Syracuse Common Council

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The salaries of Syracuse councilors, the mayor, council president and city auditor will likely be going up, after the council approved the pay raises on Monday. Those positions, with the exception of the mayor, also get 2% annual increases until 2023.

It has been 16 years since councilors had a salary increase. They will go from $21,000 to $30,000 a year. Councilor-at-Large Tim Rudd said they should be paid at least a living wage for a job some councilors work at full time.

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The city of Syracuse has reached a tentative agreement with the police union over a four-and-a-half year contract. It still needs to be voted on by the union and Syracuse Common Council. The proposed contract includes a residency requirement, pay raises, and a potential change in officers’ shift schedule. 

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Syracuse common councilors are reviewing a change to a property tax exemption that some say, is being exploited by developers. The amendment is meant to tighten the exemption. 

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A Syracuse Common Council committee meeting turned into a yelling match Wednesday, over a proposal to amend the law governing the Citizen Review Board, which reviews allegations of police misconduct. The change was meant to ensure that the findings of the CRB would not be used in lawsuits against the city. 

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Democrat Chol Majok is now the first former refugee to be elected to the Syracuse Common Council. The demographics of the council are changing after Tuesday’s election. 

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It has been almost 16 years since Syracuse common councilors had a salary increase. The council is now reviewing whether pay raises are needed.

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A proposal to raise the salaries of Syracuse councilors and the mayor is already causing tension at city hall. During Wednesday’s council meeting, Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey took issue with a article about the pay raises and comments made by Mayor Ben Walsh. 

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Most of the seats on the Syracuse Common Council are up for election this year. After a couple of upsets in the June primary, some new faces with diverse backgrounds are making bids for the positions. 

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The city of Syracuse has been a recent magnet for refugees. More than 10,000 have settles there in the last 12 years. But this year, at least one refugee will be the first in Syracuse to win public office. This week, Grant Reeher speaks with Chol Majok, the Democratic nominee for Syracuse 3rd District Common Council seat.

City of Syracuse

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration wants to change the city’s code to no longer pick up garbage for properties with more than four residential units. The city currently draws the limit at more than ten units. But the proposal was withdrawn after some city councilors rejected it. 

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The city of Syracuse is entering into an agreement with a cybersecurity company to test the city’s network vulnerabilities, free of charge. This comes after the city school district and county libraries suffered cyberattacks last month. The agreement passed the Syracuse Common Council unanimously, but some councilors were skeptical. 

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The city of Syracuse is entering into a data sharing agreement with Syracuse University. But some on the city’s common council are skeptical. 

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The Syracuse Common Council unanimously voted Monday to approve a management plan to control the deer and tick population that includes a cull, or killing of some deer using federal sharpshooters. Some Syracuse residents said they are opposed to culling.

Jan Markarian with the People for Animal Rights of Central New York and others are advocating for nonlethal methods to reduce the deer population like surgical sterilization and immunocontraception.

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The city of Syracuse is proposing a new water infrastructure replacement fee, after the common council just approved a 4% increase to the water rate. The revenue generated by the fee would go towards replacing water mains that consistently break and are past their useful life. 

Water sales have been going down for the city, consumption has dropped 8% since 2016, and the cost of labor and benefits only continues to grow.

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Syracuse lawmakers have agreed that an independent commission should decide what city election districts look like next time they are drawn.

Supporters of the idea say Syracuse will be the first city east of the Mississippi to let a non-partisan group create political boundaries. Common Councilor Khalid Bey said politicians usually draw the lines, and this way they have no involvement, ensuring a truly equitable process.

"This is an opportunity to level the playing field to give a citizen a chance to have a meaningful vote," said Bey.

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5G wireless technology from Verizon is coming to the city of Syracuse, which would make it one of the first cities in the country with the new facilities for faster connectivity. But the vote to pass the measure did not go smoothly.

At a council meeting to approve the deal, Davy Campbell and other Syracuse residents voiced their opposition to the new technology to councilors, because of health concerns and risks from radiation.

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The city of Syracuse is delaying a vote to deploy 5G wireless technology from Verizon, a priority of Mayor Ben Walsh. One common councilor said it’s to make sure they are doing all they can to protect the workers installing the new facilities.

Sam Edelstein, chief data officer with the city of Syracuse, said 5G has the potential to allow new technologies, like autonomous systems.

