State Comptroller says Syracuse has â??systematic problemsâ??

The city of Syracuse suffers from 'long-term, systematic problems.' That's according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In a new report, DiNapoli cites a large number of vacant and tax-exempt properties, low rates of home ownership and decreased home values.

The rating agencies credit Syracuse for having a relatively strong financial position, but caution the city is susceptible to adverse economic conditions.

Cities historically rely on property taxes as a primary source of revenue to fund expenses. But the Comptroller's report finds Syracuse's property taxes account for only 13 percent of the city's revenue.

The average for cities in New York is 26 percent. DiNapoli says the disparity is due to half of the city's property being listed as tax-exempt and 8 percent of property as tax delinquent. Nearly 11 percent of city housing units are vacant. "Unfortunately, as the economy continues to recover slowly from the financial meltdown of 2008, communities like Syracuse are likely to experience more financial difficulties," DiNapoli said. "Mayor Miner recognizes the need to be more efficient, more creative and more forward-thinking. Since taking office, she has confronted the city's financial problems but faces an uphill battle in some areas."

DiNapoli says like many other cities, Syracuse is relying more on sales taxes and fees to cover the cost of municipal services; with 25 percent of its revenue coming from charges for services like transportation and utility fees, and 22 percent from sales tax. Syracuse's revenue problems, he says, are "exacerbated by growing fixed budget costs of the city and the dependent school district, a significant loss in population and a deteriorating industrial sector, which have all factored into chronic budget gaps."

Other findings in DiNapoli's report include:

**Syracuse has lost $4.3 million in state aid since the 2008-09 fiscal

**The city has exhausted 53 percent of its constitutional debt limit
and has $292 million in outstanding debt

**Since 2008, the city's general fund balance has declined 37 percent
to $39.5 million from $63 million

**Expenditures in the city have increased at an average annual rate of
4 percent from 2001 through 2011.

According to DiNapoli, Syracuse currently has the second-highest rate of families living in poverty (25.6 percent) and an unemployment rate (8.9 percent) higher than the state average (7.9 percent). From 1950-2010, the city lost more than one-third of its population.

Kathleen Joy, Common-Councilor-at-Large issued a statement regarding DiNapoli's report. She says it highlights many of the challenges facing the City, which the Common Council and the Mayor have been talking about for years.

e report, she says, 'underscores the need to increase our revenues while curbing excessive spending.' She promises the Common Council will take action to increase our tax base while trimming our spending.

She pointed to several actions the Council has taken in the past:

*scrutinizing the cost of take-home cars,

* funding the Land Bank,

*advocating for franchise fees to increase City revenues,

*denying wasteful spending on parking meter upgrades.

Joy says the Common Council will 'continue do its part to address this current and anticipated budget situation, asking tough questions and taking fiscal responsibility.'

DiNapoli's office recently finalized details of a new fiscal monitoring system that will calculate and publicize an overall score of fiscal stress for municipalities and school districts across the state. The 'early warning' system will identify those headed toward fiscal crisis and give local officials and the public greater opportunity to consider options for turning things around.