neighborhoods have yet to be touched by our recent progress. By no means do I believe Syracuse has reached its pinnacle, but I do see the next heights within reach.
Just as these magnificent windows reveal a view of our rising city, we have in our sights what I believe is a “window of opportunity”. Do we revert back to keeping score on who is winning and losing? Or do we double down on cooperation and for once create a City in which everyone wins.
I want you to know that I am more committed than ever to working together with our partners in local, state and federal government and with my colleagues in the Common Council. Of course, we have disagreed and we will again. It is the very nature of democracy. That divergence is healthy, as long as it is always based on what is in the best interests of the people of the City of Syracuse. That has been and will always be my litmus test.
I can’t think of a better place than this lecture hall to contemplate the possibilities and potential in Syracuse’s grasp. From here, we can see a panorama of our city and a thriving downtown Syracuse.
In the foreground below us is the heart of the Syracuse Surge, our strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy.
Outside these windows is also where engagement is happening around Blueprint 15, a vision to revitalize portions of the old 15th ward.
And of course, just below is the current path of Interstate 81, which awaits the transformation made possible by the Community Grid.
This is just what we can see through these giant windows. There are more victories occurring, large and small, in neighborhoods across our City. Not all neighborhoods, not yet, but they are happening in all four quadrants of Syracuse.
Syracuse is magnetic
The Syracuse we are building together is magnetic. It’s drawing people who want to be here, some of whom have left our City and have returned. Many others are choosing to stay here and be part of Syracuse’s resurgence. They are the real life embodiment of our burgeoning confidence.
Tajuana Cerutti-Brown is one of them. Tajuana grew up on the city’s south side. She attended Corcoran High School where she was a dedicated basketball player and mentor to fifth-grade students at Roberts for pretty much her entire high school career. Tajuana is a proud On Point for College alumna, and earned her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Buffalo.
But Syracuse called and she returned home to be with family and make a difference here. She went to work first for Onondaga County and became deeply involved in giving back to young people in our neighborhoods. She’s back living on the south side, raising a son, and I’m proud to say that last year, Tajuana joined our team at City Hall as our new public information officer. Score one for Syracuse for getting Tajuana back in town.
Vision of a growing city
Tajuana and a team of over 2,000 other city employees are helping us realize an ambitious vision we established for the City at the start of our administration:
Syracuse will be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.
Sustained growth is something we haven’t experienced in decades in the City – but we are seeing the early stages of that now.
Diversity is at the very center of our vision because it has been the source of our strength and power since the great surge of immigrants came to this city at the start of the 20th century.
And opportunity for all is our mandate, because we cannot enjoy true prosperity when poverty snares so many in our community. This vision is our North Star, our guiding light, and we follow it every day.
Transformative period of investment in our schools
I think my greatest joy as Mayor of Syracuse is the time I get to spend with our City school students. They are smart. They are optimistic. And they deserve the very best. Those faces are on my mind every time I chair a meeting of the Joint School Construction Board.
Over the last decade, the JSCB has facilitated the investment of over $450 million into our schools. In the last year alone we made remarkable progress on what may be the single most transformative period of investment in the history of our district. During 2019, students at Frazer and Ed Smith Pre-K-8 schools, and Bellevue Elementary School, were able to return to classes in schools prepared for the education of today and tomorrow.
Major renovation projects are underway at PSLA at Fowler, including a completed new roof and a state of the art, on-campus sports field complex. Building modernization is also happening at Grant Middle School, Huntington Pre-K-8 School, and Syracuse STEM at Blodgett, as well as Corcoran and Nottingham high schools.
That’s not even close to all:
Major design and construction projects are scheduled to start in 2020 at Henninger high school, including a 12 classroom addition, and at Brighton Academy, Clary Middle School and ELMS.
I want to thank the Common Council, the Board of Education, my colleagues on the JSCB, the City Engineering, Finance, and Law Departments, Superintendent Alicea and his team at SCSD, and most importantly, the many passionate parents and advocates who stand up for our children every single day. We’ve always known our schools are full of accomplished educators and incredibly smart and talented young people. Now, we are creating educational facilities and programs that are worthy of their abilities and can help prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. And it’s working; today the state announced another increase in our graduation rate in the 2019 school year. Congratulations Jaime, keep up the good work.
