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Campbell Debate: This House Would Establish a Metropolitan Form of Government for Onondaga County

Campbell Debate: This House Would Establish a Metropolitan Form of Government for Onondaga County


(light music) – I want to welcome you
to this Maxwell School Campbell Institute debate. I’m Grant Reeher, the
Institute’s director. I’m glad to see so many
of you here tonight and I want to give a special
welcome to those of you from the community beyond
the University who are here, as well as those watching
on our live stream and the Maxwell Alumni Network. I also want to give a big hello to those in the overflow seating, and I promise we will not forget you when we get to the final balloting and also the Q and A part
of the debate, I promise. On behalf of Syracuse University
and the Maxwell School, I would like to acknowledge
with respect the Onondaga Nation the indigenous people on whose
ancestral lands we now sit. (crowd applauding) Thank you, thank you. The question before you
tonight is whether you support the proposal for a
metropolitan form of government for Onondaga County as set forward by the Consensus Commission on
local government modernization. This is a complicated issue
involving different trade-offs, questions of governmental
efficiency and accountability, and democratic representation
and democratic leadership. And as citizens, we are all, or at least as many of us
as will go to the polls, going to have to render a decision on this if it is ever to be implemented. So this debate is not simply
an academic enterprise. We’re fortunate to have
a great set of folks to debate this issue. They have donated their time here tonight as well as their preparation
time in order to do this, and Campbell and Maxwell
are very grateful for that. I won’t introduce them, as you have their short
bios in the brochure, and I have a feeling that you
may know who they are already. I’ll simply identify them now,
and then in a minute or two, they will join us. In favor of the proposition we have, in the order in which they will make their first set of remarks, Bill Byrne, Chairman of
the Board of Byrne Dairy, and former Congressman Jim Walsh. Against the proposition, we have Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, and Onondaga County
Comptroller, Bob Antonacci. And you’ll see him in a minute, but I want to just thank him
in particular for donning garb that befits the Oxford
Union debate tradition. I want to thank in
particular Kelley Coleman and Christine Brown of
the Campbell Institute, they’ve worked very, very hard
to put this event together, and the great students from
Maxwell’s Public Affairs Program who are helping us out tonight. I also want to thank the Dean’s
Office of the Maxwell School for its support of our efforts. And I also want to thank WRVO for agreeing to broadcast
a version of this debate at a later date. We have many civil servants
and some public officials in the audience and I want to
acknowledge them as a group, and I want to thank them for coming out to hear this exchange. So now let me very briefly
go over the ground rules and expectations particularly
for what you can do to help make this debate a success, because your participation
is essential to it. The more specific ground rules
are contained in the brochure that you received when you first entered, but first, if you haven’t already done so, please silence your smartphones. And as I said, we have four panelists who are going to debate the proposition. The speakers will
alternate between each side and they’ll have about
eight minutes to speak each in their initial remarks. Then they’ll have an
opportunity, working as teams, to further rebut and directly question what the other side has said. After that, we’re going to
open it up to all of you. You’ll be able to pose
questions or make points directed to one or the other teams. Once you are recognized,
and I will call on you, and I’ll try to call
on two people at a time with the hands that I see, we have microphones that
will be passed to you and we ask for two things. First, that you wait for the microphone, as we want to have your comments be part of the archive
program and the live stream that we’ve got running right now, and second, that you are
brief and to the point and that you give the microphone
back when you are done, after you’ve stated your
question or made your point because I’m sure there are many of you who will want to speak, and we obviously have very limited time. Then, each team will
have a very brief chance to make a closing argument,
and then after that, you will render your decision by walking out one of
these two sets of doors, and I’ll say more about that
at the end of the debate. You’ll also have a paper ballot. For now, just note that
the affirmative door is on this side, and then the negative
door is on that side. And here’s another detail
on this which is important and part of the civic nature of this, but in order to be counted
in the post debate tally, you must stay until the
completion of the debate. That seems only fair to the enterprise. And then in the reception
that follows outside, you’ll have a chance to meet the debaters and to continue the conversation, and I’ll announce the results from the pre-debate polling
and the post-debate polling. So I have three final
things I want to say. First, as some of you are no doubt aware, not only is the substance of
this proposal controversial, the very language that has
been used to describe it has also attracted controversy, and our purpose here is