“The kind of connectivity, the low latency and the high bandwidth 5G offers is what enables that," Edelstein said. "Certainly, being one of the first cities to enable 5G is exciting.”

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Syracuse homeowners will continue to get their STAR rebate checks, now that the city’s common council has approved a budget that keeps a property tax increase below the state’s tax cap. But to make up for the lost revenue, the city is going to raise the parking meter rate.

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The Syracuse Youth Advisory Council made presentations to the city’s common councilors on two issues they say are important to young people. The topics this year, focused on their education and well-being in city schools.

The first problem, the youth council said, is a lack of minority representation of teachers and other professionals in schools. Brynn Murphy-Stanley, a senior at Nottingham High School, said only seeing white people in positions of power, restricts her and others that look like her, from seeing themselves in those positions.  

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Verizon Wireless wants to deploy 5G smart cell technology in the city of Syracuse. City officials describe the potential of 5G as huge, doing things like enabling autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and enhanced broadband. But some are questioning whether there are any potential health risks from the new technology.

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Residents in Syracuse spoke out against a 3.5% property tax and a 4% water rate increase in Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposed budget, at a public hearing Tuesday evening. The proposed tax increase goes over New York State’s 2% tax cap, and homeowners could lose the STAR property tax credit, which some at the hearing called a lifesaver. Syracuse resident Jason Zeigler encouraged councilors to vote down the increases.

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As the Syracuse Common Council continues to go over Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposed budget, the council rejected a proposal to waive New York State’s 2% tax cap. Those against it said it would essentially authorize the city to go over the cap. But supporters of the proposed law said it would protect the city from additional penalties.

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The Syracuse Common Council has a few issues with Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposed budget. Lawmakers are concerned about a 3.5% tax increase included in the spending plan.

Councilor Joe Carni said he’s not comfortable with taxpayers footing the bills for new programs and initiatives that are pushing up taxes. And when it comes time to vote, he said he’ll be proposing some amendments to the budget. 

"We need to make sure we are spending our tax dollars as efficiently as possible, and focusing on an austerity budget instead of pushing the bill on our taxpayers," said Carni.

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Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh is proposing tax increases in the next budget to avoid cuts to staff and services, the first since 2011. But some councilors question if savings can be found to avoid raising taxes.

Walsh presented his budget to the Syracuse Common Council, saying the 3.5% property tax and 4% water rate increases were decisions not made lightly.

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The Syracuse Common Council is exploring the idea of having an independent commission redraw the city council’s district lines, following the 2020 census. The council currently draws its own lines.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, said Syracuse could be the first city east of the Mississippi River, to have an independent redistricting commission. She said the city could be a model for the rest of the state.

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As budget season nears for the city of Syracuse, councilors are asking where the police and fire departments stand with overtime and staffing. Both departments are understaffed, but are also making efforts to reduce overtime pay.

Syracuse is spending around $10 million a year in overtime for police and fire. Fire Chief Michael Monds said staffing is at the bare minimum and overtime is the lowest it’s been in recent years.

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A number of former refugees are running for office in Syracuse this year. One of them looks to challenge the city’s only Republican councilor.

Jay Subedi was born in Bhutan and became a refugee at the age of 12. Before coming to Syracuse in 2008, he spent 17 years at a refugee camp in Nepal.

“But that taught me so much,” Subedi said. “I’m here today to give back. My experience as a person who live in a refugee camp, very under poverty, where there is no better education, no good sleeping nights, no good water to drink every day.”

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The city of Syracuse could be expanding a program that provides body cameras to all uniformed police officers. The pilot program ends in July, and the city will have to pay for it going forward.

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The Syracuse Common Council appointed Bryn Lovejoy-Grinnell this week to replace Councilor Susan Boyle, after Boyle stepped down to work for Onondaga County. But the council’s only Republican continues to take issue with the process leading to Lovejoy-Grinnell’s appointment.

Councilor Joe Carni said it’s not a question of Lovejoy-Grinnell’s character, as to why he voted against her appointment.

“I did not agree with the process,” Carni said. “I think it became overly political and did not allow for members of other parties to participate in the process.”

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Syracuse Common Councilor Susan Boyle is stepping down to take a job working for Onondaga County, and the process of replacing her is getting some blowback. A majority on the Democratic-controlled council said they will vote to replace Boyle with the district candidate chosen by the Democratic committee.