Syracuse can’t prosper without the finest education. We also can’t achieve our vision of growth unless we are on strong financial footing. That’s the basis for our objective on fiscal sustainability.
The city is not out of the woods yet, but we are getting closer. In my first two budgets, with the strong partnership of Finance Committee Chair Tim Rudd and the rest of the Common Council, we’ve been able to steadily reduce the City’s projected budget deficits and have been able to protect the City’s fund balance. We’ve kept our department operating expenses nearly flat and cut spending in many areas, but as I’ve said before, no successful community can cut its way to prosperity.
The upcoming budget for fiscal year 2021 will present significant challenges. The City has only experienced moderate revenue increases, at the same time that costs to attract and retain our City workforce are steadily growing. Councilors, I know fiscal sustainability is our shared duty. My team and I are committed to working closely with you to redouble our efforts toward achieving a fully balanced budget in the coming years.
The historic sales tax agreement extended in early 2019 with Onondaga County secures the formula for one of our largest sources of revenue through 2030. County Executive McMahon, this was one of the early indicators of the energetic partner you have already been for the City. I know we can keep working together to make the City and County stronger.
The big credit rating agencies, which had more pessimistic outlooks for Syracuse in the past, see things differently now too. Standard & Poors improved its outlook for Syracuse to stable and Moody’s also held at stable. The work we are doing together, Councilors, is making a difference and is being noticed.
With a more stable financial footing, we’ve stopped the skipping record that says, “We can’t,” and replaced it with “we can.”
In partnership with the Common Council, we more than doubled the sidewalk snow removal pilot program this winter. The City now ensures that sidewalks on 40 miles of streets are cleared whenever the snow reaches three inches or more. In a great example of a “we can” partnership, the City was able to take on more sidewalks on the north side and west side because Chancellor Syverud and Syracuse University agreed to plow large sections of sidewalks on the east side at no cost to the city.
Wherever I go in the winter, I hear two things regularly: how great it is to have the sidewalks cleared on the busiest streets; and that there are still too many sidewalks covered in snow or cracked and broken to the point they aren’t usable.
Tonight, I am announcing my commitment to work with the Common Council to implement a citywide municipal sidewalk maintenance and snow removal program. Sidewalks today are the responsibility of property owners, and while many residents are good stewards of their duty to maintain safe sidewalks, we’ve seen through experience that the system we have simply isn’t working. In addition to having too many sidewalks in dismal condition, the current system of enforcement puts property owners at risk of large unexpected expenses when their sidewalk gets cited. It creates frustration with city government; hardship on residents; and, sometimes, ill-will between neighbors. We can do better.
There are many details to work out on how the city proceeds to take responsibility and pay for sidewalk maintenance and snow removal, but sidewalks, even if you don’t have one in front of your property, are an important public good and an essential part of a healthy city. Working with the Council, my goal is to be able to start the implementation of a municipal sidewalk program this year.
Syracuse also needs to be a drivable city for all of us who live here and those who visit, work, shop and dine here. I am proud to say that in 2019, our team at DPW repaved 67% more roads – from six miles in 2018 to ten miles this past season. We did it with additional funding authorized by the Common Council under the leadership of Public Works Committee Chair Mike Greene, and of course the hard work of our DPW team. In the years ahead, with better planning and prioritization enabled by our new citywide interactive road ratings map, I am determined to see us invest and accomplish even more miles of roads on an annual basis.
We have many other investments to make. In those times when our collective needle was skipping on what we couldn’t do, our snowplow fleet was deteriorating. Today, it is much too old and much too small for a city that should be the titans of winter. It’s the biggest reason residents have, and may again periodically experience frustration with our snow response. So tonight, I am pleased to report that with Common Council approval earlier this week, we will purchase ten new snow plows and three plow-equipped pickup trucks with a goal of having them on the streets next winter. New York State will reimburse us fully for five of those plows. We also recently hired a new director of fleet operations whose full focus will be on managing city vehicles and equipment so we never face this predicament again in any department.
