Who pays the bill for up keep of unique improvements? Matt's Memo

Connective Corridor enchancements in Syracuse.

No mayor of Syracuse has wanted to raise property taxes in a generation. The city budget often comes out with no increase. Rates rise on some other items like water bills and special fees, but the traditional financial well for local government in New York State is rarely tapped. That's because we all know taxes are too high.

This tension between the lack of willingness to pay for government services and the desire to have greater service creates a dilemma. We are seeing that conflict play out right now in Syracuse. The Common Council is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to expand a special downtown district that would demand payments from businesses and property owners along the newly created Connective Corridor. It is a new tax without being called a tax. Yet, it is not a tax without value in it being levied.

Experts in urban planning stress the importance of providing for maintenance of newly renovated or revitalized areas of a community. The absence of a plan for regular maintenance and repair diminishes the effectiveness of the community improvement. The Little Italy section of Syracuse's north side has been cited as visual evidence of a multi-million dollar public works project that made a cosmetic splash and then deteriorated over a four year period because there was no plan to keep it up.

The fee of $28 per foot of road frontage for Connective Corridor businesses would fund an annual budget of $150,000. It would provide for two dedicated employees and a program administered by the Downtown Committee. Syracuse University would put up some up front capital money for required equipment. The University, due to its cumulative frontage fee, would pay about one third of the annual budget. Other businesses and property owners along the Corridor would pick up the rest.

This district is another vehicle for the city to extract money from its deep roster of non-profit tax exempt businesses which fill half of Syracuse. The University is near the top of property owners in that classification. This symptom of an aging city filled with academic, religious and medical facilities is another element that deepens the dilemma of how to resolve the future maintenance issue.

There's conversation about delaying a vote on this proposed assessment. Taking more time to decide is not a bad idea as long as the time is actually used to decide. A maintenance plan being put into place now is crucial for future success. Leaving a project to be kept up by a random group of businesses and paid for by the general budget of public works has not proven to be a formula for preserving a worthwhile investment in our community.

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