September 27, 2021

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Home Gets Me Excited

How Walsh plans to spend Syracuse’s $123M stimulus, from water pipes to theater tickets

7 min read

Syracuse, N.Y. – Two hundred homes with young children will have lead paint hazards removed. Some 900 youths will get job training; 2,500 homes will get broadband service; and at least 3,000 trees will get planted.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh today unveiled a plan to spend the city’s $123 million in federal stimulus money on at least 30 separate initiatives aimed at a sweeping array of urban needs.

Working with his department heads and senior staff, Walsh put together a spending plan that aims to make at least a little progress on a lot of fronts. The plan sets aside money for housing, water infrastructure, job training, broadband and transportation – costly challenges all.

Walsh said his plan aims to “move the needle’’ in all those areas.

“The goal was to meaningfully impact the great level of need in our community across multiple fronts,’’ Walsh said. “The reality is, $123 million can’t solve any one of those issues on its own.’’

The money comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed in March to help resuscitate local economies hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. Half of Syracuse’s cut – some $61.5 million – was wired to a city bank account Tuesday. The rest will be sent next year.

The mayor will present his much-anticipated plan today during an online news conference. Two city councilors who are running for mayor this year, Khalid Bey and Michael Greene, previously released their own recommendations for how to spend the money.

Perhaps the biggest single focus of Walsh’s spending plan is housing. The mayor plans to use $14 million to build or improve housing in low-income areas of the city. The initiative will include the construction of new single-family and multi-family homes and rehabilitation of some existing housing. City officials did not have details on how many units of each type of housing would be completed.

The plan also calls for a $7 million fund to provide grants and low-interest home improvement loans to homeowners.

Other housing-related investments include $4.5 million to fix lead hazards in about 200 homes with children, $5 million to help the Land Bank demolish or secure dilapidated houses, and $1 million for rent relief to landlords and tenants who weren’t eligible for other assistance programs.

Walsh emphasized that elements of his plan may change between now and December 2024, the deadline for spending the money. Many of the details have yet to be worked out – including what companies or agencies will be hired to complete many of the tasks. Each expenditure will require Common Council approval.

One of the first initiatives to be presented for council approval will be a summer employment and job-skills training program for youths ages 12 to 21. City officials plan to run the program this year and in 2022, at a total cost of $1.29 million.

The new program will augment the existing City-County Summer Youth Employment Program by expanding the age and income limits for participants. Some 900 youths will receive four weeks of paid training each summer, Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens said.

These houses on Woodland Avenue in Syracuse are among six that have been built or are under construction as part of the city’s Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative. Mayor Ben Walsh plans to use stimulus money to augment the program.Tim Knauss

Walsh said the program is urgently needed, especially given recent violent crimes committed by young teens.

“When you look at some of the recent incidents of violence, we’re talking about 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds,’’ he said. “We need to get them as young as possible, get them engaged, get them some soft skills and experience and just off the streets.’’

Some of the investments outlined by Walsh anticipate additional funding from other sources. Plans for a new job training center, for example, will rely on matching state funding through the state university system, Walsh said.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a key proponent of the federal stimulus bill, today expressed support for Walsh’s plan.

“This plan – which invests in children and families, small businesses, critical infrastructure and restoring vital city services – is a first step towards a brighter future for Syracuse,” Schumer said in a prepared statement.

Here is a complete breakdown of Walsh’s spending plan:

Infrastructure

$10 million for water pipes: The majority of this money, roughly $7 million, would help to extend an intake pipe deeper into the city’s water source, Skaneateles Lake, to avoid turbidity and algal blooms. (The city would likely bond for another $7 million to cover the full $14 million cost.) Other projects could include water main replacement, sewer upgrades or pump station projects.

$5 million for broadband access: City officials will establish wireless internet access for about 2,500 households using a combination of fiberoptic cable and wireless connectivity over Citizens Broadband Radio Service, an unlicensed radio spectrum. City officials have consulted with Syracuse-based JMA Wireless, which built a similar CBRS system in Tucson, Ariz., but no agreement has been made to hire the company, Walsh said. City officials said the pilot project would target an underserved area of the city, not yet identified.

$2.5 million for traffic signal prioritization: Synchronizing traffic signals along major routes would improve the speed and reliability of bus travel and other traffic, officials said.

$5 million for sidewalks: Most of this money would pay for the first year of the city’s new $4.5 million-a-year sidewalk maintenance program, recently approved by the city council. An extra $500,000 would be set aside to subsidize income-eligible taxpayers who can’t afford the fees to be charged in future years.