Our capital investments are not limited to DPW. We put new Syracuse Fire Department equipment on the streets this year, most notably a brand new 110-foot ladder truck, which is critical for safety at the multi-story residential and office structures around the city. The S-F-D, one of the best fire departments in America, under the leadership of Chief Michael Monds, one of the best fire chiefs in America, responded to more than 22,000 alarms last year. Think about that – about 60 times a day—our firefighters rolled out of their stations ready to put their lives on the line – for all of us. Average response time from dispatch: three and a half minutes — that’s less than half the national average.
Why is our department so good? Because our average firefighter puts in 183.5 hours of training per year – that’s more than 64,200 hours across the entire department. To ensure they have the equipment they need, we will purchase two fully refurbished fire engines — saving the City about a quarter of a million dollars — and two new aerial ladder towers — which can safely reach very high areas in all types of weather and tight conditions. So when that moment arrives, your Syracuse Fire Department will always be ready. This investment was again made possible by the support and partnership of the Common Council, and through the leadership of its new Public Safety Chair, Chol Majok.
Every city in America deals with crime and, at times, strained relationships between the public servants sworn to protect us and the neighborhoods they serve. In these regards, Syracuse is no different.
But I believe we are unique in the way we are responding to these challenges – by standing together with comprehensive public outreach and input from citizen advisory groups. That is how we selected our outstanding police chief, Kenton Buckner, who is just beginning his second year leading the SPD. And this past year, when we experienced painful periods of tension between police and community – we confronted it directly and together.
At times there was boiling passion, anger and even tears – but we listened at police-community conversations all across the City. And Chief Buckner has responded, by developing a new patrol division strategy that puts department leadership and patrol officers on duty serving the same neighborhoods week in and week out. He’s also introduced new policies – based on 21st Century best police practices – for interactions with transgender individuals, professional conduct and, importantly, use of force.
And this year, we added two classes of officers — 73 more cops on the street. We are just starting the third new class of 35 more officers, who I will be swearing in tomorrow and will be on the street by the end of this summer. I’m proud to report this is one of the most diverse academy classes in SPD history, with nearly a quarter of the class representing minority populations, hailing from underrepresented communities right here in Syracuse, to countries around the world including Germany, Mexico, Nigeria and Sudan.
We also have, within our reach, a change in our police force that has long been thought impossible – a city residency requirement for new officers. The contract agreement reached with the PBA was actually born of those police-community conversations – because the agreement enables us to deliver what you, our residents, told us was important: residency, improved service delivery and a way to reduce the attrition that has been depleting the ranks of the department. Tonight, I’m reaffirming my commitment to work with the PBA and the Council to address any outstanding concerns in the police contract, so we can seize this window of opportunity for our police and our community.
About five years ago, Syracuse shut down the community center at Westmoreland Park on the near east side. It may have helped the city’s bottom line at the time, but it hurt the community. With determination, a group of neighbors got together last year with our parks department to fix that. Together, they came up with a plan, and with the support of the Common Council, and in particular Council President Hudson and 5th District Councilor Joe Driscoll, we opened the doors of Westmoreland Community Center again in September. Afterschool and life skills programs, meals for children, and games for kids are all available once again inside Westmoreland. That coalition of neighbors and parks staff is here tonight – and I want you all to stand so we can thank you for showing us exactly what working together can accomplish.
Our parks across the city are getting better thanks to a “we can” attitude. We expanded sledding, snow-shoeing and cross country skiing at two parks; we have a brand new playground at McKinley Park; record high reservations and rentals at all three city ice rinks; new fitness equipment at Burnet Park; an online registration system for summer programs that did away with the long lines and hours of wasted time by our constituents and parks staff; and I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but we had a new Christmas tree in Clinton Square this year. I want to thank the Council for its consistent support of our parks and Councilor Carni, in particular, for his effective leadership of the Council’s Parks, Recreation, and Youth Committee.
