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Excerpt: Joanie Mahoney and Stephanie Miner on the Campbell Conversations

Matt Coulter
Syracuse University
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, left, and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, right, during their interview with Campbell Conversations host Grant Reeher

Note: The full interview will be broadcast on The Campbell Conversations, Saturday at 6 a.m. and again Sunday at 6 p.m. Audio and transcript of the full interview will be posted online Saturday morning. 

A rift has developed between Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney. At issue, tax breaks sought by the developer of Syracuse's Inner Harbor. When the developer, COR, bypassed the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency and instead went to the Onondaga County IDA, the city sued COR, saying it was going back on a previous agreement. The court case is currently under review.

This week on the Campbell Conversations, Miner and Mahoney sit down for their first joint interview since the dispute began. In this excerpt host Grant Reeher asks Mahoney to respond to Miner's claim that COR's tax abatement adds up to a nearly 20% public investment, without enough community benefit. 

Grant Reeher (GR): County Executive, what I'm hearing from the mayor, to try to put it into a nutshell, is that this was too much of a giveaway. Can you respond to that?

Joanie Mahoney (JM): If you look at PILOTs [Payment in Lieu of Taxes], for instance for the Marriott in the Armory Square neighborhood, that SIDA [Syracuse Industrial Development Agency] gave to the developer, they're far more valuable and there's a longer period of time before taxes are paid on the improvements. So this deal being characterized as too big a giveaway , I don't think is accurate. But I would also say that the state money that the mayor talked about being in the deal, that money was in the deal regardless of the county. So adding that to what made it so valuable that would require a CBA [construction benefit agreement], it was also part of the city’s deal. But I think that if you're truly committed to this notion of a community benefit agreement, when the land was transferred that is a tremendously valuable asset in the city and in the county as a whole. And when that land was transferred from the city to COR, the Urban Jobs Task Force was at the meeting and they were asking for a community benefit agreement and there was no discussion and no community benefit agreement. And I do take exception to the notion that it was not valuable enough to have required that, but now shame on the county for not doing it at this point. So, it’s, I suppose, a balance may be a matter. But there was a lot there is a lot of state and local money and value in this and Onondaga County has a really good track record of making sure that local people are hired. I think, as a matter fact, the local hiring component that the Onondaga County IDA uses, the city modeled their own after it. And you know I can give you a very long list of ways that Onondaga County ensures that local people benefit. So, it's just really the community benefit agreement language that we’re, I think, debating.

Stephanie Miner (SM): I have to disagree and I’ll say a couple things. First is that the Marriott pilot was a [former Mayor] Driscoll pilot and that was one that we wanted to get taken care of right away. So it was in the first three months of my administration. The second is the land was transferred and 13 days later the developer went to OCIDA, surreptitiously with no notification to us, the county IDA did not notify the city IDA and had the pilot benefit. You know, I would say this: The county executive has a good track record of really saying and talking about how important it is to give people jobs and how important it is that we hire people from the city. But I think where we disagree is that I don't think that it is good enough to just talk about it. I want that in writing, I want to enforceable. Because I've seen firsthand and experienced firsthand what happened with Destiny and they just said “we're going to do all of these things” and none of those things happened. Also, I would say there's a key difference between the county IDA and the city IDA in that we have goals for minority and women and business-owned hiring. We look at those goals when we talk to people about the benefits when they come back and they want more benefits. That’s part of how we measure whether to give them benefits or additional benefits. So we have actual language in the agreement that says this is what we expect you to do. But when you're talking about a PILOT that’s $2 million versus a PILOT that’s $44 million, your leverage is different, and the quantity of the public benefits that you're talking about. It becomes a different scope.

(JM): The PILOT that the mayor gave to the Marriott at the Armory Square might well have been negotiated by Driscoll, but the developer sold that and the PILOT transferring to the new owner had to be voted on by SIDA and that was voted on without any of this community benefit agreement. But the other thing is, with all due respect to the mayor, she's critical of the county because she said we talk about the importance of hiring city people. But she wants it in writing and she wants it to be enforceable, but we just said why wasn't this initially that they weren’t going to get a PILOT in writing. Why does the city have different standards for itself and not need requirements in writing but when the county does business, again shame on us if we don't?

(SM): I think because the size of the projects are different. When the only other similar size project that we've had come through the city has been the Joint Schools Construction Board, which we had in writing 10%, 15% for people of color, city residents, job training. So the actual language enforcible by an outside entity. We met and exceeded those goals. But again, the difference between a PILOT that’s taking away $9 million from the school district, $21 million from the city. A 15-year PILOT versus a PILOT for housing downtown, they’re vastly different and the amount of leverage and your ability to negotiate and talk about this is different.