Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Vacant properties, low home ownership rates, and stagnant home values were all part of the state comptroller Tom DiNapoli's assessment of Syracuse, released Wednesday.
The tax base fuels what the comptroller calls long-term systemic problems. Nearly half of the property in Syracuse is tax exempt, compared to 32 percent for the median city in New York State. Tax exempt properties may include colleges, hospitals, and government offices. Almost 11 percent of properties in Syracuse are vacant and about eight percent could be seized for tax delinquency.
Nearly 26 percent of families in Syracuse are living in poverty, more than double the state’s average. Meanwhile, the city's general fund balance has dropped 37 percent since 2008, from $63-million to $39.5-million.
In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Miner continued to point the finger at Albany: “The Comptroller’s '2013 Fiscal Profile' confirms what I have been saying for almost three years: The economic model New York State created for the financing of city services is no longer functional. We will continue to make the best decisions we can, and will continue to seek ways to balance operating budgets without borrowing in ways that increase the total burden on taxpayers. We need to work together with other cities and the state to confront the growing fiscal crisis for all our cities. Only through collaboration and sharing innovative ideas and new approaches to governing will we be able to solve this crisis.”
Kathleen Joy, Chairwoman of the Syracuse Common Council's Finance Committee, suggests the Mayor could work more with her own common council.
"What can we cut? Can we contain our healthcare costs? Lots of things are on the table and the council has an important role to play,” explained Joy. "The City of Syracuse has to help itself.”
Joy wants more discussion about ambulance franchise fees that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for other cities that offer exclusive rights to service providers. She'd also like the mayor to get input from common councilors to pursue more deals with tax-exempt properties.
Mayor Miner convinced Syracuse University to contribute $500,000 a year for five years to help cover the city services their employees and students use. Crouse hospital also offered short-term yearly payments of $50,000. The "Impact Fees" are voluntary. The state legislature doesn't allow municipalities to impose the fees on exempt properties, a rule Mayor Miner has publicly said lawmakers should reconsider.
But, Joy fears the mayor's public disagreement with the Governor could overshadow opportunities for progress.
"As the finance chair, I do have a concern about that. We have to fight for every dollar we can get coming into the city of Syracuse,” Joy said.
With an eye toward the future, the Syracuse Common Council approved funding for a joint Land Bank with Onondaga County, with the goal of making it easier to acquire, manage, and re-use abandoned properties. Meanwhile, spending battles fractured city leaders when funding for unmarked police cars was denied by the common council, a move publicly criticized by Mayor Miner.
At the end of 2011, the city’s outstanding debt was just less than $300-million. Syracuse exhausted 52.9 percent of its Constitutional Debt Limit, compared to 23 percent for the median city in the state. CLICK HERE to see the Comptroller's complete report.