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Syracuse Common Councilors Approve $251 Million Budget Amid Uncertainty Over COVID-19 Pandemic


The City of Syracuse officially has a $251 million budget in place for the new fiscal year starting July first, but a lot could change in the months ahead.  There were unusual circumstances that led to Wednesday’s vote by common councilors.

It began a month ago when the mayor presented his budget virtually, a first for city government. Councilors then spent the next four weeks reviewing the plan with department heads, also virtually.  Wednesday, councilors gave it their final approval online.  

City Clerk John Copanas called the roll, and all nine voted in the affirmative.  Finance committee chair Tim Rudd says they reduced overall spending by two million dollars, and limited the use of reserves to $8.9 million…down from $13.9 million first proposed by the mayor.

"This is the council's attempt finding the best place for the moment and acknowledging that the path ahead of us is very uncertain and may have to change. What we're doing here is minimizing the maximum amount that we would use from our fund balance to ensure we have some extra money around moving forward.  From there, if our revenues don't come in, the city as a whole is going to have to make other decisions about where not to spend money."

Rudd says most of it will be up to the administration, but some items could require council approval.  Mayor Ben Walsh has already furloughed more than 100 employees, mostly part-time temporary parks and recreation workers. 

Rudd says there are still many unknowns due to the COVID-19 closures that they didn’t...and couldn’t include in the budget.

"You can terrify people pretty easily by adjusting revenue down.  It's not hard to understand that the city is heavily reliant on state aid and sales tax.  Even property tax collections could go down.  If people don't have jobs and can't pay bills, they may not be able to pay their property taxes."

Rudd says even smaller revenue generators like parking meter or garage revenue will be down dramatically, but all add up to balance a budget.  The spending plan leaves property taxes flat and largely protects typical customers from a four percent water rate increase. 

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