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Syracuse Common Council approves small tax hike for city residents

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse's Common Council met Wednesday and approved the city's budget, with a small change in the tax rate.

Syracuse's Common Councilors are raising taxes in the city in a way they say won’t be painful.

Mayor Stephanie Miner’s proposed budget didn’t include any tax hikes, but the one the Common Council passed Wednesday does. The tax increase they are instituting is ultimately a wash because of a new state program that reimburses taxpayers for any tax increases they pay this year.

Lawmakers agreed to raise taxes 1.5 percent, an average of $12 per homeowner, in the 2014-2015 budget. Finance Committee Chairwoman Kathleen Joy says this was a good chance to add revenue in a way that ultimately won’t hurt taxpayers because they’ll be reimbursed as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new tax cap program.

"Remember, we’re $20 million in the hole," Joy said. "So by having a modest increase that’s really being reimbursed by the state, we’ll be able to raise some revenues and take advantage of the state program.”

Taxpayers will get a check this fall from the state for $30 as part of the tax cap program. Next year they’ll get another check for $30 plus whatever increase they paid this year. The state program offers this to communities that are working on consolidating government services, and Joy says the city has a good record on that front.

"In order for us to have the city services that our taxpayers expect, road improvements, public safety, we have to raise revenues," Joy said. "This was a creative way to do that with a modest increase, and we’ll get that money back from the state.”

Miner can’t do anything about the tax increase.

The mayor's chief of staff, Bill Ryan, says he is concerned about how a last minute tax hike will be perceived.

“To raise taxes with no public input, to me, will leave a bad taste in the public’s mouth,” Ryan said.

Joy says the city only became aware of the state program last week, not leaving them any time to present it to the public. The extra $500,000 raised through the tax hike will go towards the Say Yes to Education program, a new westside senior center, public safety and road repair.

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.