Syracuse Common Council

Syracuse Common Councilors Monday unanimously approved Mayor Ben Walsh’s first city budget.  The $245 million spending plan didn’t stray much from Walsh’s original proposal.

Majority Leader Steven Thompson said aside from some changes in school spending prompted by the state budget, lawmakers agreed to Walsh’s budget blueprint. It is a spending plan that includes an $11 million deficit, something that was an accomplishment for the first-year mayor. Early projections showed the city facing a more than $25 million deficit.

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Syracuse Common Councilors began budget hearings this week over Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposed $245 million spending plan, and anyone can watch. It marks the start of live streaming of council activities, offering residents the chance to watch what happens on the city website, or YouTube channel.

Council President Helen Hudson says it’s about time it's easier for residents to watch government in action.

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Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh’s first proposed budget asks lawmakers to use $11 million from the city’s savings account to cover a budget gap. It’s a deficit Walsh says is less than originally anticipated, after asking individual city departments to change their budget requests.

syracuselandbank.org

The Greater Syracuse Land Bank is hoping the city of Syracuse comes through with some funding to keep the non-profit agency afloat. 

Land Bank Executive Director Katelyn Wright said without some help, the organization that buys dilapidated tax delinquent city properties with the goal of selling or demolishing them, will be out of savings soon.

“If things keep going the way they’re going, we’ll deplete our fund balance by the first quarter of 2021,” said Wright.

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The Syracuse Common Council passed legislation expanding its rental registry to require interior inspections of all rental properties, including one and two-family dwellings. But some councilors said the law is overreaching, ineffective and a possible cash grab.

Requiring interior inspections of rentals has been two years in the making for Councilor-At-Large Khalid Bey. He said there were no requirements for interior inspections of one and two-family rentals, where most complaints come from.

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The Syracuse Common Council and Onondaga County Legislature will soon begin live-streaming their meetings to the public. The goal is give more residents the opportunity to see their government in action.

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Residents in the city of Syracuse recently weighed in on what they want the city to do about snow covered sidewalks. Now the city has outlined options to address the problem.

Corey Driscoll Dunham, Syracuse’s director of operations, said the feedback from the city’s snow safety summit shows people want the city to take a more active role in sidewalk snow removal and they said they are willing to pay a fee for it. Dunham said the city has three options: citywide municipal sidewalk snow removal, priority area snow removal, or an enhanced ordinance and city approved contractors.

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Legislation that would require interior inspections of rental properties in the city of Syracuse is being held. Some on the Syracuse Common Council are divided on the issue.

Councilor Khalid Bey said Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration asked him to hold the legislation so the new corporation counsel could become versed on it over the next two weeks.

“The next agenda, we’ll be right back talking about it," Bey said. "We’ll gage where the administration is. By then, I would think that they will have determined if they need three months, six months to prepare.”

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New lawmakers on Syracuse’s Common Council are trying to tackle problems with rental properties by starting up an interior inspection program of the city’s one- and two-family rental properties.

Councilor At-Large Khalid Bey tried to enact changes in the city’s Rental Registry two years ago, but fierce pressure from landlords stopped the bill in its tracks. Bey said he hopes that new lawmakers will be more receptive to the idea.

A relic from the Matt Driscoll mayoral administration in Syracuse is going by the wayside as Mayor Ben Walsh institutes new ways of making government more accountable.

The city of Syracuse started using SyraStat in 2002. At the time, the program was meant to analyze performance of city departments by the numbers and find savings. There is even a SyraStat room near the mayor’s office.

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Syracuse Common Councilors unanimously selected Democrat Michael Greene to fill an empty at-large seat left open by Helen Hudson after she was elected council president. Lawmakers say Greene had the best grasp of council issues out of three finalists.

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Syracuse Common Councilors are getting behind a statewide initiative meant to raise awareness about local substance abuse services. The idea behind “United to Fight It: Preventing Substance Abuse” is to get community leaders together with substance abuse coalitions and plaster the community with the information that can help anyone in the midst of addiction get well.

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The Syracuse Common Council will narrow down a list of resumes to three candidates before voting to fill an empty council seat. That process is still being criticized by some who are calling for more transparency.

Former Green-party candidate for councilor-at-large Frank Cetera said there is a lack of public input into the appointment of the vacant seat. He tried to speak about it at Wednesday's council meeting but was shot down.

“It’s unfortunate that the council has decided not to allow this discourse as a part of the public record,” Cetera said.

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Four Syracuse councilors with decades of experience are stepping down at the end of the year, mostly because of term limits. The councilors reflected on their time in office, and the challenges still ahead for the city.

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The developers of two historic buildings in downtown Syracuse are seeking tax breaks from the city. The Whitney Lofts project would feature 16 new apartments, a restaurant and a speakeasy bar.

The tax breaks total more than $200,000 on sales and mortgage taxes. Deputy Commissioner for Business Development Nora Spillane said the redevelopment would add new excitement to the 300 block of S. Salina St.

