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Onondaga County lawmakers ponder proposal to spend $30 million for community development

A man in a blue suit jacket behind a lectern holds up a card.
Scott Willis
County Executive Ryan McMahon holds up a card that invites residents to read the 258 page comprehensive plan May 9, 2023. Much of what's included in the $30 million proposal supports the county's comprehensive plan.

Onondaga County Legislators are considering a proposal from the county executive’s office to use $30 million of fund balance for several community development projects.  Some lawmakers want more time and details before they’re scheduled to vote next week.

Lawmakers first received details of the wide-ranging plan on Tuesday, exactly a week before next week’s session. That irked even some Republican legislators, including Julie Abbott. She expressed a mix of frustration and gratitude with the administration’s economic development staff at Wednesday’s Ways and Means Committee meeting.

“It would have been nice to have had $30 million plopped on our desk last month, or a little more time to vet this," Abbott said. "That said, I am thoroughly impressed and appreciative of the job that you guys have done in answering our questions. I'm satisfied with what has come forward. I just in the future would appreciate courtesy of a little more time to vet.”

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats on the committee weren’t entirely satisfied. Linda Ervin wants to see more of a focus on addressing the housing crisis.

 So when I heard about this $30 million, I thought it was more about housing than this economic development part of it," Ervin said. "Only a small part of it is for housing. I'm concerned about what we're doing about the housing crisis that we have, the affordable housing crisis that we have. I don't see that in here.”

 Dan Kwasnowski says he's equally worried. He's the county’s planning director.

“I think it's a good question. We'll talk about it constantly. Are we doing enough? Do we have enough? What can we do to to to make it happen better?” Kwasnowski said. "I think a lot of the planning that we're doing communities is going to really set the stage
for that infill development for that Main Street development for those Town Center developments that that will keep us a compact metropolitan community and really kind of lay the groundwork so that that housing can come up a lot quicker.”

 The plan does set aside $12 million for "housing and neighborhoods," but only two million specifically targets mixed-use, mixed income, and affordable housing.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Brian May acknowledged the limited time to discuss the projects, but says there’s nothing new.

 “We've been talking about these things from the beginning of the year. They are not surprises," May said. "We've deliberated extensively on most of these programs. We're gaining better understandings over time of what these programs entail or will require from county government to meet its goals, IE housing."

May called it a positive, open process despite the condensed time frame. He allowed the package to move out of committee and to the full legislature without a vote.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at