Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN)

5 Questions from Southside Residents

1. Southside residents deal daily with criminal activity in our neighborhoods: drug dealing, shots fired, fights, noise, vandalism. Often police do not respond to calls for help because of lack of officers. As a common councilor what steps will you take to solve this problem?

Insist on the restoration of promised state revenue sharing so the 50 budgeted but now unfilled police positions can be hired and more city residents and minorities can be hired to fill those positions.

With more officers we can emphasize community policing, where cops walk beats and get to know the neighbors, business owners, and the problems in a neighborhood so they will work together to resolve small problems before they become big problems.

We need to reverse the militarization of policing. We don't need an armored troop carrier or drones. This is not Bagdad. We need smart peace officers, not an occupying army. Not only is it a problem that officers often cannot respond, but too often they disrespect and mistreat residents when the do respond.

To improve community/police relations, I support two reforms.

First, we should revive the Police Activities League for youth sports, arts, and educational programs.

Second, Common Council should make police cooperation with the proceedings of the Citizens Review Board a condition for approval of the next police union contract.

2. The new Land Bank set up to deal with vacant houses has decided to focus on helping the city collect back taxes rather than reduce the number of abandoned properties in our neighborhoods. The Council has even voted to evict owner-occupants – a return to policies that hurt our neighborhoods in the past. As a common councilor what steps will you take to solve this problem?

I will vote against the seizure of owner-occupied homes when they come before the council for approval. Owner-occupied homes should not be seized when there are many hundreds of vacant and investor-owned properties on the city's list of 3,500 tax-delinquent properties. I would make exceptions for a financially-distressed owner-occupant who has negotiated a prior agreement with the land bank to retain occupancy rights as a renter and for an owner-occupant who is not financially distressed but truly delinquent by refusing to pay taxes they can afford.

If the land bank does not pursue its primary stated mission of reducing abandoned properties and redeveloping them and instead becomes primarily a tax collecting agency for the city, I will call for new board members to be appointed who will pursue housing and neighborhood development.

I support prioritizing vacant, abandoned properties first, even if it means going outside of the land bank's targeted geographic areas.

3. This year, the city of Syracuse “found” almost $4 million in money from the Community Development Block Grant program that had not been spent on past programs. The city refused SUN's request to use some of that money to create a fund to help owner-occupants pay for repairs to their homes. As a common councilor will you work to convince the city to create this owner-occupant repair fund?

I will work to fully fund and expand owner-occupant repair funds. I know from talking to home owners around the district that there is a high demand for these programs, including: Urgency Care for immediate emergencies such as broken furnaces; SHARP, which provides up to $1,000 for home repairs is fully allocated the first day applications can be made each year; and the 1% Loan Program, which buys down part of the interest for home repair loans.

The city administration should not be making decisions about CDBG programming without citizen participation. We should bring back the Community Development Advisory Council in a more democratic form and establish a Participatory Budgeting process for the use of CDBG funds in the neighborhoods, as New York City and many Latin American cities do.

Instead of 8 too big TNT sectors, each of the cities 36 “planning neighborhoods” used by the city's Department of Neighborhood and Business Development should have a Neighborhood Assembly.

The Neighborhood Assemblies would be direct democracy in neighborhood governments that function like New England Town Meetings, where all residents meet to formulate policies and programs for their community and elect committees to implement them. The Neighborhood Assemblies would replace the current TNT Area Planning Councils and reflect the smaller natural neighborhoods of the city with which we identify.

Neighborhood Assemblies would engage in Participatory Budgeting with the power to allocate resources provided through city revenue sharing for neighborhood programs and projects, including CDBG allocations.

A Council of Neighborhood Assemblies would also serve as the Community Development Advisory Council. A council of representatives elected by each Neighborhood Assembly would advise on the CDBG budget, coordinate inter-neighborhood projects, and advise the Mayor, Common Council, Board of Education, and representatives to county, state and federal governments on any matter they want to.

