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Sales tax agreement between Onondaga County, Syracuse, will likely extend 10 years

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh (left) with Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon.

Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse have avoided the acrimony that’s happened in the past, when it comes to deciding how to split the sales tax revenue that is generated in the county. Leaders have agreed to extend the current agreement another ten years.

Millions of dollars in sales tax revenue are at stake because of this deal. The last time officials grappled with the issue a decade ago, there was a shift, with more of the dollars headed to the city. It created some fiscal problems for some local governments, and created a divide between city and suburban interests. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said that was a consideration as the county and city decided on this course of action.

"It’s taken eight years for us to rebuild some of those bridges and mend some of those fences,” Walsh said. “And I think as we all surveyed the landscape and considered opening the deal up and opening up those old wounds, we all came to the conclusion our time would be much better spent focusing on moving all our communities forward.”

The deal basically continues to give the city of Syracuse a quarter of the sales tax revenue. The county gets the rest. And local villages will get a piece of the pie, thanks to a revenue sharing deal the county announced earlier this week. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the city needs to get a major part of the revenue, because so many properties within city limits, like universities and medical facilities, are tax exempt.

"Our region’s economic clusters, many of them, are in the city of Syracuse and provide employment day in and day out, and yet those same facilities pay no property taxes,” McMahon said. “That’s recognized in this deal.”

Both the Syracuse Common Council and the Onondaga County Legislature have to okay the extension before it's final. County Legislator Kevin Holmquist of Manlius, firmly on the suburban side of things ten years ago, expects it to be approved this time around.

"It took a long time and there were a lot of hard feelings for many, many years,” Holmquist said. “Now this time, the agreement is exactly the same. So, what changed? Leadership, cooperation, collaboration.”

For Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey and much of the current council, this is all new. He expects it will pass though, once lawmakers ferret out the details.

"I know I did a lot of running around myself, digging for information to make sure we were getting a good deal in the city of Syracuse, and I believe we have," Bey said.

Legislative leaders of both the council and legislature expect it to be approved by early January at the latest.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.