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Walsh transition team optimistic but wary of Syracuse’s fiscal future

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Syracuse City Hall.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh’s transition team released a report highlighting the priorities of the Walsh Administration, including recommendations on how to improve the city’s finances. Some team members said the financial crisis is real, and there is a limited amount of time to fix it.

The report projects city budget deficits ballooning in the next two years at $16 million and $20 million, wiping out what is left of the city’s $50 million fund balance. Minch Lewis, former Syracuse city auditor and adjunct Syracuse University professor was a member of the transition team. He said the emphasis has to be placed on correcting the size of city government and regionalizing services.

"We have an opportunity here to create better services for all, at the same time as we create a sustainable financial picture for the city," Lewis said. "I think there are many things we can do that would structurally make our government more modern, more efficient and more competitive with other regions. This is not a matter of bailing out the city. This is a matter of creating a community structure that works best for everybody."

For example, Lewis said that could mean ending the practice of city and town snow plows stopping at their respective lines. It could also mean sharing the cost of downtown parking garages.

The report suggested Syracuse negotiate new labor contracts and research new revenue streams, like a hotel occupancy tax. The largest portion of the  city's revenue comes from sales tax. Lewis said the city needs to attract more outside visitors.

“It is tremendously positive," Lewis said. "It has a multiplier effect on the local economy. For every dollar that is spent, it generates two dollars in the local economy.”

A fiscal summit advisory committee will determine more recommendations this year, with the hope of implementing strategies by the 2020 budget year, when the fund balance could be in jeopardy.

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.