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Onondaga County Legislature approves $1.4 billion budget, but without aquarium or sports complex

Onondaga County legislator Jim Rowley speaks at a legislature meeting Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County legislator Jim Rowley speaks at a legislature meeting Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Onondaga County lawmakers passed a $1.4 billion budget in a bipartisan vote Tuesday. It includes some tax cuts and creates a bigger county government. But the budget did not include two of County Executive Ryan McMahon’s signature proposals: an $85 million aquarium and a $25 million sports complex.

Lawmakers' decision to keep those big items out of the election-year spending plan happened early on in the budget process, when funds to pay for them were put into a contingency budget. But the specter of them hung over the budget debate. Legislator Jim Rowley unsuccessfully suggested swapping out aquarium funding and using it for other capital projects. He argued that the project should be paid for with bonds, a move that requires 12 votes in the legislature.

"Like we did for the amphitheater. There was a bond for that. 12 votes. It was a little contentious, but it was the right thing to do,” said Rowley. “That way it’s vetted completely in the community once you get two-thirds majority of the legislature."

McMahon’s lacrosse and soccer sports complex in the town of Salina also hit a brick wall. And a majority of lawmakers agreed with Democratic legislator Mary Kuhn’s idea to use $2 million to fix the Hopkins Road ballpark, where McMahon proposed the sports complex be built.

"Neighbors don’t want it. We have a petition of 300 or more names on it. Players don’t want it,” Kuhn said. “I don’t understand what this is all about except the county executive wants it there."

Aside from these items, the legislature went along with most of the rest of McMahon’s budget. And that includes creating a bigger government that still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic, according to legislator Brian May.

“219 new funded positions, basically restoring losses that occurred over the past couple years,” said May.

The spending plan awaits McMahon’s approval before it becomes final.

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.