The Consensus project is the result of 18 months of planning and meeting with a mandate to determine the benefits of consolidation, in Onondaga County there are 19 Towns and 15 Villages, multiple Police Departments. In Street and Highway maintenance, there are 36 separate service providers in the Syracuse-Onondaga community. In addition, there’s the belief and some statistical data that suggests those cities, towns and villages who embraced consolidation, the economic development attraction of the new entity had a positive economic impact on the combined geographic location.
After 6 weeks of comments, were supposed to begin discussions on phases of the project that can be implemented. There’s a lot on the table for people to consider, if adopted our current system of government would no longer exist. Depending on which options are chosen, there may be one large municipal government configured to handle what are now independent town, village and city operations.
The Changing Urban Landscape
In downtown Syracuse, buildings that were once prime office space are now being converted into apartments and condominiums. What once was a sucking sound, pulling all revenue from the city out into the suburbs has been reversed. The successful completion of Destiny USA, the return of hundreds of employees to the city’s core, investments along the Connective Corridor has transformed the city of Syracuse.
Over 200 homes through the Land Bank have been sold and returned to the tax rolls. Clinton Plaza, one our cities failed apartment complexes has been given a new lease on life. With millions being invested by affordable housing funding sources such as HOME, the property must remain “affordable”. This is a noticeable change from subsidized investments in high-end housing for Downtown Syracuse. Armory Square housing is the most expensive in Syracuse, so having a renovated high-rise not developed exclusively for high rent paying customers is a victory for affordable housing advocates.
The handwriting is on the wall. Do you think millennials want to live in a McMansion in Pompey? Cities across America are re-populating and are becoming the economic engines for the next 20 years.
There’s a Lot on the Table including political power
We need to see the “fruits” of the other multi-million dollar plans before jumping on the bandwagon of consolidation. Don’t get me wrong, Let us have this conversation. There are plans to invest close to 500 million dollars over the next 5 years. There are so many promises made to the poor and underrepresented regarding employment and opportunities for economic inclusion. Holding those accountable for these initiatives should be our first priority, to see if the African-American community benefits from the unprecedented investment in Central New York.
Most cities at this point in their development begin to elect more African-American City Council Members, then emerges a candidate for Mayor of that city. As NAACP President, now Syracuse Common Council member Van Robinson once touted the actual percentage it takes to put together such a coalition. With absolute consolidation, Democracy driven natural acquisition of political power by African-Americans would be destroyed in Syracuse, as Onondaga County engulfs the increasing populations of African-American and Hispanic residents into its overwhelmingly white population.
As minorities and other coalitions are poised to seize power based on “democracy” the rules change. Instead of determining our destiny as a majority of a jurisdiction, we once again become relegated to, “minority” status.
We’ve been promised so much over the last 4 decades in this community and the lives of African Americans have only gotten worse. As recent reports indicated, 65.2% of Syracuse African-Americans live in census tracts with extreme poverty levels.
Let’s see the results of the 500 million dollars, if it creates the 2,500 inner-city jobs, numbers of minority owned businesses, employment within a reasonable commuting distance jobs that inner-city residents can get to. Without reliable private or public transportation, a job 20 miles away can be out of reach for people living in our poorest census tracts.
What happens to the anti- discrimination laws on the books in the city and not in the county, once this merger takes place?
There’s a level of distrust between the city and suburbs, since many have said they wanted to get away from the people of the city.
Having served a stint on the Onondaga County Legislature as a Republican, I learned in caucus what suburban based legislators wanted and it usually ran contrary to urban interests.
Now, there’s a level of infighting within Onondaga County government that further exacerbates urban issues such as poverty, employment opportunities, pay raises, low morale of county employees, etc.
In fact, if you observe the actions of both Onondaga County and City of Syracuse leaders and elected officials, one has to wonder, what kind of marriage would this be? Would it be an abusive relationship pitting city needs and against suburban power?
As James Baldwin once said, “Do I really want to be integrated into a Burning House? “