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Mayor Walsh Outlines Plans For Spending $123 Million In Federal Relief Funds

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Scott Willis
/
WAER News
Mayor Ben Walsh.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh has released his strategy on how to spend $123 million in federal recovery aid that he says will transform the community. The city received the first half of the money this week. Walsh says his three-year plan invests in 30 initiatives across four areas: children, families and neighborhoods; infrastructure and public spaces; jobs and economic recovery; and, government response, which includes police and fire.

"We had a choice to make. Do we put the majority of funding into 2 or 3 areas and be done? Or do we try to focus on the great level of need and make a meaningful impact. That's ultimately where we landed. There's not one line item here where we don't believe that we have an opportunity to make a difference and make an impact."

They range from funding for youth employment and violence intervention to broadband access and water infrastructure. There are also plans to improve housing, parks, and police accountability. Walsh says he also wants to focus on connecting people to jobs through training programs, which are in high demand.

"The first cohort of our Pathways to Apprenticeship program had 20 spots available. For those 20 spots, we received over 400 applications. We're going to use this funding to build the capacity of the program so we can make sure every one of those 400 people that is willing and able to work has an opportunity to work."

He says city police will also continue working on alternatives to police responses for those facing a mental health crisis. Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens says they’ve been meeting with the county, outreach agencies, and law enforcement to discuss pre- and post-response services.

"We hope that these dollars will allow us to do that, as well as put together a demonstration project that we can look at and learn from."

All spending will go through the common council. Walsh says among the first items on their next agenda will be funding for summer youth employment programs, since school will be out soon. He hopes to put as many as 1,000 youth to work, and engage with 12 to 14 year-olds who are slipping through the cracks and getting involved in violent crime.

GETTING DOWN TO SPECIFICS

We thought we’d dig a little deeper into Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposal on how to spend the American Rescue Plan funds. He says his strategy is to focus on the underlying conditions that were hurting people before the pandemic and haven’t gone away. For example, Walsh wants to invest $4.5 million to address childhood lead poisoning.

“One of those critical issues that’s held our community back far too long that has made far too many of our young people sick and caused significant health issues for the rest of their lives. That $4.5 million will gives us the ability to both invest in some new technology for better lead detection for our code enforcement officers. But the majority of that money will go into direct remediation of lead in people’s homes.”

That’s part of a larger $35 million effort to stabilize and improve housing through new construction, rehabilitation, and rent relief. The mayor also wants to invest nearly 30 million dollars in infrastructure, including five million dollars to expand broadband access.

“We believe that that will give us the opportunity to pilot a pretty ambitious new technology that will connect around 2,500 households to the internet through this pilot program.”

His infrastructure plan will also dedicate 10 million dollars to advance water projects, including a long-discussed intake pipe extension in Skaneateles Lake to mitigate the risks of turbidity. Walsh is also investing in economic recovery and jobs. On Friday, we told you he wants to build capacity in job training and trades programs. But Walsh also doesn’t want to overlook the city’s arts and culture sector.

“We know that arts and culture is a significant economic driver in our community. It’s a significant job creator. And it’s an industry that’s been decimated by the pandemic. It’s only now just beginning to reopen.”

Walsh says details will be forthcoming, but he wants to do something similar to the county’s successful restaurant gift card program where you buy one ticket to a venue and get one free. He says it’s been overwhelming to put all the pieces together, but he’s kept one priority in mind as they allocated the funding.

“They are intended to help the people that we serve who’ve been struggling mightily over the past over one year now. I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity. I’ve said to council leadership that we are in this together, but we have an obligation to maximize this once in a lifetime opportunity for our city.

Walsh says his administration will work with common councilors, must approve every cent of the spending. Lawmakers could see items on their agenda as soon as next week.