Public hearing on the proposed budget changes is set for June 14
By: KARIANNE LISONBEE
Nobody likes taxes, but some are necessary. This year, Syracuse residents face a possible 28% tax increase. Expected revenue from the proposed increase is around $450,000 per year.
City Manager Robert Rice said, “All that money, every bit of it, will go directly to road repair.” He added that Syracuse also gets Class B and C road funds from the state to assist with road work. Rice explained that this increase would amount to an average of about $75 per year, per household. He said, “For 20 cents a day, you’re going to get significant improvement in the roads.”
Class B and C road funds from the state are to be used strictly for roads. Prior to the current mayor and council, these funds were diverted to pay wages, fund the move from a part-time to a full-time fire department, and other expenditures. Mayor Nagle explained, “These decisions created a structural imbalance within our budget wherein one-time money was used to pay for ongoing needs.”
With our road funds depleted, the mayor and council seek to cover the shortfall through a tax increase. Mr. Rice said that, in two years, the city “will reevaluate and look at how other revenue is catching up.” If there is no improvement in revenue, the extra tax may stay in place.
Councilman Shingleton said we do need to look at the roads. “It’s going to get worse and worse and more expensive to fix them. We need to find some way to fix the roads. Whether it’s a modified tax increase without wage increases, I don’t know. We need to look at all the avenues.” A sensitive topic, cost of living increases for city employees are also included in the proposed budget. Councilman Shingleton is cautious of supporting such an increase in these hard economic times.
Many citizens agree with Shingleton, believing ‘our wages aren’t growing, but our tax bill is.’ Kyle Garfield of Syracuse opposed a cost of living adjustment for city employees at this time despite current inflationary pressures. He said, “I reserve the right to change my position if inflation really picks up (say, double digit annual increase for Regional CPI). In the future, when sales tax revenues return to normal levels, I would support cost of living increases that would ‘catch up’ their salaries for inflation.”
Against the tax increase, long-time Syracuse resident Phillip Gooch also spoke of the city’s desire for a cost of living adjustment to employees. He said, “I thought they were strapped for money and they couldn't afford it. They also want to hire another employee. That is a big cost if they don't have to.”
A business owner for almost 29 years, Syracuse resident Dennis Johnson does not support the tax increase or proposed wage hikes. Speaking of the city government, he said, “They must live within their means just as we do in the non-government job world. We have had our wages and benefits cut and yet taxes continue to go up. There must be some fiscal restraints by everyone.”
Carie Valentine said, “Our city government needs to get down to the bare minimum of budgetary needs before they come to the residents and say we want more. Even small cuts, when added up, can make up the difference.”
Long-time business owner and Syracuse resident Terry Palmer spoke of the need for our elected officials to ask themselves, “Are we doing things for the citizens that they should be doing for themselves?” He echoed the concerns of many citizens, saying, “There is way too much uncertainty in the country today. Any increase in taxes would be a disservice.”
Mayor Nagle explained, “The city is suffering from decreased building and sales tax revenue and [we] have tightened our belts as much as possible.” Cost cutting measures the city has taken include leasing police cars instead of purchasing. “The new cars will be hybrids,” Chief Brian Wallace said. “No other cities are doing this.” He explained that the police department can lease 10 cars for the same cost as purchasing 3 outright.
The city is also struggling with increased fuel prices. Mayor Nagle said the city will install a centralized fueling station so they can buy fuel at wholesale prices, a significant savings to the City. They also have moved all the staff to one side of the city building so they can lease out the other side. This will save heating and cooling costs and will bring needed revenue.
Council members Peterson, Clark and Ocana did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed increase, but all the citizens that were interviewed feel there are ways to further streamline and make cuts and adjustments in our budget. They suggested things such as fewer sport programs; private sector sports programs; charging more to access the community center; reducing salaries; not extending the cost of living increase to the mayor, council and employees; cutting employees; not buying flags for the light poles on Antelope; allowing The Islander to print and distribute the newsletter instead of having the taxpayer cover the costs; changing the model of our fire department; turning off some of the street lights at night; quit building parks; cut the Heritage Days celebration ‘way down’; and cut the fireworks.
Syracuse resident Shane Crowton stated, “If it's a necessary expenditure within the proper constraints of government, there is always a way to make it a little more efficient. If it doesn't fit into the previous category then we really don't need it.” Thomas Parke of Syracuse adds, “Why should the tax payers always be the ones to give until there is no more left to give? Everyone is hurting and we all need to cut back. Changing this country starts by changing ourselves and our community.”
June Thurgood of Syracuse supports the tax increase, she said, “Because the roads are a mess. In the past the city hasn't used funds wisely, but the roads need to be maintained. If you don't maintain them [now], it will cost more later.” However, she doesn't know if we need the 2% cost of living to keep employees. She said, “Some other cities may pay their employees better. If they need it, I get it. But my income is not going up; my family's income is pretty stagnant.”
Councilman Matt Kimmell expressed a desire for dialogue on this issue. He said, “This year’s preliminary budget that contains a proposed tax increase, in my mind, will definitely be the topic of discussion. It is a proposed increase that I cannot support. It is always my hope that the council can work together to reshape the budget so that we can keep government limited and not ever expanding.”
A public hearing on the proposed budget changes is set for June 14. As citizens with divergent views continue to work together and with elected officials, we can look forward to an ever better, fiscally sound Syracuse.