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Fearing fiscal control board, Syracuse councilor says curb some spending until after election

Tom Magnarelli
The Syracuse Common Council.

A vote this week to give the Syracuse Police Department $1.6 million for new vehicles became a lightning rod for a bigger issue. Some Syracuse Common Councilors say various spending items should be delayed because of the financial health of the city.

Councilor Nader Maroun said he is not opposed to replacing vehicles for the police department, but he is concerned with how the city is going to continue paying for operations when it’s projecting more than $16 million in a budget deficit and its fund balance is below $30 million.

“Sometimes we raise these issues in the context of trying to get people to realize the severity and the significance of the situation that we’re going to be faced with, in my opinion, in the next two, two and a half years,” Maroun said.   

The police department requested the funds come from the city’s unallocated cash capital account. Maroun said those items should wait until a new mayor is elected in November and a new administration takes over.

“They can take a look in the aggregate of the deficit spending budgets and how they plan to be able to sustain the fiscal health of the city," Maroun said. "The taxpayers deserve that from us.”

If Syracuse does not get its finances in order, it could be subject to a state fiscal control board, which Maroun said would take power away from the mayor and the council over the operational expenses of the city. Syracuse's budget director said the city could be put into a fiscal control situation if its fund balance goes down to between $10 million to $15 million.    

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said the financial challenges facing the city are virtually the same as when she took office in 2010. Miner said her administration has been able to raise revenue, cut spending and make fiscally tough but responsible decisions. 

"There should be no surprise about the fiscal condition of the city of Syracuse," Miner said. "I've talked about it since the first day I became mayor. I've talked about it in terms of every tough decision I've made whether it was closing a firehouse or whether it was not engaging in pension borrowing."

And options for cities are limited. State aid has been flat for years. There is a property tax cap each year. And sales tax revenue has been volatile. It’s anyone’s guess how it will perform each year.

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.