Our Parks Department has taken a “we can” approach to finally solve a problem that’s been negatively impacting health and safety for far too long: overpopulation of deer. With community involvement, Council support and State and County cooperation, we began deer management this winter. Syracuse is now one of five local municipalities in which specially-trained federal wildlife managers are humanely reducing the deer population.
Special thanks to Councilor Driscoll – and his predecessor in the fifth district, our new City Auditor Nader Maroun — for their effective work on this important issue over a long period of time.
Neighborhoods and housing
Our neighborhoods are getting healthier and stronger, too. The data proves it. Since I took office, there has been a more than 12% decline in vacant residential properties in the city. Vacant properties are like cancer to a neighborhood. When one property goes vacant, it affects all of the houses around it. Turning this cycle around is a major accomplishment.
In addition to our ongoing work with the Land Bank to address tax-delinquent properties, we are now also fighting back against tax current “zombie” properties through our Blight Busting Program. Thanks to the support of the New York State Attorney General’s office we undertook emergency repairs on seventeen zombie properties with over half of the costs recovered from the property owners. Even better, another 71 properties were brought into compliance — just with the threat of Blight Busting — without additional City intervention needed.
Cities in virtually every economic condition — even rising ones like Syracuse — struggle with having enough quality, affordable, and accessible housing. In 2019, the City — working with federal, state and non-profit partners — played a direct role in advancing over 220 new affordable housing units that are underway: 52 units at Butternut Crossing on the north side; 54 units of senior housing at the former St. Anthony’s School and Convent on the south side; 99 fully renovated and 9 new units at the YMCA men’s residence in downtown Syracuse; and six apartments above the Spanish Action League offices on the west side. We also cut the ribbon on the Catherine Street Apartments and Freedom Commons and construction is now underway on the expansive Winston Gaskin Homes project that will rehabilitate 20 properties on the east side, creating 66 affordable housing units. We can’t truly “surge” without quality affordable housing, especially as we continue to grow, and this work will remain a major focus of this City and my Administration.
We’re also making progress on reducing housing instability, which leads to families and children being upended by frequent moves. Our team at NBD developed an “early intervention” system in partnership with Syracuse Housing Authority and a privately owned complex where together, over a twelve-month period, 99 evictions were prevented and over $336,000 in eviction filings and lost rent were saved by property owners. Eviction petition filings were down 75% in 2018.
New lead ordinance
Sadly, there still remains a dire threat to public health that particularly hurts people whose housing options are limited. Lead lurks in paint chips and dust in far too many properties in the City. With effective county, state and federal partnerships, we’re making progress on reducing lead poisoning in the City, but not enough.
Today, I’m announcing that in early 2020 we will work with the Common Council to introduce a new lead ordinance that will protect our most at-risk children by investing resources in pro-actively inspecting buildings, rather than reactive enforcement efforts after a child has been poisoned. Under the proposed legislation, the City will identify high-risk areas for lead exposure, allowing our inspectors to take dust swipe samples even in properties where deteriorated paint is not visible. The expanded law will set a standard to clear properties for residency and require recertification every three years in high-risk areas.
Thank you to Peter Dunn of the Community Foundation, Home Headquarters, Congressman John Katko, President Hudson and Councilor Driscoll for your partnerships. Working together, we will wipe out the threat of lead to our children once and for all.
For more than ten years, Syracuse stood by and watched the former Syracuse Developmental Center decline, a nearly 50-acre blight on multiple west side neighborhoods. In 2019, my team and I said that’s enough. In August, we seized the giant property for back taxes. Our team secured the buildings; cleaned up the property and increased patrols and video monitoring. Looking to the future, in partnership with the Council, and with returning 2nd District Councilor Pat Hogan no doubt leading the charge, we’ve hired a commercial real estate broker and are marketing the property with the ultimate goal of returning it to taxable, job-producing use. Amazing what happens when we say, “we can.”
Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative
I hope you can see how serious my team and I are about improving our neighborhoods. I am excited to announce the launch of the citywide Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, a new program to do neighborhood planning and revitalization at the block level in our city.
The Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative is the result of the collective feedback we heard over the course of more than 90 “kitchen table talks” with residents, neighbors, and stakeholders who graciously opened their doors to us throughout 2019. On the commercial side, we conducted an 8-month analysis of several of our primary neighborhood business corridors and key commercial areas. The study has provided market data and information to inform our revitalization efforts.
Under the umbrella of the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, my team is working on an ambitious infill housing project to construct 50 new single-family homes and 75 two-family homes to “fill” gaps in our neighborhoods left by vacant and abandoned properties. Thanks to our non-profit housing partners at the Land Bank, Home Headquarters, Housing Visions, Jubilee Homes of Syracuse and more, first-time homebuyers and families seeking affordable, safe, and healthy housing will find quality opportunities throughout Syracuse neighborhoods in the coming years.
Moving forward, we’ll have dedicated community planners for each quadrant who will work with neighborhood stakeholders to ensure all aspects of our data align with the on-the-ground activity in specific corridors and adjacent residential areas. In doing so, they will ensure that our investments are directed at supporting the passionate people who really drive our neighborhoods — you.
I firmly believe that the quality of life is getting better in the City. I also believe there is a next, higher level that we must achieve. So tonight, I’m announcing the formation of the Mayor’s Quality of Life Commission, a new advisory group to my office and department heads across City government. To be sure it represents the entire City, the Commission will be comprised of representatives of the eight TNT sectors; other neighborhood partners and appointees by the Common Council. The group will convene quarterly and will help my team address quality of life issues that affect neighborhoods across the City.
When I took office, I said there would be no priority greater for us to address than the poverty in our city. In our first year, we used a data-based approach to better understand why Syracuse was performing worse than our Upstate city counterparts in addressing poverty. We identified the following priority challenges: jobs, transportation, education, digital divide; and housing instability.
In the most recent Census Bureau data, we saw indicators of some progress: the poverty rate is lower than it’s been in a decade. There’s much work to be done but I am proud of the programs that are working. In collaboration with the County, the Hire Ground program put nearly 270 individuals into work experiences. We haven’t helped all of our panhandling and homeless population off the streets, but since the program was launched more than 50 formerly homeless residents received case management services – and eight achieved permanent employment.
We also launched the Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center at eight locations throughout the City. In the first six months alone, 200 people have received free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling to help get and stay on more stable financial footing. Users call it a safe zone where no one passes judgment–just help with financial counseling. And it is free to any City resident.
The solutions to poverty are complex and will take caring, determination and collaboration over many years to achieve lasting progress. The path to success will also be found by relentlessly pursuing our vision for growth.
Syracuse Surge progress
This vision is the inspiration for the Syracuse Surge, our strategy for inclusive growth in the New Economy, announced at the State of the City address one year ago. Syracuse Surge has been embraced locally, statewide and even nationally.
The seeds for Syracuse Surge were planted when the Council authorized the purchase of our street light network, saving millions and improving our neighborhoods. That “we can” commitment put Syracuse on the map as a bold and forward-thinking city. Let’s take a look at what’s happened since:
The New York Power Authority named Syracuse New York State’s Flagship Smart City, putting us out in front of cities across the state and nation.
Then, Verizon came to us and committed to investing tens of millions of dollars in Syracuse to be one of the nation’s first citywide installations of superfast 5G wireless technology. They are already pulling permits and will begin installations later this year.
At the core of the Syracuse Surge strategy is a commitment to inclusive growth. That’s why the plan includes the Southside Campus for the New Economy, which took a monumental step forward this month when Governor Cuomo announced that the former Central Tech High School will be home to the state’s first regional Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) high school and workforce training center. Early on in my administration, we put together a working group to bring the idea of a STEAM school into action. I want to thank everyone who participated in this process, especially Superintendent Alicea and County Executive McMahon. Without their leadership and the help of their teams, we would not be here today.
The Governor recently committed investment in our community of more than $70 million dollars to make this long-awaited dream a reality. He also introduced a new and welcome partner in this endeavor, SUNY Empire State College, and we’re pleased to have SUNY Empire President Jim Malatras here with us tonight. This is an investment in the people of our region and an investment in our inclusive growth strategy. Thank you, Jim, and thank you, Governor Cuomo.
