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Syracuse budget hearing highlights need for first responders and literacy

Ellen Abbott
Virginia Carmody, with the Literacy Coaltion of Onondaga County, speaks during Syracuse's public hearing on its annual budget.

Pleas for funding for a literacy program, and concerns about public safety spending rounded out comments at last night’s public hearing on the city of Syracuse’s proposed 2014-2015 budget.

In all, six people spoke to common councilors about Mayor Stephanie Miner’s proposed $660 million spending plan last night. Among them was Felicia Salley, a mother of three from Syracuse’s southside. She says the Imagination Library, run by the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County, has helped her kids prepare for school by providing each of her children one new age-appropriate book a month.

"It has made a tremendous difference in the quality of education when they started school," Salley said. "They were already able to identify letters, they were already able to identify numbers.”

Executive Director Virginia Carmody is looking for $50,000 in the city budget to expand the program, which sends books every month to the homes of kids under the age of five.

"Currently the coalition sponsors the program with community support for half the city, so there’s a request in the budget to expand the program city-wide,” Carmody said.

Other concerns at the hearing; police and fire safety. Rich Puchalski, head of Syracuse United Neighbors (S.U.N.), is concerned about cuts in staffing levels in the police department, which he says is already thin.

"A lot of people call our office and complain that it took hours for police to show up," Puchalski said. "They might say they haven’t seen an officer patrol the neighborhood.”

He adds that current staffing levels also aren't enough.

"We’re concerned about full staffing of public safety," Puchalski said. "There’s a lot of violence going around. Some of the things we’re concerned about is the minor violence, the assaults, shots fired, gang related activity.”

The mayor’s budget proposes hiring 25 new police officers, but Puchalski says that pales in comparison to the dozens of potential retirements in the department.  

“What’s going to happen in the coming months? There’s 150 eligible to retire," Puchalski explained. "They might look at the contract, don’t see a contract with the city, and might say, 'This is going nowhere with this administration. I’m either going to retire or work somewhere else.' So we see this rolling down the street and only getting worse.”

S.U.N. is asking councilors to reject proposed staffing cuts to both the police and fire departments.

Lawmakers are expected to make some changes to the budget before a final vote next Wednesday.

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.