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Walsh proposes major cuts to make up for COVID-caused deficit

Payne Horning
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh speaks at a news conference Friday

It's a day Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said he hoped would never come. On Friday afternoon, Walsh laid out his plan for $18.1 million worth of deep and widespread cuts to the city's budget as a way to make up for what is estimated to be a significant loss of revenues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although the proposal includes no permanent layoffs, it calls for furloughs affecting more than 400 city employees. Some of the furloughs will be long-term, others seasonal, and some just two days per a month, which Walsh himself plans to take. The plan would also freeze new hires and reduce overtime expenses across city hall. The departments hit hardest by these cuts will be the largest: police, fire, parks and recreation, and DPW. 

Walsh's plan also slashes many city services to make ends meet. Everything from school-youth programs offered by the parks department to the sidewalk snow plowing program are on the chopping block -- including even some police overtime incurred recently to address the rise in local burglaries.

In all, Walsh said Syracuse faces $41 million in lost sales tax revenue, state aid, departmental revenues, and a slight decline in real property tax items. He said his administration has been able to avoid nearly $23 million of that in the past year through other savings actions and budget planning, but there is still a long way to go. And with a requirement in the city charter to avoid deficits and no assistance from the federal government, Walsh said the city has few options available to get that done. 

"Further borrowing or depleting city reserves would cripple the city’s short and long-term financial sustainability," he said. "If the federal government had acted sooner, we wouldn’t be here. So if the federal government does in fact act and provide the aid that New York State and Syracuse desperately need, we do hope to roll back as much of these cuts as possible."

The House passed a bill earlier this year that would offer state and local governments aid, including $50 million for Syracuse, but Walsh is no longer waiting for that rescue package. Starting the process sooner than later and spreading the cuts out over the next year could save the city from facing steeper cuts when the current fiscal year ends in summer 2021.

"The longer we wait for aid, the more permanent these actions will be and the more damage that will be done," Walsh said. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.