Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh unveiled his first budget Monday in a way that he hopes sets a collaborative tone. He brought his proposal directly to council chambers.
“We can’t do everything that we want to do on our own, nor can the council. We’ve developed very solid relationships and hopefully by being there, in the council chambers, we send a message that we’re going to continue that collaboration going forward,” said Walsh.
It was one of many indications of what appears to be a new approach to governing and managing the city’s limited resources. The administration’s $245 million spending plan holds property taxes steady, and uses $11 million in rainy day reserves. Walsh said they would have had to use about $2.8 million more had city departments not trimmed their original budget requests.
“We feel confident that what we have in our anticipated $11 million deficit that that’s a solid number. It is a budget so there’s the chance it can change, but we’re pleased that that number is lower than some of the early projections, but it’s still unsustainable,” said Walsh.
That’s why Walsh recommended the city apply for assistance under the state financial restructuring board.
“Designed to prevent the need for a state control board, the FRB provides the city with non-binding advice and consultation and can deliver up to five million in grants to implement recommended changes. Both Rochester and Albany used the FRB, and it helped them,” said Walsh.
He hopes to apply later this month. Walsh said the city is grappling with hard-to-control expenses such as health care, pension, and debt service with mostly flat income. Walsh proposed a hiring and salary freeze except for police and fire, while also looking to boost revenue through enforcement of existing ordinances. For example, stepped up ticketing and booting of parking violators in January generated an extra $300,000. His administration is also looking at increasing numerous fees that he said just don’t reflect the real cost of services provided by the city. The accounting aside, Walsh is forging ahead on a workforce development and city jobs program called “Syracuse Build.” He says it was created with an eye toward the I-81 project, but he says he’s not waiting.
"The city will roll out the program in the middle of 2018 to begin placing city residents on construction worksites this year. There are projects being developed now or soon to be undertaken that need city workers. Syracuse Build is working with major city institutions and partners in training and workforce development to get more local people trained and working as soon as possible."
Walsh says if the 81 project began tomorrow, the city and its residents would not have the capacity to take full advantage. Councilors begin reviewing the budget with department heads Tuesday in chambers. In another effort to engage with residents, those discussions will be streamed on the city’s website syrgov.net, and on you tube here.
Here are more details about initiatives in the budget plan, as provided by the mayor's office:
• Funding road, sewer, and water systems; using sensors and predictive technology to detect and prevent problems
• Deploying more police body cams; funding new police and firefighter classes
• Establishing Municipal Violations Bureau; increasing ordinance enforcement income
• Investing $1 million in mental health support for city school students (Say Yes)
• Saving money and energy through the acquisition city street lights; using light poles to create citywide tech network in the future
• Accessing assistance from State Financial Restructuring Board
• Restoring funding to Syracuse Land Bank
• Fast-tracking implementation of Syracuse Build to put residents on job sites
• Building new city website and upgrading Cityline service request system
• Implementing the Office of Accountability, Performance, and Innovation to monitor performance and report to the public
Walsh budget based on new strategic plan
The mayor’s budget is based on a strategic plan for the city developed by the Walsh administration during its first three months in office. The plan begins with a new vision for the city: Syracuse will be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.
The strategy sets four objectives to realize the vision:
1. Achieve fiscal sustainability
2. Deliver city services effectively and efficiently
3. Increase economic growth and neighborhood stability
4. Provide high quality constituent service and response