SUN’s Statement At Public Hearing On City Budget

The following is a transcript of SUN’s testimony at yesterday’s public hearing on the city of Syracuse’s proposed budget:

My name is Claire McGrath and I am the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Syracuse United Neighbors. Our organization is 26 years old and 800 families are members of SUN.

This is the worst city budget in memory. The budget process in Syracuse is just as dysfunctional as it is in Albany. Mayor Driscoll released an Alice In Wonderland budget on April 8th–assuming all kinds of magical funding sources to balance the deficits. The Common Council held several hearings with city department heads at which the only question that matters was not asked–what if the magical funding isn’t real?

Less than 24 hours before the public’s only chance to comment on this mess, the Mayor releases his Perfect Storm budget–a 9.5% property tax increase, the lay-off of 178 city workers, yet another increase of our water rates (this time by 13.5%) and moving $6 million from the city’s reserves to the school side of the budget.

SUN would like to know why these ideas haven’t been the subject of hard-fought debate and soul searching for the month this budget charade has gone on. We may have found a different way. We may have come to agreement. We should have tried.

SUN has the following recommendations:

1. Change the start of our fiscal year. For 20 years the state has not
advanced a budget on time, but our charter forbids us from changing our tax levy after it is approved in early May–even if there is no state budget.

2. Improve the city’s grantwriting. SUN can’t understand why money under federal programs such as COPS and LEAA is not coming to Syracuse. The money generated by the Research Department is down from last year. It’s time to shake up this department.

3. More fees on the activities that bring down our neighborhoods. It costs the city a great deal of money to board up vacant houses, tow away junk cars and clean trash off of vacant lots. The city has ordinances on noise and litter and these fines are not levied. Let’s take the burden of paying for unneighborly behavior off the backs of the taxpayer.

4. The city needs more and better budget planning. The city needs to start working on the budget earlier and start talking about multi-year planning.

5. The city needs an assertive and investigatory Common Council. The Council needs to use the budget hearings as a chance to ask hard questions about the program goals of each department. Some of the questions SUN would have asked:

A) Why were only 8 new home construction permits issued in the city last year?

B) Why is the Mayor claiming to hire 20 new police officers and 20 new firefighters when these hires just fill a portion of the vacancies created in past administrations?

C) When is the city going to regain the ability to locally certify compliance with historic preservation–rather than keeping every applicant for a rehab. loan waiting up to 3 months for Albany to act?

D) What’s the Commissioner doing about next year’s HUD 108 loan repayments? This payment is expected to wipe out $3.5 million out of the city’s roughly $9 million CDBG budget.

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