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Mahoney proposes plan to pay for Onondaga Lake amphitheater

Ellen Abbott
County Executive Joanie mahoney speaks to the Onondaga County Legislature to promote her bond plan.

Slightly lower property taxes and decreased spending are the hallmarks of Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s proposed $1.25 billion spending plan.

The debate over the budget may ultimately be overshadowed by another proposal from Mahoney this week for a bond that will pay for the Onondaga Lake amphitheater project.

At the end of ten days of budget reviews, county lawmakers have injected a review of the western Onondaga Lake revitalization project, that includes construction of an amphitheater on the west shore of Onondaga Lake.

Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon says that will give legislators answers to questions they have before voting on a $49.5 million bond issue.

"How is the amphitheater going to be managed?" McMahon said. "What are the costs ongoing, how are we going to pay for them? These are all fair and legitimate questions my colleagues have.”

Meanwhile, Mahoney says the project is coming together quickly, noting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a law making it a design-build project, which means one company can do both the design and construction.

She says that takes a year off the total time to build the amphitheater. Mahoney says the bond should be an easy sell because it will be paid back using the $2.5 million Onondaga County will receive annually from Turning Stone Casino in the wake of a deal between the state and the Oneida Indian Nation.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney says her plan can be paid for using revenue gained from last year's Oneida Indian Nation deal.

"I think it’s almost impossible for the county legislature to go along with it, if we do use taxpayer dollars," Mahoney said.

"So the fact that we’ve identified a revenue stream that did not exist before this year and put it here is one of those moments in time when you have the opportunity to do something different.”

She also stressed the continued importance of making Onondaga Lake a more inviting place.

“This is just a great outcome from the decades of abuse to that lake, and what we’ve all grown up with," Mahoney explained. "And to say that right now, we are seizing an opportunity to bring the lake back for the people who live here, whose hard-earned money has gone into cleaning that lake.”

Mahoney says this project ultimately impacts the budget, noting that more and more of the county’s spending is dependent on sales tax dollars fueled by projects like this.

"You really have to be aggressive pursuing economic activity, when two-thirds of your budget is funded through that economic activity,” Mahoney said.

That’s why she says it’s so important for the county to continue pushing for increased economic development.

“We make it so people want to come here, want to visit our restaurants and shops and stay in our hotels, perhaps come to the amphitheater for a show and stay the weekend," Mahoney explained. "Those sales tax dollars are funding our county operation. That’s why when you look at an economic development deal, you have to look it as an opportunity to pave your roads and replace your water pipes.”

Lawmakers will review the numbers and vote on the budget October 14.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.