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Former Green Party Syracuse councilor at-large candidate Frank Cetera is calling for an open process to fill a soon-to-be vacant seat on the council. The issue stems from another council appointment that was made two years ago.

In 2015, the council voted to appoint Democrat Joe Nicoletti to a vacant seat. Cetera said Nicoletti’s appointment was made with no public notice or consideration of the candidates who ran for council that year.

Tom Fazzio / Syracuse University

The race for mayor and the choice of whether or not to hold a constitutional convention have dominated the political headlines in Syracuse, but there are other important decisions facing voters in this November's election. Among them, are two at-large seats that are up for grabs on the Syracuse Common Council. This week, Grant Reeher talks with the four candidates vying for those two spots, Democrat Tim Rudd, Democrat Khalid Bey, Republican Norm Snyder and Green Party candidate Frank Cetera. 

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Earlier this year, the Syracuse Common Council allocated funding for the city to hire more police officers. But Mayor Stephanie Miner’s administration said it has no intention of training a new class of officers.

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Many owner-occupants of tax-delinquent properties in the city of Syracuse are getting extra time to catch up on their back taxes. But that raises some concerns from the buyer of the city’s foreclosed properties.

Every Syracuse Common Council session usually involves a decision on what action to take regarding a list of foreclosable properties in the city. At their most recent session, Councilor Susan Boyle put 11 out of 15 properties in her district on hold from foreclosure. She said most of those properties are owner-occupied and owe less than what the property is worth.    

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently allocated an additional $1.5 million in funding to improve roads in Syracuse. But it is money that state legislators are warning the city needs to spend now.

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The city of Syracuse could soon be speeding up its process of code enforcement of property owners. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation allowing Syracuse to create a new municipal violations bureau.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said if the Syracuse Common Council cooperates, the city could have the bureau up and running this year.

"It's been my experience that I tend to be very ambitious with what I think can be accomplished," Miner said. "I think we will get the lion's share of it done."

The bureau would circumvent the courts in handling code violators.

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Five candidates in Syracuse vying for one open district council seat, laid out their platforms at a recent public forum. The diverse 4th district, including downtown and parts of the south side and University Hill, has attracted diverse candidates with a wide range of opinions.

Big, lofty ideas on solving Syracuse’s economic woes tend to be floated at these forums. But designated Democratic candidate Latoya Allen said the candidates should be focused on service and accountability.

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A teenager in Syracuse is being honored for his work with the Boys & Girls Club. His leadership extends beyond the organization to his family at home.

Dominique Agee, 17, is adjusting to the accolades.

“It’s weird,” Agee said.

He represented Syracuse at the Boys & Girls Club of America, New York State Youth of the Year Competition at Siena College last month.

“At first it was just for school and then I stayed," Agee said. "It’s fun because of the kids, they’re nice kids, it’s not like they are bad kids. We got good kids.”

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Syracuse common councilors and their challengers are defending their records and offering new ideas ahead of the upcoming election in November. A recent public forum for all the council candidates focused on jobs, the city's finances and police.

The two women running to be the next council president debated the importance of city contractors hiring Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises or MWBEs. The Democrats’ designated candidate, Councilor Helen Hudson, said she has been strengthening MWBEs. 

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A vote this week to give the Syracuse Police Department $1.6 million for new vehicles became a lightning rod for a bigger issue. Some Syracuse Common Councilors say various spending items should be delayed because of the financial health of the city.

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Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in upstate New York starting June 29th. But some in Syracuse want the city to opt out. 

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The city of Syracuse is looking for public input regarding a new proposed telecommunications ordinance. It could mean stronger cell phone connections for certain customers.

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Green Party candidate Eric Graf, 25, announced he is running for the Syracuse Common Council. Graf works for the Syracuse City School District and said he wants more funding for schools and smaller class sizes. He said he supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage, more bike lanes and more worker-owned businesses.

To pay for their progressive platform, Green Party candidates, including Graf, say they want a progressive income tax on city workers and residents.

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The Syracuse Common Council has voted to override the mayor’s veto and defund the Syracuse Land Bank of $1.5 million in the city's recently passed budget. Some councilors called into question the land bank’s performance of maintaining foreclosed properties.

Rich Puchalski with Syracuse United Neighbors offered candy to councilors who would vote to return land bank funding.

“Most of you, don’t experience what we experience day in, day out,” Puchalski said.

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In one council district in Syracuse another candidate is stepping into a race that has already seen four other candidates fight for the Democratic Party’s endorsement. It is continuing the trend of young people entering politics.

At the Green Party office in Syracuse, Serena “Rahzie” Seals, 33, candidate for the city’s fourth district, posed for pictures with supporters. Seals is trying to follow in her father’s footsteps, who once held the same seat. Seals said she is excited for the election because so many people in her generation are standing up to do something in the city.

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