March 19, 2017

Grains of Salt (v21): Challenges for Syracuse's Next Mayor

Grains of Salt
Republican Laura Lavine, the unanimous choice of her party's committee members.

Democrats Alfonso Davis, Marty Masterpole, Andrew Maxwell, Joe Nicoletti, Juanita Perez Williams, all of whom might stick around for a primary. (Maxwell was first to my door with information, which was the impetus for this post.)

Party-less Ben Walsh, the first in the ring, but without a party choice.

It's likely that one of these folks will be the next mayor of Syracuse, since Stephanie Miner is term-limited and done at the end of the year,

Syracuse faces a number of challenges, some of which have been our challenges for a long time:
  • Roughly half of the property in the city is owned by educational institutions and non-profits; these entities are not obligated to pay property taxes, but fully use city services. Over time, the city has negotiated service agreements with some, but not all, of these property owners.
  • The city has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1800 vacant properties of all types - single family homes, multiple family homes, apartment buildings, commercial properties -- it runs the gamut. Some of them are 'tax current', but many are not. The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, through purchasing and reselling homes, helps generate almost $750K in property taxes annually. (I've written about the Land Bank previously, including our very positive experience with their efforts on the house next door.) Not all buildings can be saved; way up the street from me, three or four houses in a row were recently taken down, as was one a block or so up the road. I prefer the empty lots to what was there before, even as it pains me to say that; I'd much rather have a lived-in city, rather than one full of large stretches of driveway ends, going from the road to the sidewalk, showing us what once was. 
  • That's another one of Syracuse's challenges: people leaving the city, stretching our population further and further, eating up more and more green space, leaving the city a shadow of her former self, and doing the same to the rolling hills and farmland that surround us. I get that people have the choice to live where they want, to build where they want, to sell their land when and toom who they want, even if it's to someone who's going to put up a development of half-million-dollar houses. I do get that. I just have long wished that people would make the investment in the city, live in the city, would stake their claim in the city, and help it thrive.
  • And without people, without families, it's that much harder for our Syracuse City School District (SCSD) to thrive. We have made progress, it seems: we now have a Superintendent, Jaime Alicea, who knows the city, knows the students, knows the lay of the land, and who seems to have support from all constituencies.  Graduation rates for the SCSD  as a whole are the highest in a decade, although still lower than anyone would like. With a higher percentage of  English as a New Language (ENL) learners and special needs students than most of its area counterparts, the city has different challenges than suburban schools, even as its students are required to meet the same standards for gradation.  Another big challenge the schools face is poverty.
  • We've all seen statistics and more statistics: Syracuse ranks 29th out of the 30 highest poverty major cities, and we had the highest concentration of black and Hispanic poverty in the nation. The poverty is undeniable, and it's probably higher than that. Similar to the 'real feel temperature' the 'real unemployment rate' we hear - numbers designed to make us feel worse than we do, there's 'official poverty' and 'real-feel poverty' the kind that kids and families feel every day, even if they don't meet an official threshold. And the fact that we actually maintain statistics for people going up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, well that says something in and of itself, doesn't it?  
  • Poverty impacts everything - absolutely everything. For the individuals living in poverty, it can negatively impact their physical and mental health, educational outcomes, employment opportunities, future income, and, for many, the ability to break the poverty cycle for future generations. For the rest of us, it impacts our property values, the services our city can offer, and it impacts our 'social psyche', our pride of place, our sense of our home.  It impacts everything. 
Our next mayor, regardless of party, will have his or her hands full with these and other issues, including our aging infrastructure (a victim of all of the above) and the potential for/threat of consolidation via the Consensus plan or our Sonofa Governor's 'convoluted' plan to allow county executives to run roughshod over their constituents by unilaterally bringing consolidation plans to the ballot. 

Syracuse deserves a leader who is up to all of these challenges. It will be interesting to see who our choices are, and how they plan on rising to the occasion.