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Syracuse council overrides mayor's veto, defunds land bank

Tom Magnarelli
Rich Puchalski (center), with Syracuse United Neighbors, pushes the council to restore land bank funding.

The Syracuse Common Council has voted to override the mayor’s veto and defund the Syracuse Land Bank of $1.5 million in the city's recently passed budget. Some councilors called into question the land bank’s performance of maintaining foreclosed properties.

Rich Puchalski with Syracuse United Neighbors offered candy to councilors who would vote to return land bank funding.

“Most of you, don’t experience what we experience day in, day out,” Puchalski said.

Puchalski is referring to the land bank’s foreclosed vacant properties and homes on the city’s south and southwest sides. He said the funding cuts come as millions of dollars in tax breaks for various projects are being granted in the city, including luxury apartments near University Hill.

"We're helping out the rich neighborhoods are we're taking away money from the poorest in the city," Puchalski said. "That's wrong."

Puchalski said when neighbors complain about maintenance issues, the land bank is quick to respond.

“Our fear is there is going to be cutbacks, probably won’t see as many demolitions as we’ve seen recently," Puchalski said. "Who's to say it would be more difficult on our part to get a vacant house boarded up?”

But Councilor Khalid Bey gave a fiery speech after the vote that demolitions are part of the problem.

“Stop tearing things down without a plan to put anything back,” Bey said.

He said those complaints about garbage and the grass not being mowed are because the land bank has too many properties.

“Before the land bank was established, I held it up for three months out of concern that they would hoard properties and not return them to the tax rolls at a respectable pace," Bey said. "That’s exactly what’s happening now. When they're not even keeping pace with maintenance, they're definitely not going to keep pace with rehab. The intelligent thing to do is slow it down and let them catch pace."

But land bank Executive Director Katelyn Wright said eliminating city funding will only slow the process more.

"We're going to have to look at the properties the city wants to give us and really evaluate which ones we can afford to take," Wright said.

The land bank will still have $4 million to continue its operation.

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.