Facing Steep COVID-19 Revenue Losses and Gridlock in Washington, Mayor Walsh Announces Plan to Cut $18.1 Million in City Spending

Mayor calls cuts severe and says they will hurt city’s ability to respond to constituents,delay projects, slow improvements to government and hurt working families

More than 400 employees face furloughs on a long-term, seasonal or two day per month basis; plan also freezes hiring on 150 open positions and restricts overtime

Syracuse, N.Y. – Facing tens of millions of dollars in revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19 and no agreement in Washington on federal support for state and local governments, Mayor Walsh announced Friday the City of Syracuse will begin moving forward with $18.1 million in spending reductions in the current fiscal year.

The plan calls for furloughs, freezes on hiring and overtime restrictions affecting all city departments.  It also reduces or eliminates multiple city services; cuts purchasing and outside expenditures; and delays capital and maintenance projects. The Administration delivered the plan to the Common Council and leadership of employee labor unions today. The plan was developed with guidance from a Financial Contingency Committee convened by Mayor Walsh earlier this year.

See details of planned cuts by Department: COVID 19 Spending Reduction Plan Spreadsheet 8.21.20

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve taken decisive action to cut costs and control spending. For the most part, we’ve done so with limited impact on city residents and workforce,” said Mayor Walsh. “That won’t be the case with these next cuts. They are across-the-board and will severely impact city government’s ability to respond to constituent concerns. They will delay the completion of projects and slow improvements to city services and programs. Sadly, they will also hurt city employees, including many essential workers who have helped get us through the pandemic.”

Syracuse City Hall

More than 400 employees in all city departments, with the exception of firefighters, police officers and sanitation workers, will face furloughs either on a long-term, seasonal or two day per month basis. 150 open positions across city government will not be filled.  The workforce reductions are projected to save nearly $9 million, more than half of the total savings.

While the workforce changes and budget cuts occur in every department, the most significant impacts affect the City’s largest departments: Police, Fire, Department of Public Works (DPW) and Parks Recreation and Youth Programs:

  • The Police Department will leave approximately 25 budgeted positions unfilled and will make significant overtime reductions. The Fire Department will leave approximately 50 budgeted positions unfilled and will significantly cutback purchasing and delay station improvements. DPW will freeze hiring of 51 positions and implement 289 furloughs across street repair, street cleaning, sewers, and building services.
  • Due to reductions in staffing and spending, the plan delays the start of construction and debris pickup in 2021 and stops road restriping, among other DPW cutbacks.
  • The plan reduces many programs and services in Parks and Recreation, including school year youth programs, fitness and golf programs, and grass mowing. It also continues the closure of select city pools and other park facilities.
  • Delaying capital expenditures, which creates about $2 million in savings, will prevent city departments from completing maintenance on city facilities, including parks. It will also postpone the purchase of new police vehicles.

Mayor Walsh said the City has begun discussions with unions representing city workers regarding the planned furloughs and benefits changes.  Furloughs and benefits adjustments, which include changes to Fire Department holiday, vacation, and sick policies, are needed to prevent permanent workforce reductions.

Mayor Walsh said the City will begin implementing the spending cuts immediately with all of the actions implemented by early fall.  City workers will receive information on how furloughs will impact them at least two pay periods prior to implementation of the changes.

“Addressing the fiscal crisis facing the City now at the beginning of the fiscal year is essential to spread the cost reductions over a longer time period,” Mayor Walsh said. “Waiting longer would require deeper workforce reductions and more damaging cuts to city services and expenditures. By charter, the City is prohibited from closing any fiscal year with an unapproved deficit.  Other options to close the projected deficit, such as borrowing or further depleting the City’s reserves, will cripple the City’s short and long term fiscal sustainability.”

Based on current projections, the City expects COVID-19 revenue losses to total approximately $41 million. Through prior savings actions and budget planning, the City has already offset about $23 million of those losses. The new spending reduction plan anticipates $18.1 million in further cuts to ensure the City is able to address the impact of COVID-19 losses.

Even with the cost reductions, the City expects it will draw $16.7 million from the City’s reserves to balance its 2020 and 2021 fiscal budgets. After those draws, the fund balance is projected to be at $34 million.