Mayor Walsh Proposes FY24 City Budget
Published on April 10, 2023
$310 million spending plan enhances services for Parks, Public Works, Police, Fire, Schools and Neighborhood Quality of Life
Spending plan reduces reliance on pandemic relief and fund balance
Budget reflects growing property values and includes 2% property tax rate increase
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh presented a fiscal year 2023-24 city budget today that continues pandemic recovery and keeps Syracuse on a sustainable path to “Next Level Growth.” The $310 million budget enhances services for parks, public works, police, fire, schools and neighborhood quality of life.
The proposal reduces the City’s use of American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) relief and fund balance compared to the prior fiscal year. The plan relies on growth in sales tax and property values and proposes a 2% increase in the property tax rate to address the structural budget deficit that has plagued the City for decades.
Facing significant inflation including increased labor expenses, the budget forecasts a 5% growth in spending. Salary, pension, health insurance and Social Security costs all rise. Fuel, natural gas and electricity alone will increase by 55%. Departments are holding the line on new expenses and rearranging how they operate to control costs while labor and many other expenses increase at a rate higher than the rate of revenue growth.
“Our city and region are preparing for ‘Next Level Growth.’ This budget demonstrates our plan is taking root. Revenue fueled by growth in property values increased at three times the rate of the prior year, and the City continues to experience solid sales tax gains,” said Mayor Walsh. “ARPA funds and our strong fund balance are still supporting our recovery from the pandemic. They are providing a bridge to closing our structural budget deficit, but they won’t last forever. A 2% property tax increase, only the second increase in the past six years, is a fiscally responsible step toward a sustainable future.”
Walsh delivered his annual budget address to the Common Council Monday. The Council will review the plan and conduct public hearings on department spending proposals over the next month. It will act on a final city budget by May 8. Mayor Walsh’s full fiscal year 2024 budget is available for review at https://www.syr.gov/Departments/Budget/City-Budget.
Enhancing City Services
In addition to funding existing services, the proposed spending plan includes significant improvements in city services:
- Citywide implementation of uniform covered trash carts with semi-automated pickup
- Night and weekend hours for youth activities at selected parks and recreation facilities
- Restructured Department of Neighborhood & Business Development with enhanced planning and permitting capacity to administer new zoning code and accommodate increased development and growth
- 24-hour, seven day a week city ambulance service staffed by Syracuse firefighter paramedics
- 24-hour scheduling for Fire Department made permanent
- New firefighter and police classes
- Police cadet program for young people ages 18-34 to start careers in policing in the city
- New police contract including improved officer schedule for more efficient and effective deployment
- Increase in alternative response services for persons in crisis
- Expanded dog shelter facility with greater capacity for stray dogs
- Increased litter collection staffing for Environmental Services Bureau
The proposed spending plan includes $500,000 to assist with improvements to Syracuse City School District facilities. The money would be used to cover the required local share for projects not funded by the Joint Schools Construction Board. Potential projects include stadium construction, turf replacement, window replacement, and roof repairs. It will allow the District to invest up to $25 million as these projects are 98 percent reimbursed by state funding. The budget also includes a $4 million fund to address pay equity for nearly 300 city employees not covered by labor contracts, pending completion of a compensation study.
Property Tax and Water Rate Increase
The 2% increase in the property tax rate will move the combined rate for City and School taxes to $27.71 per thousand of taxable assessed value. For a property with an assessed value of $100,000, the rate change will increase the annual tax bill by approximately $54. The change in rate, combined with the increase in total assessed value, will increase the combined City and School tax levy by 11.5 percent from $108.8 million to $121.3 million.
The proposed budget includes a 4% increase in water rates for property owners to offset the rising costs of materials; allow continued investment in water infrastructure; and ensure a continued stable water supply. A typical residential increase will be about $1.65 per quarter.
The 2024 budget is supported by a $1.75 million services agreement payment to the City by Syracuse University, a $250,000 increase in revenue compared to the prior budget year. Under the terms of the agreement reached in 2021, the payment will go up an additional $250,000 in FY25. SU also makes a $500,000 payment to the City to fund the University Neighborhood Agreement Advisory Council (UNSAAC).
Progress Toward Closing Structural Deficit
Compared to fiscal year 2023, Syracuse’s structural deficit – the difference between the cost to operate city government and the revenue the city takes in – has been reduced by 35% from $32.4 million to $21.1 million. The budget proposes closing the gap with $17.1 million from the city fund balance, which currently exceeds $100 million. $4 million in ARPA funds will also be used to balance the budget. This is a 76% reduction in use of pandemic relief over the prior year.
Mayor Walsh said he will redeploy the “Revenue Enhancement Working Group” created in 2022 to study new short- and long-term sources of funding to reduce the gap between the City’s revenue and its expenses while preserving the city fund balance. The Mayor is asking the group, which includes members of the Common Council, to identify between $20-$25 million in recurring annual revenue to eliminate the City’s structural deficit over a period of two years.
Balancing Act Offers Online Budget Simulation
As part of the 2024 budget review, the City will provide Syracuse constituents with the opportunity to engage with the city budget using Balancing Act, an online tool that simulates municipal budgets. The platform provides major categories of revenues and expenses alongside explanations and dollar amounts to provide residents with an overview of the FY24 Proposed Budget. Users have the ability to increase and decrease categories with a click and can cast votes on where to invest more or spend less.
The City first launched a Balancing Act budget simulation in 2021. It is part of the City’s commitment to citizen education, transparency and public participation. This year’s online simulation, which is populated with actual amounts from Mayor Walsh’s proposed 2024 budget, is available at https://syracuse.abalancingact.com/23-24-budget-sim.