June 9, 2018

Grains of Salt (v33): Quietly, A Budget Passes

Grains of Salt
It's almost sad that I'm still catching up on things that happened at home when we were on vacation last month, but it's true.

One of those things that almost slipped by was the passage of the Syracuse city budget, unanimously and with no changes, by the Common Council.

This is in stark contrast to what has happened in the recent past; former Mayor Stephanie Miner's last budget, for example, saw the Council reallocate funding for the Greater Syracuse Land Bank (GSLB) to fund Syracuse Police Department recruits. The mayor's veto of the changes was overridden by the Council - which had a Democratic majority; the mayor was of their own party when all of this happened.

Ben Walsh, our new and improved mayor, ran as an independent, with strong support from Democrats, and as a collaborative executive willing to work with any willing partners to try and make things better for our city. According to council members, they were brought into the budget process early on, had meetings with the mayor's team, got answers to their questions, and helped craft the budget.  The goal of all of that?  I'll let the Mayor explain:
Our goal when we started this budget process was to make sure there were no surprises in the budget when it reached the councilor members' mailboxes, and I think we achieved that. 
Not only did he invite councilors to participate, he made a budget presentation to them, in person, instead of sending minions to do it for him. That kind of respect and cooperation between City Hall and the chief executive is what we'll need to solve our difficult challenges - something Walsh is not afraid of tackling.

His budget freezes salary increases and non-essential hiring; it also funds new firefighter and police recruits, and restores the GSLB funding, all of which make me happy. We will need to take another $11M from city reserves, and the school district budget, also approved, will tap Syracuse City School District reserves for $14M.

And, also important for us, a plan to have the state's Financial Restructuring Board review spending and operations and provide some non-binding recommendations for city leaders to review and act upon. If we do, there's state money to help implement the changes. I'm hopeful this review, coupled with the efforts of Walsh's Fiscal Summit Advisory Committee (a report is due in time for next year's budget planning), will identify what we can do to right our financial ship and keep the city moving forward.

This non-confrontational budget process is a really good start.