Walsh will deliver his second State of the City address on Thursday night at the Redhouse at City Center. The address will be broadcast live on Spectrum News at 7 p.m.
With 12 months of plans, programs, and policies behind him, Walsh isn’t the new guy anymore. But, few of the issues on his radar can be solved overnight.
Before the mayor lays out a vision for the future, he’s expected to address some loose ends from his first year in office.
In 2018’s speech, Walsh described the city’s operating deficit as “one of the highest hills we have to climb.”
In part, Walsh blamed a lack of revenue growth and rising costs for healthcare, pensions, and utilities, among other things.
Last January, he announced the formation of a fiscal advisory committee, aided by faculty at SU’s Maxwell School. Walsh said he hoped to implement their recommendations in the city budget.
“We will not nibble around the edges of this problem. We will attack it at its core. The solutions will not be easy, and hard sacrifices are coming,” Walsh stated in the 2018 address.
Later, Walsh’s first budget proposal asked city department heads to scale back spending to achieve close to $3 million in cost-cutting.
He still requested about $11 million from city reserves to balance his budget plan.
Frustrated that state aid hasn’t kept up with inflation, Walsh may get more help through New York State’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments. Municipalities that agree to a review of finances and operations can qualify for up to $5 -million in grants and loans.
During the 2018 State of City address, Walsh also described his idea for a new performance management system, called the Office of Accountability, Performance, and Innovation.
It’s no surprise, neighbors in Syracuse tend to complain about how quickly and thoroughly DPW crews are clearing snow. Now, anyone can watch that progress online. The city’s snow plows have GPS technology, allowing residents to track their movements.
In September, the mayor’s office released details on a pilot program for municipal sidewalk snow removal, in priority areas with significant pedestrian traffic. That’s one of the loose ends the mayor is still trying to wrap up. Efforts to hire a company for snow removal have hit a speed bump.
And as the snow clears in the Salt City, another source of ire emerges – potholes. Want to know how quickly they’re being filled? There’s a City of Syracuse Performance Dashboard online, where neighbors can monitor the data. A message at the top of the site promises that the results will be updated daily and reviewed weekly by team leaders.
Here’s another pledge from the 2018 speech: “Syracuse will become a more active partner in the regional unmanned aerial systems – or drone initiative. Soon, Syracuse will be the largest city in the nation covered by the instrumentation and software necessary to fly unmanned craft safely and efficiently for commercial purposes.”
In May, Governor Cuomo’s office announced partnerships to develop a multi-million- dollar drone corridor in Central New York. Overall, the average Syracuse family is still waiting to see how those initiatives unfold. But, in his 2018 address, the mayor said students in a P-Tech program were already “learning the basic skills necessary for piloting, engineering, and repairing remotely piloted aircraft.” He predicted students will be able to earn college degrees locally within five or six years.
Technology will take a spot in the mayor’s 2019 address as well. The mayor will offer an update on plans to make Syracuse a “smart city”. The ball is already rolling on a project to replace the city’s streetlights with LEDs, a move that supporters say will save the city money long-term by cutting energy costs.
Poverty and the Economy
Rebuilding neighborhoods stuck in the grip of poverty and crime is more complicated. Walsh continues to rally his team to find solutions on both fronts. In Thursday’s address, he is expected to talk about what the city has done so far to deal with the challenges that feed poverty.
The idea was intertwined with his hopes that the I-81 project will ultimately provide new opportunities for growth in downtown Syracuse, but after years of expensive studies, Central New Yorkers are still waiting for a decision. Bottom line: If the project really does create an influx of local job opportunities, it’s difficult to predict when that will happen.
This year, the Mayor will outline another strategy, combining his focus on jobs and technology: Syracuse Surge. Governor Cuomo offered general support for the program on Tuesday, as plans for the state budget were introduced.
While Walsh is saving the details for his own speech, he welcomed the governor’s support and offered a brief preview of the plan.
“The Syracuse Surge will make investments in technology, education, workforce training and development, housing, and infrastructure. The Surge will attract new economic investment that will create jobs, shared prosperity, and neighborhood transformation. Our vision is to make Syracuse a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.”
A Violent 2018
As poverty persists in parts of Syracuse, so does violence.
“There is no greater responsibility for a city government than the safety of its residents. Without a feeling of security, none of the potential we have described tonight can occur,” Walsh stated in his first address.
As Chief Frank Fowler prepared to retire, the mayor called for a series of public meetings to find out what qualifications residents would like to see in a new chief. Walsh followed through with that promise before hiring Chief Kenton Buckner last fall.
Walsh also came face-to-face with the families of crime victims at a vigil in the city, where neighbors pleaded for an end to the violence. That vigil was followed by another … and another.
This year, a spokesman for the mayor’s office says Walsh will devote part of his State of the City speech to the issue of crime and what steps Buckner will take to improve public safety.
With just one year under his belt, Walsh will try to hold onto optimism in a city facing the kinds of challenges that usually take years to fix. Like a gardener anxiously waiting for signs of growth, he’ll plant a few more seeds this week.
You can watch Mayor Ben Walsh deliver the 2019 State of the City address live on Spectrum News, starting at 7 p.m. on Thursday.