Because of the level of collaboration on the Syracuse Surge and the plans to create opportunity for all, our City was selected by the JP Morgan Chase Advancing Cities program to receive a $3 million grant to help implement the workforce readiness strategies focused on under-represented groups. About 250 cities applied. Syracuse was one of five cities selected, thanks in large part to the dynamic public-private partnership consisting of the City, County, School District, CenterState CEO, MACNY, REDC, Allyn Foundation, Gifford Foundation, SU, Le Moyne, ESF, OCC, and EOC – all of whom are working together to implement the plan.
Creating accessible technology jobs on the Southside Campus is more than a concept. It is already real. This fall, with the support of Governor Cuomo, we announced JMA Wireless’s commitment to locate a new manufacturing plant for 5G wireless equipment in the heart of the Campus at the former Coyne Textile Plant on Cortland Avenue. More than 100 tech manufacturing jobs that JMA is determined to make available to as many people within walking distance as possible.
Along with JMA, the Governor also announced more momentum for Syracuse: Bankers Healthcare Group is building a new financial headquarters at the Inner Harbor adding more than 250 local jobs.
Not long after, one of the world’s largest and most respected technology companies – Microsoft – came to Syracuse to announce it would establish a Smart Cities technology hub here. It is a connection first made through Chancellor Syverud and our partners at Syracuse University. Microsoft is currently working on the location of its Smart Cities Tech Hub, in conjunction with our efforts to establish a New York Center for Smart Cities, and we hope to have more to share soon.
The Erie Canal once transformed Syracuse. A new tech-driven ERIE 21 has been developed at Le Moyne College to support the Surge. In this case, ERIE stands for Educating for our Rising Innovation Economy. ERIE 21 is creating a pathway in the city to jobs in tech and other industries generating homegrown talent to feed the growing local demand for computational, software and engineering skills. It will provide services to middle school, high school, college, and adult learners. I am grateful to have Le Moyne and President Linda LeMura as strong partners in our Surge initiative.
There is still more Syracuse Surge progress to report. In November, the Governor came back to Syracuse to announce that the state is providing up to $12.5 million to expand the Syracuse Tech Garden, home to the most innovative tech start-up companies in the region and the highly successful GENIUS NY business competition for new drone technologies.
Flagship Smart City.
Citywide 5G wireless.
Expanding Tech Garden.
All in about a year.
Being a growing city isn’t easy. We are going to have to dramatically up our game to accommodate the kind of investment that is coming to Syracuse.
Last spring, I announced permitting as the Innovation Team’s next priority area. Since then, the Central Permit Office, Fire, Zoning, Code Enforcement, Communications, and the i-team have been overhauling outdated processes and upgrading operational procedures. In 2019, residential permits were issued 24% faster than in 2018. And commercial permits were issued 40% faster.
Later this month, Syracuse will launch online permitting, beginning with HVAC applications and phasing in other types throughout the year.
I’m also excited to announce we will launch electronic plan review software later this year. Applicants will soon be able to submit digital plans through an online portal, rather than printing and hand-delivering eight sets of building plans.
Here is the citywide permitting team that is making it happen. If you’re on that list, please rise so we can thank you.
Our investment in permitting technology, combined with the Rezone process which we’ll be working with Councilor Bey to advance with the Council in the coming weeks, will ensure that we can, indeed, surge with growth.
Before closing tonight, I want to talk about a few other important windows of opportunity in Syracuse’s future.
IDEA: Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility
While I am proud to have built the most diverse administration in the City’s history, speaking frankly, we still have work to do if we want to truly reflect the diversity of those we serve. So I’ve asked Deputy Mayor Owens to establish and lead the new Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility, or IDEA. It is a citywide initiative that will coordinate the actions of staff currently working in multiple city departments. Their duty will be to ensure that IDEA principles permeate citywide policies, procedures, and service delivery.
There is much we’ve talked about that requires a “we can” attitude. The work of our new IDEA initiative is in the “we must” category and I look forward to all that Deputy Mayor Owens and her team will accomplish.
