Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon’s State of the County address Tuesday night echoed much of the optimism and ambition expressed by his friend, Mayor Ben Walsh, a few weeks ago. They both talked about aging infrastructure.
The wastewater system across the county is pushing federal regulatory limits at treatment plants, but the city, towns, and villages own the pipes. So, McMahon proposed a massive effort to purchase and repair the old sewers
"So we can either fix the pipes once for the next 100 years or make continuous upgrades in our facilities multiple times over the next 100 years. I'm proposing we consolidate the ownership of our infrastructure and our wastewater sewer system starting with the Meadowbrook-Limestone sanitary district."
McMahon says he already has memorandums of understanding with the leaders of Manlius, Fayetteville, and Dewitt. In addition to stabilizing and growing neighborhoods, McMahon says modernizing sewers will recruit new businesses. McMahon is also looking internally, and is setting a high bar for hiring.
"I want to see our minority communities representing 20 percent of our workforce by the year 2022. This number exceeds minority population data and that is a good thing. We are also going to implement a recruiting strategy in the poorest urban, rural and suburban zip codes."
McMahon will ask the county legislature to create a new "Chief Diversity Officer" position to help.
Also figuring heavily into the State of the County address was poverty. Tackling poverty has been a major focus of the McMahon's since he took office last fall.
"Our goal is to make poverty a temporary moment in time for someone, not their way of life," McMahon said to applause.
He says early childhood education is a critical component of their strategy. Despite a number of outreach efforts, McMahon says they need to do more.
"Only 38 percent of our children are kindergarten ready. These numbers are not acceptable. Onondaga County will partner with the Early Childhood Alliance to improve kindergarten readiness. In 2020, our budget will reflect a significant investment towards this effort."
He also wants the county to be on the forefront of tackling harmful algal blooms that have plagued Skaneateles Lake, the primary water source for Syracuse. The state has partnered with the Town of Skaneateles to create a plan for the lake’s watershed.
"This grant award for this town is a huge benefit for the region, but funding is not available until the fall of 2019. Onondaga County will step up and front the funding to get the nine element plan started for the summer of 2019."
McMahon says the sooner it is completed, the sooner they can secure additional funding for projects identified in the plan. Also in his address, McMahon said he wants to aggressively market the newly renovated War Memorial for concerts, and use the largely empty Carnegie Building to house the planning, community development, and economic development departments. In addition, McMahon proposed an expansion of the booming Tech Garden and refresh of AXA Plaza. And, he wants to make it free to bury a veteran, spouse, and eligible dependent at Veterans Cemetery, something that currently costs $500 per plot.