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Syracuse lawmakers fix city budget after software error causes nearly $6 million shortfall

Ava Pukatch

Updated Friday 1:00 p.m.: Syracuse Common Councilors Friday agreed to use the city’s rainy day account to cover for an assessment error that would have tripled property taxes. Mayor Ben Walsh had asked lawmakers to modify the 2024 city budget after a computer glitch created an almost $6 million revenue shortfall. Going forward, Finance Committee Chair Michael Greene voted for it, but admitted it’s concerning.

“I think the biggest thing is it has a dramatic increase on our structural budget deficit," Greene said. "The council next year is going to have to take a hard look at how they set up the revenues and expenses, because now it becomes a pretty serious concern about the deficit.”

Walsh said his administration will work with the Council, City Auditor and New York State to enact safeguards so something like this doesn’t happen again in the future.

"I thank President Hudson, Finance Chair Greene and the members of the Syracuse Common Council for their timely action this week to protect taxpayers in the City of Syracuse," Walsh said in a statement. "The Council’s approval of a local law today in a special session will allow the Council to accept a modification to the adopted FY 2024 city budget. The change will apply an additional $5.7 million in city fund balance to offset a projected shortfall in revenue caused by an assessment software error. I have the highest respect for the Council’s fiduciary duty and regret the need to request the special action by the Council. I’m confident it is the best, timely way to resolve this situation and will work with the Council, the City Auditor and New York State to enact safeguards to avoid a similar situation in the future."

Original story:

The city of Syracuse caught a massive assessment mistake that could have tripled tax bills for city property owners. Now, Mayor Ben Walsh is asking for help from Common Councilors to set the budget straight, after what appears to be a computer error.

The city was getting ready to send out yearly tax bills at the end of June. One official thought they looked too high, and further investigation showed the city budget that was approved by lawmakers last month, was based on the wrong assessment numbers.

“Essentially two specific properties that were coded properly and correctly by our department of assessment as tax-exempt showed up when we were using the state software, when we transferred data from our software to the state software,” said Walsh. “That’s where the error occurred.”

Walsh said property taxes were already going up in this year’s budget, so unless the budget changes, homeowners will get bigger tax bills.

"The council approved a 2% property tax increase in the budget,” he said. “With that error, that increase would have gone from 2% to 7.1%."

The misstep adds up to nearly $6 million. The city and state are both investigating the problem, and Walsh said it appears there was no human error. But there could be some changes to make sure something like this never happens again.

"I think in retrospect we have a better sense of where we need to look and how closely we have to look,” he said. “But that’s what we are going to do in coming weeks, to put those systems in place, so regardless of whether it’s this administration or any other, that system is in place, and we can be rock solid on the data we’re presenting to the state, the council or the community."

The Common Council will consider authorizing a change in the city budget in a special meeting Friday that would make up the $6 million shortfall using funds from the city’s savings account.

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.