In about eight weeks, one of the most consequential undertakings of the Federal government begins — the 2020 Census. This once in a decade count of the US population affects $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year. It also impacts legislative districts and congressional representation for the next ten years. It’s vital that Syracuse does everything it can to ensure that the Census count of people living in the City is accurate and complete. But that will be difficult because it is estimated that around two-thirds of people living in the City are considered “hard to count.” I’m pleased to tell you that my administration appointed a full-time Census Coordinator in 2019 and that Syracuse and Onondaga County formed a Complete Count Committee last year. The effort has been helped by the Community Foundation, which took an early leadership role in the Census. The count formally begins in March and will continue through July.
2020 will be a pivotal year for the Interstate 81 project. We anticipate the final Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be issued. It will provide another opportunity for us to come together in Syracuse and Central New York in support of the Community Grid, which, as both the DOT and Governor Cuomo have indicated, is the preferred alternative for the project. This is the right choice for the state, the region, and our City.
In the months ahead, my focus will be on ensuring, first and foremost, that the DEIS addresses the needs and concerns of the people who live closest to the project. I want to acknowledge the efforts of 4th District Councilor Latoya Allen and other community partners like the NYCLU who have worked tirelessly to ensure the voices and stories of those most impacted by this project continue to be heard.
Syracuse Build construction training, workforce development, and local hiring
2020 will also be a year to continue preparing for the jobs and opportunities that the Interstate 81 project will bring to our community. Working together will be essential to maximizing opportunities for local people. For nearly two years, my administration has been working with Work Train to plan and raise funds for the initiative that we’ve been calling “Syracuse Build.”
Late last year, we expanded the leadership team of Syracuse Build, which started as a partnership between the City, the County, and Syracuse University. It now includes representatives from CenterState CEO, EOC, CNY Works, Urban Jobs Task Force, Building and Trades Council, Carpenters Local 277.
I am pleased to announce that starting this week, Syracuse Build is officially launching training for its inaugural project. Last year, the City of Syracuse provided financial support to convert the former St. Anthony’s School on West Colvin Street into senior housing. My administration worked with the developer to ensure they were prepared to hire local workers on the renovation by connecting them to Syracuse Build partners. This week CNY Works and SUNY EOC kicked off a training program that will be preparing local residents to work on this project.
Earlier tonight, I talked about Syracuse being “magnetic.” Syracuse is, undoubtedly, a healthier and stronger city today than it was when I took office two years ago. That’s not something I did. That’s something we did, together. It didn’t just start two years ago, the momentum has been building for years.
And now, we are keeping many of our best and brightest right here. The brilliant minds that came through our city schools are choosing to stay. Many of them, like my colleague, Tajuana, right here in City government.
People like Cimone Jordan from Fowler, who went to Hamilton College and is now a Planner in neighborhood and business development, focused on neighborhood revitalization and blight remediation.
Or how about Anna Nguyen, also from Fowler, who went to the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and is now a Codes Liaison working to protect families from the threat of lead in their homes.
And Liam Kirst of Corcoran, who worked as a community outreach coordinator with the Land Bank through Americorps and is now a planner in NBD.
Then there is Indaria Jones of Nottingham, who went to SU, interned in New York City, and came back home to pursue a number of entrepreneurial endeavors while also serving as an economic development planner with NBD. And Jessica Vinceguerra, who grew up on the City’s north side, majored in policy studies, citizenship and civic engagement at Maxwell, and now works as a planner and environmental review officer for the city.
That group of Syracuse natives has something in common. Those caring young people are the brains behind the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative. They helped dream it up and worked to make it happen — and now they are the ones putting it to work for their hometown.
They’re all here in this room tonight, and I’d like them to stand and be recognized.
The notion that young people don’t choose to stay in Syracuse is fading away. It’s yesterday’s news, a “we can’t” story; an excuse we can and will retire to history.
Syracuse is surging again, my friends. We can see it through these windows.
And we have a window of opportunity before us – a responsibility right now — to keep working together to drive Syracuse to its best days ever. I thank you for being here, and I hope you will stay with me on this journey.