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Education

Syracuse School district says it can handle revenue loss due to land bank; city council disagrees

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Greater Syracuse Area Land Bank
/
City of Syracuse

There is disagreement between the Syracuse city council and its school district over just how much of an impact the land bank is having on the district's budget.

The Syracuse public school system projects it will collect nearly a $1 million less this year because of properties acquired by the city’s land bank.

That was a big enough figure for councilors to be concerned and call a special committee meeting, but school Superintendent Sharon Contreras wrote a letter to councilors saying the district can "effectively manage” its budget and that the land bank is a “positive force” for the city and should continue its work.

It should be noted that with a $350 million annual school budget, the land bank's impact is a fraction of its overall accounts. But Councilor Jean Kessner says it’s still a lot. "If (Superintendent Contreras) is not concerned about a projected $900,000, I am."

The city has the practice of making up the difference in the school district’s budget by properties that aren’t paying their taxes. But once vacant properties are acquired by the land bank – and before they’re resold – they don’t generate revenue. The city has called it an "unintended consequence."

"That’s a lot of money," Kessner said. "Go in our schools, see what our needs are and tell me if you would agree, it doesn’t matter if we get that money or not. It does matter to me."

The council says it wants to see if a solution can be found so the school system doesn’t lose as much money. No obvious solutions were proposed at the meeting Tuesday evening.

Suzanne Slack, the school district’s chief financial officer, says now that the district knows about the situation, they can adjust. "No one at the school district is saying long term, the land bank is the wrong way to go," she told councilors.

"To go forward with a budget that includes all possible adjustments that we may know about," Slack said. "Now that I know about this, I have to do a better of tracking it and monitoring that."

There was much discussion about the pace at which the city is seizing delinquent properties. Many people urged the council to keep up the pace.