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Onondaga County Lawmakers Approve "COVID Budget" Along Party Lines

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A divided Onondaga County Legislature approved the 2021 budget Thursday.  Ways and Means Committee chair Tim Burtis says it’s largely unchanged from what the county executive proposed last month.

"This is our COVID budget, and it's like no other."

The $1.25 billion spending plan is $84 million, or 6.3 percent smaller than last year’s.  Despite its austerity, it holds tax rates flat.  But the vote didn’t come without some disagreement.  Linda Ervin’s democratic caucus wanted to take $1.37 million out of a $77 million dollar fund balance to add 20 positions to economic security and children and family services.

"It doesn't make sense to me that we're saving money for a rainy day when we're sitting in a hurricane.  There will be many, many more people needing our services this year and going forward because of the pandemic.  Certainly, those operations will be slowed down tremendously without the people there to do the jobs."

Legislator Mary Kuhn also tried to make the case for the additional staff.

"It's a small addition to the enormous need.  We know there is great concern about the fund balance and what will happen next year.  But right now, we don't need to wait for next year to see the mess that's going on.  Our fund balance has recently increased by $7 million."

But Chairman Dave Knapp says the county needs to play it safe for the time being.

"We'll be using fund balance at the end of the year to balance this year's budget; we just haven't gotten there yet.  Also, we don't know what next year's going to bring, which is certainly a concern as well."

In the end, the amendment for the department of social services, along with other smaller democratic sponsored changes were voted down along party lines.  That likely set the stage for the overall budget vote, which Minority Leader Linda Ervin said she could not support for the first time in her ten years on the legislature.

"This budget is problematic for me.  I've labored over it from the very beginning.  I have not been able to reconcile myself with the kinds of things that are not in the budget."

Her fellow democrats followed suit.   The final vote was 11 to 6.

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