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Politics & Government

City of Syracuse Enters New Fiscal Year With Up to $10 Million Revenue Shortfall

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Mayor Ben Walsh says the city’s financial picture continues to worsen in the absence of federal action on another relief package.  He said at his weekly briefing Thursday that they’re entering the new fiscal year with an $8 to $10 million shortfall in revenue, and the state has withheld, but not yet cut, $12 million in aid. 

Walsh says that means they’re moving ahead with planning an early retirement program and additional furloughs.

"Of course, we're eventually going to have look at expense cuts, service reductions, facility closures, and ultimately layoffs.  Unfortunately all of this is still very much on the table.  These steps are going to need to take place in lieu of federal aid over the next 90 days, and we will begin this month in July."

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The city has already furloughed 100 workers, and taken steps to reduce other costs.  Wednesday, he announced the suspension of at least 16 festivals and other events planned for this summer and fall that require significant city resources.  There’s also the lingering threat of COVID-19 and ongoing orders prohibiting large gatherings.  While the risk is lower here, Walsh says other states are seeing large spikes in infection.

"I hate to see what's happening in other parts of the country where pandemic conditions are worsening.  But I hope this opens the eyes of representatives of how serious this situation is.  This virus does not differentiate between red states and blue states.  This virus is impacting all of us, and we need help."

There’s been a reluctance among republicans, mainly in the senate, to consider additional relief measures.  Walsh says there are indications some action could be taken this month, but the city will still need to cut costs in the meantime. 

SEN. GILLIBRAND GOES TO BAT FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand paid a visit to Syracuse Friday to call for legislation to provide local governments with direct federal relief that can be used to pay for essential services and offset lost revenues and increased costs stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.  She said she's concerned about likely layoffs of public health care workers, firefighters, police, sanitation workers, teachers, and other vital public servants across the state.

Our local governments are facing unprecedented financial hardship, as the COVID-19 outbreak has caused costs to surge and revenue to dwindle. Without federal funding to fill these gaps, there will be even more hardship in people’s lives,” said Senator Gillibrand.

“For months, I have fought for this relief in order to ensure local governments have the resources to pay our first responders, health care workers, teachers, and public servants, and to enable them to continue serving our communities without raising taxes or fees. We know that direct federal relief for local governments is absolutely critical to respond to this crisis, not just for this community, but also for our country. I will do everything in my power to ensure that this critical funding is included in the next economic relief package.”

Mayor BenWalsh painted a stark picture of Syracuse's finances...from in the green to deep in the red.

“Fiscal year 2020 ended Wednesday for the City of Syracuse. Before COVID-19 hit, the City was anticipating it would finish the year with a $1.5 million surplus. Now, we’re staring at a projected $8-10 million revenue shortfall. That could grow to $20-22 million if New York State’s recent hold back of aid doesn’t eventually come through. Yet, there’s still no action in Congress on federal help to state and local government,” he said.  

Gillibrand says the nation’s economic recovery depends on the survival of state and local governments; However, she says New York alone is projected to lose more than $240 billion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many counties, Onondaga County is facing a budget deficit of tens of millions of dollars due to decreased revenues. Syracuse is projecting more than $45 million in lost revenue and a lack of federal aid has delayed assistance to local governments across the state. 

Senator Gillibrand previously introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act. The legislation would create a local relief fund to help cities, towns, villages, and counties address costs associated with lost revenues, and would help avoid cuts to essential services or local tax and fee increases. Part of the funding would be administered to localities through the Community Development Block Grant program while additional funding would be sent directly to states to allocate to communities based on population. She has consistently urged the Senate to include this legislation and desperately needed state and local funding in the next relief package.