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Syracuse turns down tax hike

City Council had considered a 20% increase on property

SYRACUSE — Agreeing with the 100 percent opposition that surfaced during a public hearing, the Syracuse City Council voted down a proposed 20 percent property-tax increase Tuesday night.

The tax increase was designed to put $304,660 into the city's reserves, which currently only carry the state-mandated minimum balance of 5 percent of the city's general fund, or $290,000, said Syracuse finance director LaMar Holt.

The average home in Syracuse, valued at $258,000, will be charged $229 per year instead of $275 per year if the tax had increased.

The sinking economy has meant a severe drop in sales-tax revenue and budget cuts in Syracuse.

Originally, city staff had floated a 40 percent tax increase, but the council, in June, opted to work with a 20 percent increase.

All of the 26 residents — six of whom are candidates for office this year — who addressed the council during the hearing spoke against a tax increase, and with every plea, most of the 100-plus residents in the audience applauded.

Many residents complained about Syracuse's implementation of a 48 percent tax increase in 2007 to raise employees' salaries as an incentive to keep them from fleeing to higher-paying jobs in other cities.

Some residents said they were angry that the city built a new city hall and new fire station, adding that they thought the two buildings are beyond what the city needs.

Syracuse resident Thomas Mellars said raising revenue is not the way to solve the city's budget woes.

"Cutting costs is the way to solve the problem," Mellars said.

Syracuse Mayor Fred Panucci agreed, adding that having a reserve is important.

"I think it can be done through cuts, not through increases in taxes," Panucci said.

About $500,000 in needed road projects have been slashed to balance the budget, which the city began using July 1. Only $77,000 is left in the road budget for filling potholes.

In fiscal 2009, the city cut its 4 percent 401(k) match for employees, the City Council has reduced its pay by about 10 percent (or $4,400), instituted a hiring freeze and cut out bonuses and cost-of-living adjustments for employees.

But the city will have to be more creative, Panucci said.

Councilman Lurlen Knight, who cast the lone vote for the tax increase, said the city desperately needs revenue, which isn't coming from sales taxes they way officials had hoped.

"I think we're hurting ourselves," Knight said.


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