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City of Syracuse to Slash $18 Million in Spending Through Furloughs, Cuts in Services

Scott Willis

It’s a day he hoped would never come.  Yet, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said Friday that the pandemic and federal inaction on an additional relief package have put the city in a position to slash more than $18 million in city spending to close a $41 million revenue shortfall.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve taken decisive action to cut costs and control spending. For the most part, we’ve done so with limited impact on city residents and workforce.  That won’t be the case with these next cuts. They are across-the-board and will severely impact city government’s ability to respond to constituent concerns. They will delay the completion of projects and slow improvements to city services and programs.”

More than 400 city employees across all city departments face furloughs on a long-term, seasonal, or two-day per month basis.  All are subject to formal union approval.  The plan also freezes hiring on 150 open positions and restricts overtime.  That accounts for about $9 million of the total savings. 

Walsh says the most significant impacts affect the city’s largest departments.  Here’s a rundown:

  • The Police Department will leave approximately 25 budgeted positions unfilled and will make significant overtime reductions. The Fire Department will leave approximately 50 budgeted positions unfilled and will significantly cutback purchasing and delay station improvements. DPW will freeze hiring of 51 positions and implement 289 furloughs across street repair, street cleaning, sewers, and building services.
  • Due to reductions in staffing and spending, the plan delays the start of construction and debris pickup in 2021 and stops road restriping, among other DPW cutbacks. 
  • The plan reduces many programs and services in Parks and Recreation, including school year youth programs, fitness and golf programs, and grass mowing.  It also continues the closure of select city pools and other park facilities.
  • Delaying capital expenditures, which creates about $2 million in savings, will prevent city departments from completing maintenance on city facilities, including parks.  It will also postpone the purchase of new police vehicles.

Walsh says the police overtime reductions will have a real impact on the department’s ability to respon to certain situations.  Under normal circumstances, police have said they’re running from call to call.  Now, Walsh says they won’t be able to work special details.
“We’ve talked about recent burglaries in Strathmore.  Police have staffed additional patrols with overtime.  We had special details to address quality of life issues like dirt bikes, ATVs, and fireworks.  Those are all overtime details that will be extremely difficult to fill in light of overtime cuts.”

Walsh says the city is drawing an additional $12 million from its reserves, but that will be made up through the cuts.  That leaves a balance of $34 million, which he says needs to be maintained in case further cuts are needed. 

Meanwhile, Walsh says he’s heard nothing from Washington, DC on a relief package. 

That’s disappointing and frustrating.  I have tried to balance sounding the alarm, but also to not be Chicken Little; not to unnecessarily impact our workforce, already under a great amount of stress trying to provide essential services during a pandemic.  This is what I’ve been warning everyone about.  I can only hope our leaders in Washington are seeing the real impact of their inaction.”

The House stimulus bill included $50 million for Syracuse.  But the Senate hasn’t taken it up, and neither party and neither chamber has been able to reach a consensus.  Lawmakers remain on recess. 

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