$1 million for I-81 engagement: This money would pay for community outreach, consulting services and other expenses to coordinate land use and development along the Interstate 81 corridor.

$700,000 for parking garages: Install revenue control equipment and closed-circuit television security in city-owned garages.

Economic recovery

$2.57 million for job training: City officials would expand the existing Syracuse Build apprenticeship program for the building trades and create a new Syracuse Surge program for high-tech jobs.

The city also plans to coordinate with the SUNY Educational Opportunity Center to create a new job-training facility, the Syracuse Applied Trades and Technology Career Lab, to be run by the EOC. The project would require additional state funding, Walsh said.

$500,000 for minority businesses: Funding for a program to assist and provide capital for minority businesses in the construction sector.

$2 million to SIDA: The city would reimburse the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency for Covid-19 grants issued last year and support SIDA’s acquisition and redevelopment of distressed commercial properties.

$4 million to SEDCO: The money would replenish funds at the Syracuse Economic Development Corp., a city-affiliated nonprofit economic development organization which provided grants to businesses during the pandemic. Funding also would support commercial redevelopment focused on distressed areas or minority-owned businesses.

$1 million for business corridors: A grant program to support renovations or beautification along key business corridors.

$2 million for arts: A grant program to support non-profit arts and culture organizations. The initiative would include a buy-one, get-one ticket voucher program to encourage the purchase of tickets for performing arts shows.

$250,000 for public art: The program would provide creative and economic opportunities for local artists.

Youth and families

$1.29 million for summer programs: Summer employment and career skills development for youths ages 12 to 21. Funding for two summers.

$1.35 million for youth development: Agencies would provide services such as education support, college preparation, mental health support and violence prevention.

$500,000 for community centers: Provide food and programming for seniors, families and youth.

RNI home construction

This house is being built on Baker Avenue in Syracuse under the city’s Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative. Mayor Ben Walsh plans to use federal stimulus money to augment the housing initiative.Tim Knauss

Parks and public places

$2 million for trees: Money to plant and care for more than 3,000 trees in keeping with the city’s urban forestry master plan.

$1.92 million for parks: Repair and improve neighborhood park facilities.

$861,000 for Hiawatha Lake wall: Rebuild historic lake wall.

$800,000 for Burnet Park pool: Pool repairs.

$55,000 for Meachem pavilion: Complete the Meachem Field pavilion near Onondaga Creek.

Revitalize neighborhoods

$14 million for housing: Some of the money will enhance the city’s existing Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative, which includes a goal of building 50 new single-family homes. (So far, two have been built and four are under construction.) The money also will help develop an unspecified number of new apartments and renovate some existing housing.

$7 million for homeowner assistance: Grants and low-interest loans for home improvements, plus down payment assistance for first-time buyers.

$5 million for Land Bank: Money to demolish or stabilize dilapidated properties acquired from the city through tax foreclosure.

$4.5 million to address lead poisoning: The city will acquire lead detection equipment and work with Onondaga County to correct lead problems in homes with children. The money will help address lead issues in about 200 homes, city officials said.

$1 million for rent relief: The city plans to help landlords or low-income tenants who have not been able to obtain assistance through the county’s $23 million rent relief program, Walsh said.

$200,000 for market study: The city will conduct a housing analysis to identify neighborhood- and block-level trends and guide future housing strategy.

Government services

$38.5 million for general expenses: Nearly one-third of Syracuse’s federal money will be set aside to fund unspecified general city expenses over the next two to three years as the city recovers from pandemic-induced revenue shortfalls. Of that, $21.9 million was included in this year’s budget to avoid dipping into the city’s reserve funds. The money can be used for a wide variety of government services.

$4 million for public safety: This includes a variety of initiatives, including enhancement of the police department’s ShotSpotter system, which helps locate gunfire; a collaboration with mental health providers to assist with mental health-related police calls; increased police transparency; and buildout of the Syracuse Fire Training and Emergency Response Center on State Fair Boulevard.

$2 million for cybersecurity: The city will upgrade its cybersecurity and digital infrastructure.

$1.5 million for sanitation: The city would acquire new trash and recycling carts that could be lifted into trucks with automated pick-up arms. City officials say the new system would be more efficient and cut down on worker injuries.

Do you have a news tip or a story idea? Contact reporter Tim Knauss of syracuse.com/The Post-Standard: email | Twitter | | 315-470-3023.

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