Mayor won't use reserve money for more police, but would for land bank

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner planned to use $1.5 million in the city's 2017-2018 budget to fund the land bank. However, the council stripped the funding for police officers that she now refuses to hire. (Photojournalist Quindell Williams/CNYCentral.)

The feud over city spending has continued past budget season between the mayor's office and common council, with both disagreeing on if money is available to hire additional police officers.

Mayor Stephanie Miner is not budging on her decision not to hire more police officers, citing a sufficiently staffed force and fiscal challenges.

"We are using just enough fund balance to pay for what we need," Miner, D-Syracuse, said Tuesday. "We cannot afford to pay for all the police officers...the chief would like."

"The money is there," Common Councilor and former Syracuse Police Chief Steve Thompson, D-Syracuse, said. "The money is there in the budget and it's there for [the police] to hire."

Currently, the City of Syracuse has 420 police officers with the ability to fund 465 positions, according to Alexander Marion, a spokesperson for the mayor's office. In July, the common council included money for 15 additional officers, which brings the number to 480 eligible positions.

To prove his point, Thompson points to the $1.5 million that the mayor's initial 2017-2018 budget earmarked for the Greater Syracuse Land Bank. In the budget, the council passed (the one that ultimately went into effect after an overwritten veto) the land bank was defunded, and $1,003,000 was shifted to police salaries to hire 15 additional officers.

"That 1.5 million that the land bank had is better served by the police officers," Thompson said at the time.

The calls for more officers has risen in recent weeks, following a string of violence and a case where a 30-year-old man on the north side called police concerned for his safety prior to being shot, but police didn't respond.

However, the mayor has no obligation to hire those officers and points to the city's fund balance issues as the reason why. In the 2018 budget, the city expects to dip into $18.5 million of its reserves to meet its obligations.

"But the argument I made is that 'Why was it okay to dip into the fund balance for the land bank, but when it's for officers we suddenly don't have the money?''' Thompson said. "It's bothersome."

"City Hall would certainly fund the land bank if given the opportunity," City Hall spokesperson Alexander Marion said by phone Thursday. Unlike hiring additional officers, the land bank provides revenue for the city, according to Marion."The land bank has repeatedly demonstrated its success revitalizing our neighborhoods, returning more than 450 tax-delinquent properties back to the tax rolls," Miner said in May. "Its future is reliant upon the city’s continued support and our shared commitment [to] neighborhood revitalization."Thompson's current plan moving forward is to compromise with the mayor in hope of persuading her to allow the Syracuse Police Department to start canvassing for possible new officers.Police Chief Frank Fowler said at a council meeting Wednesday that the next few months will be difficult for the police department because several officers plan to retire. Miner did say at that point, staffing levels should be re-evaluated.
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