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Walsh proposes more ways to spend stimulus, some councilors push back

Syracuse Council.jpg
Tom Magnarelli
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Jennifer Tifft, deputy commissioner of the city's Neighborhood and Business Development, takes questions from the Council.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh continues to propose ways to spend $123 million allocated to the city from the American Rescue Plan stimulus package. The city’s Common Council has already approved about $10 million in funding. But some councilors say it's been a little disjointed and want more details.

Walsh’s latest round of stimulus proposals includes $10 million for water infrastructure projects, like extending the intake pipe in Skaneateles Lake, where the city gets its drinking water, to reduce the impact of harmful algal blooms. There’s $5 million to the land bank for demolitions and maintenance of vacant properties. Walsh said there's also funding for rental assistance and planting 3,500 new trees.

“When we received the money from the federal government, the intent was for it to be deployed quickly for the purposes of recovery, so that’s what we’re doing,” Walsh said.

Items the Council already approved includes $4.5 million for the first year of the city’s new municipal sidewalk program. The Landmark Theatre was loaned $2 million to finish renovations before its upcoming fall season. There's money for parks, summer youth programming, the new police youth athletic league and parking garages.

One item that’s been on hold is $4 million for the Small Business and Microenterprise Assistance Fund, which includes low-interest loans to small businesses. Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey said there are a lot of unanswered questions about what the criteria is for businesses to receive this money and how reporting will work to make sure it’s used responsibly.

“There’s a lot of pop-up businesses asking for money,” Bey said. “We don’t know if they have DBAs or not, we’ll assume they do. We don’t know if they’re charitable organizations, we’ll assume some are. Those are the kind of details we need to understand to ensure we’re doing what’s right with government money.”

Mayor Walsh said the plan is to get the Council information about the application process before Monday, when a vote is scheduled. He said he wants to continue moving these stimulus spending items as quickly as they can, even as some on the Council, like Councilor Bey, say there has been a “bombardment” of these items, and they want to avoid spending the stimulus money carelessly.