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Onondaga County Democrats propose alternative to aquarium spending

An artist rendering of a proposed $85 million aquarium in the Inner Harbor section of Syracuse
Onondaga County
An artist rendering of a proposed $85 million aquarium in the Inner Harbor section of Syracuse

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he believes the plan to bring an aquarium to Syracuse’s Inner Harbor would draw half a million visitors a year and create hundreds of jobs.

But a group of Democratic County Legislators are pushing back and putting forth a plan they call “Kids First.” Their plan would take the $85 million earmarked for the aquarium and use it for things like fighting lead poisoning, increasing safety in schools, and mobile mental health and pandemic response units instead.

Legislator Mary Kuhn said there are too many areas that need the money more.

"If we have all this money, why not look to the community to see what kinds of things that this kind of infusion would help?” said Kuhn. “Why are we just looking at economic development?"

But Ann Rooney, the Deputy County Executive for Human Services, said the aquarium and investments in human services are not mutually exclusive. Rooney said the county has made historic investments in children’s mental health with 86 clinics in schools. Also, for issues like lead abatement, Rooney said the problem isn’t money. It’s finding enough contractors to do the work.

"It doesn't make sense to tax the public for something we aren't able to expend in that calendar year,” said Rooney. “We are making strides, but it is a process."

Still, Kuhn and her fellow Democrats are calling for more discussion and community input before a final decision on the aquarium is made. She said she expects the proposal to be voted on as early as July. To learn more about opposition to the aquarium, clickhere.

To learn more about the county's plans for the aquarium, click here.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.