Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh recently presented his first budget to the Syracuse Common Council.
Walsh’s budgeting plans include three major aspects: keeping property taxes flat, installing a hiring freeze, and increased funding for police and firefighter recruitment.
Walsh is hoping to keep all property taxes flat and utilize approximately $11 million from the city’s rainy day fund. The city was expected to run a $16.5 million deficit, but Walsh’s budget projects that the deficit wouldn’t be that high. Initially, he was nearing a decision to increase property taxes but decided against it. Since a single 1% increase would generate nearly $300,000 for Syracuse, he wants to make sure the city government is as efficient and productive as possible before any rates are increased.
“We’re not going to tax ourselves out of our fiscal challenges,” Walsh said.
The total proposed operating budget is $286.2 million, $6.8 million less than last year’s budget. Syracuse currently spends $79 million on employee benefits, $48 million on police departments, $33.6 million on fire departments, and $32.2 million on public works. Overall, the largest sources of income for Syracuse are sales taxes, which bring in $90.4 million and state aid, which returns roughly $76.7 million.
“We challenged each department head to cut 5% from their budget across the board,” Walsh added. “We didn’t get there in every department but we were able to get ($2.8 million) in savings.”
Additionally, the proposed budget installs a hiring freeze and a salary increase freeze on all “non-essential” personnel, subsequently making room for a second class of police officer recruits for this year. The freeze is expected to last about six months.
Mayor Walsh has already approved up to 30 new police officers for Syracuse departments, but the budget will put aside additional money for an entire new class of police (and firefighter) recruits. About 10% to 25% of all police calls are due to alarms going off, and Syracuse police officers will be able to address these and other potentially dangerous situations while remaining on the streets protecting everyone else.
Budget hearings, which are open to the public and can be live streamed on YouTube.com, began on April 10 and will last two weeks.
“The significant challenges our city faces will not be addressed in a single year,” Walsh added. “We need a long-term strategy, so this budget is really the first in a multi-year plan.”