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Walsh: ‘Appropriate’ to use federal stimulus to close deficit, fund sidewalk program, arts

Frank Malfitano Facebook
A rendering of the proposed mural in downtown Syracuse featuring Earl Lloyd, Dolph Schayes, Breanna Stewart and Manny Breland.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said his administration will have a plan in place by the end of the month as to how they will spend $123 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. The stimulus package is meant to offset the costs accrued by municipalities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Walsh said they will use $20 million to close a budget deficit, which he said came from a loss of revenue over the past year.

“We were on a strong path towards fiscal sustainability and a balanced budget, prior to the pandemic,” Walsh said during a community briefing Wednesday. “The pandemic has set us back. That’s what the federal funds are for, is to get us back on track.”

Walsh also wants to use $4.5 million of the stimulus to support a municipal sidewalk program, where the city would take over the responsibility and maintenance of sidewalks from property owners. That effort has been stalled by some on the Syracuse Common Council, including councilor-at-large and mayoral candidate Khalid Bey. Bey said there are still too many unanswered questions, like who assumes liability, what the financial plan is, and how staffing and deployment will work. He said there needs to be more discussion with the public.

“I’m always concerned about proper protections in place for people on fixed incomes,” Bey said. “We don’t know who is a dollar away from foreclosure.”

Mayor Walsh said they’ll address councilors’ questions.

“A municipal sidewalk program has been a priority of me and my administration, really, from the time I took office,” Walsh said. “It is a stated priority of the Common Council majority, so that gives me hope that we can get to approval. I think the window of opportunity is right now.”

Walsh also said it’s appropriate to use federal stimulus funds to support arts and culture. It’s an industry, he said, that’s been devastated by the pandemic. The Syracuse Common Council appropriated $75,000 in federal funding for a downtown mural featuring four iconic basketball players with ties to the area. Walsh said he has heard from local artists and arts organizations concerned that this one project has been prioritized.

“I think it’s a cool looking mural and I’d like to see it go up,” Walsh said. “My only concern has been the message that we’re sending that this project should be handled any differently than any other proposed arts project.”

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.