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Mahoney says amphitheater will bring tax dollars to Onondaga County for years to come

Onondaga County
Artist rendering for the amphitheater along Onondaga Lake.

It’s been a busy year for economic development for Central New York.  And one of the highest profile projects that will be completed in 2015 is the $100 million amphitheater and Solvay revitalization project. This kind of economic development reflects a new reality when it comes to paying for government.

It used to be that property taxes were the linchpin of Onondaga County’s budget. But that’s changed according to County Executive Joanie Mahoney.       

"The property tax levy in 2010 was $184 million. It is today $140 million. We’ve reduced the property tax levy in Onondaga County by 24 percent in the last five years.”

What’s taking its place? Sales tax revenue.  Two-thirds of the county budget is now funded through sales tax. And that’s where the connection between government and economic development comes in.

"We fund our government to a much bigger extent today than five years go with sales tax. And you have to invest in projects that are going to generate that," said Mahoney.

And that’s one reason Mahoney is so gung-ho on the amphitheater project.

Experts hired by the county say the17,500-seat outdoor concert venue on the western shore of Onondaga Lake could bring in up to $22 million a year by 2019.  

Mahoney says naysayers should look no further than the big mall on Onondaga Lake as proof of the impact of sales tax.

"People love to hate Destiny [USA]. But if you could see the amount of revenue in the city budget and the county budget because of the money people spend in Destiny USA, then you might have a have a different opinion of it. Because that’s how we’re paving our roads and fixing our water pipes.”

And that is why Mahoney was so eager to use a new revenue stream from the Oneida Nation to pay for the amphitheater project. A state agreement to share gaming revenue from the Nation will bring an average of $2.5 million to Onondaga County a year. Mahoney says it just doesn’t make sense to take that money and lower taxes.

“Do you take that money from the Indian casino and reduce everybody in the county’s taxes by ten dollars, which is what you could do with that money? Or, do you invest it in something that is going to generate revenue for years to come?” asked Mahoney.

The county executive says it dovetails as well with her vision of a central New York that is more hip; a place that young people don’t flee right after graduating from high school or college.

"It’s a perfect storm for us to make this a kind of community that young people choose to live in. Because the things the young people want to do, like this amphitheater are going to generate the sales tax that are going to pave our roads and fix our water pipes."

Mahoney says negotiations are ongoing with a potential operator for the amphitheater, as well as for a big act to christen the facility.

"We’re still aiming for an August 24 ability to have a first concert there -- whether it will be that day or sometime during the state fair,” she said. “I am in conversations with the state fair about coordinating so we can have a big concert to kick off this amphitheater in the fall.”

She says they want to find an act that will appeal to all generations.

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.