County Executive Joanie Mahoney stands ground in pushing Syracuse-Onondaga merger

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney gives her State of Country address Tuesday night.

UPDATED: March 8, 2017 at 11 a.m.

Onondaga county residents are ready to have a discussion about merging the Syracuse and Onondaga County governments without forging a divide, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney said during her State of the County address Tuesday evening.

“I just hope that if we have good information and we understand that it is possible and what we are talking about it is really the best antidote to some of the rhetoric that has caused the division,” Mahoney said. “There really shouldn’t be bickering between the county and the city, certainly not over ideas.”

Speaking in front of a crowd of roughly 100 people at Carrier Theater in downtown Syracuse, Mahoney again expressed her clear support for the merger to move forward.

The citizen group Consensus in February released a report last month detailing its final recommendations on merging the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County governments. The report also proposed a new legislative body with 29 district and four at-large representatives.

The report calls for a referendum to be held this year and for the government consolidation transition to begin in 2018. But Linda Ervin, floor leader and representative for the Onondaga County Legislature’s 17th district, previously said the legislature is not expecting to hold a referendum this year.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner in February blasted Consensus’ report on the merger as “more a plan for the worst form of corporate looting.”

Nevertheless, during her address Tuesday, Mahoney urged the referendum to take place, adding that she trusts the voters.

Mahoney during her speech referenced an anonymous Onondaga County official who claimed, “You have over 500 officials in Onondaga County. To my knowledge one supports this. That, of course, is the county executive.”

“Can I just get a get quick show of hands, how many people think we need 500 officials to operate the Onondaga County government? You can get from one side of the county to the other in the next 20 minutes. … It’s ridiculous,” Mahoney said, drawing chuckles and applause from the audience.

Some residents in Syracuse have opposed the consolidation, saying the city would lack representation in a new city-county government, and that county residents would have substantial power over city residents and control decision-making.

Responding to those concerns, Mahoney said there is “not a single thing” in the Consensus report that will “spell disaster for anyone,” and that people should see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“Those who tell you that this is a hammer from above and we will either do it or we will have our money taken away from us are either they didn’t read (the report) … or they read it and they are purposefully misleading you,” she said.

Pushing the merger effort, Mahoney pointed out the duplicity of services provided by the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency and Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency in providing tax waivers. She recommended the creation of a new economic development agency, whose members are elected by both the mayor and county legislature chair.

Mahoney touched on the city IDA’s recent approval of tax breaks on a development project on South Crouse Avenue, which would include the demolition of several businesses — including the popular student bars Hungry Chuck’s and the Orange Crate Brewing Co., commonly known as Lucy’s — and the construction of an eight-story “multi-use building.” She said the tax break money comes from county tax dollars but there was no conversation between the agency and the county government, inferring a lack of transparency.

The final report also recommended consolidation of the Syracuse Police Department and the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, the unification of village and town courts to establish a regional court system, as well as the reduction and redrawing of service areas for fire departments, among other things.

Acknowledging the merger discussion is “tough,” Mahoney concluded her speech by saying she has a desire to have an open, honest dialogue about the future.

“I am just requesting that we dial down this poisonous dialogue and stop purposefully misrepresenting the facts,” Mahoney said.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney was misquoted. During the State of the County address, Mahoney said, “Can I just get a get quick show of hands, how many people think we need 500 officials to operate the Onondaga County government? You can get from one side of the county to the other in the next 20 minutes. … It’s ridiculous.” The Daily Orange regrets this error.


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