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Some Syracuse residents enraged by developer’s 15-year property tax exemption proposal

The COR Development company is seeking 15 years worth of property tax exemptions from the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency to build residential and commercial units in the city of Syracuse’s Inner Harbor. Some Syracuse residents were enraged at a public hearing on Tuesday that the company would try to circumvent input from elected officials.

About 60 people crammed their way into a small conference room at the county development agency. More people spilled out into the hallway. But not a single person in attendance at the meeting spoke in favor of the deal.  

The county development agency can vote on and approve a property tax exemption without having the Onondaga County Legislature vote on it. On the other hand, had COR gone to the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, their rules require the Syracuse Common Council’s approval for property tax exemptions. 

Sharon Owens heads the nonprofit that runs Syracuse's Southwest Community Center and says it is deplorable that no one from the county agency’s board came to Tuesday’s meeting.

“How does any entity, private of not, have the unchecked access to and negotiating power over, any taxable property without any type of oversight by any governing body of individuals chosen by the electorate?” Owens asked.

Some see it as a slap in the face to the city of Syracuse which selected COR to develop the site and gave it $1.5 million to develop the public infrastructure around it. Two current county legislators attended the meeting and voiced their disapproval.

Onondaga County Legislator Christopher Ryan said if county tax breaks are given, county workers should do the work.

"We have seen far too often, where projects were given inducements, tax breaks and then they turn around and the developer hires firms, contractors out of the county," Ryan said. "That's not right. It's county tax dollars, it's our work and should be given preferential treatment to county employees, companies, people."

Other people in attendance voiced concern that nothing in the deal would require COR to hire workers from within the city. Some residents complained that COR is not including affordable housing in the project. Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey agreed with both of those ideas.

"If you have jobs, we want a certain percentage of local hiring opportunity and contract opportunity," Bey said. "You're using the taxpayers' money that live in the city." 

The Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency next meets on Dec. 8.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.