4. The city is either underfunding or cutting back city services. Fewer firefighters, roads unpaved, insufficient staff in many departments. The explanation is always the same – the city is broke. Everyone in city hall seems to know what should be cut – but no one seems to discuss how to raise revenues. As a common councilor what steps will you take to increase revenues for the city of Syracuse?

I will organize with labor, community groups, and other elected officials to build a campaign to change the budget politics in Albany to reverse the current conservative urban austerity policies. The campaign should have three basic demands:

First: Restore the previously enacted state revenue sharing with the cities. The 8% of state revenues dedicated to urban aid once enacted into the State Finance law is now less than 1%. We must demand that the state stop defaulting on its fiscal responsibility to fund the now unfunded mandates to the cities. We paid for that revenue sharing with our state income and sales taxes.

Second: Restore the previously enacted state funding for our schools. The state is now a cumulative $8.9 billion behind on the Foundation Aid funding enacted in 2007. That is why a quarter of the school staff has been cut in the last four years.

Third: Give Syracuse the right to establish a progressively graduated local income tax, which would tax incomes made in the city by commuters as well as resident incomes. The income tax revenues could be used for both restoring city services and staffing and for reducing the more regressive property tax, especially if we can get revenue sharing restored.

Those like Governor Cuomo who preach fiscal self-sufficiency to Syracuse are setting us up for fiscal failure and a Detroit-style takeover by a state-appointed Financial Control Board. Revenue sharing was established in 1970 after a campaign by the Big 6 Mayors, including Syracuse's Lee Alexander, to fund central city services that serve the entire metropolitan region. The central city hosts big non-profit tax-exempt institutions (universities, hospitals, four levels of government agencies) that serve as the major employer and economic base for the entire metropolitan region. The resulting limited property tax base in the city cannot support city services that serve the whole region. That is why revenue sharing is the once and future solution to the city's fiscal crisis.

5. The Common Council has signed off on many tax breaks for developers on economic development projects in the city. Why does the discussion never include requirements to hire local city residentgs to work on these projects. SUN is part of the Urban Jobs Task Force – a coalition of over 40 community groups looking to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with COR Development. The agreement would guarantee local residents jobs and training in return for tax breaks to develop the Inner Harbor. As a common councilor will you pledge to only vote for tax breaks for the Inner Harbor if COR agrees to sign a Community Benefits Agreement.

I do pledge to vote to make a Community Benefits Agreement a condition of tax breaks for COR's Inner Harbor development.

I want to go much further and make community benefit a condition of not only tax breaks for developers but for approving every development or other contract with the city.

First, we should ensure that city residents and minorities have an equal opportunity to get all city-funded jobs with city contractors and city departments by (1) restoring and updating the Equal Employment Opportunity Program and the Human Rights Commission and (2) establishing Community Hiring Halls as the first source for qualified new hires for city-funded jobs.

Second, we should raise low wages by (1) expanding Living Wage Law coverage to include city employees and employees of businesses receiving tax breaks and (2) developing working cooperatives that share profits as higher wages among their worker-owners and build community wealth. We should prioritize worker co-ops over tax breaks for businesses that are often absentee-owned and siphon profits out of the community.

The city should, as other cities including Richmond CA, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati are doing, partner with the United Steelworkers Union “Union Co-op” program and the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, a global cooperative network of more than 100 worker cooperatives and supplementary finance, consumer, and educational cooperatives, in the development of worker cooperatives in the city of Syracuse.

Third, we should establish Performance Goals for any contractor, including business receiving public subsidies, tax breaks, and other economic incentives, including:

  • A minimum number of jobs retained & created

  • Compliance with labor, civil rights, & environmental laws

  • Neutrality in union organizing drives

  • A 2-year early warning of intention to move or close

  • Worker or community right of first refusal to buy if the firm or plant is to be sold

  • Prevailing wages

  • Health coverage for all employees

  • Surety to reimburse the public treasury if the company fails to meet performance goals.

If we establish these floors of community benefit, then we can add additional benefits in Community Benefit Agreements for large projects, such as funding for mass transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure for the project and, for housing developments, the inclusion of a minimum percentage of low and moderate units along with market rate units.

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