to consider the merits of the proposal itself. Second, some of you are here I hope because you’re wrestling
with this question and you’re trying to
figure out what you think and how to vote. That’s fantastic. Others may be pretty sure what they think, and that’s fine too. We just ask for mutual
respect and civility. And very last, this is
not a presidential debate, so please do not comment,
shout, applaud, laugh, or otherwise interrupt while
the speakers are speaking, but I would ask you now to
give a very hearty welcome to the debaters. (crowd applauding) So Bill Byrne, the floor is yours. – My goodness, isn’t this fun? Good evening. When I began my work as Chair of the Infrastructure Committee, I didn’t know very much
about the structure and operational side of local government. For my 42-year business
career in Syracuse, I knew that the city had lost
a lot of jobs and residents, and was experiencing
rising levels of poverty. I knew that our property taxes were high, and that Onondaga County was not growing. But as the Consensus
Commission started its work, I got educated pretty quickly. I heard about our 36
public works departments, 25 of which are responsible
for 25 miles of road or less. I learned about our 54 fire departments, 27 of these respond to an
average of one call a day. The list goes on. Three water providers, 15
law enforcement agencies, two separate corrections departments. I learned that some of
our government structure dates back to the late 1700s, and is based on what the
reasonable distance was that somebody could travel on a horse. No one would build new
government structures the way they were built
more than 200 years ago. The statistics show that
we’re a community in trouble, both in Syracuse and Onondaga County. We’ve had no population growth since 1970. We’ve lost 24,000 jobs since 1990. Our current job growth is
one quarter of the US average since the recession. We have the highest
concentration of African-American and Hispanic poverty in the country. The Infrastructure Committee
met with public officials as we developed our recommendations. We heard what was going well and where improvements were needed. Tom Rhoads from County Water
Environmental Protection told us we are not
currently structured to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s 10 attributes for an
effective wastewater utility. He told us that even though
wastewater is 88% consolidated on a cost basis, there
are significant parts of the wastewater infrastructure
that are beyond his control from a legal standpoint. We met with Bill Lansley, Onondaga County Commissioner
of Parks and Recreation. The parks in the county
are about 80% consolidated on a cost basis and they’re running well. Parks and Recreations management team has the skills in place to
hammer out private/public deals, such as lights on the lake and the operation of the amphitheater, shifting risk away from us taxpayers, Onondaga County Parks and
Recreation does an excellent job in running unique facilities
such as Rosamond Gifford Zoo. If you look on tripadvisor.com, you’ll see that the zoo is
the top-rated thing to do in the Syracuse area. It’s nationally ranked
in the top 10% of zoos for financial performance. If you have a few minutes, take a look at the history
of our zoo on Wikipedia and what happened after the zoo was moved from city to county
responsibility in 1979. It’s an outstanding example of the success that can be achieved when
this community works together. The Infrastructure Committee
learned of other examples where consolidation has
already taken place, resulting in both reduced costs and more efficient operations. Purchasing has been
consolidated in the county. It has gone so well that
other counties are using our purchasing department
as a service provider. On January 1st this year, the Onondaga County Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water Board merged with an estimated saving of as
much as $1 million per year. I recently heard Joanie
Mahoney discuss this. She said that there are
gloom and doom predictions every time a merger like this
takes place, but guess what? When we turned on our
taps after the merger, water came out. The Southern Onondaga
Trash System bids out trash collection service for four towns in the southwest corner of the county. Residents of those towns
pay roughly half the cost in towns where there is no
municipality involvement. The present situation
in solid waste disposal is a clear example of
how effective government can achieve significant savings. Cost benchmarking done right
here at the Maxwell School has demonstrated that a
municipally brokered bid process is the least costly approach. These examples of successful consolidation have a common theme; They take advantage of economies of scale. Working from a larger
base allows for stronger and deeper management, better
staffing with better training, and more efficient use
of facilities and assets. It’s a basic economic principle that all of us in the
business world have harnessed, and its power is just as
strong in the public sector as it is in the private sector. The Consensus report points
out a number of areas where taking advantage
of economies of scale will lead to lower cost
and better service. If there’s a poster
child for consolidation in the Consensus report, it is street and highway maintenance, where we have 36 separate
service providers including the county, the city, 19 towns and 15 villages. It’s not cheap. We spent $141 million in 2013, the third highest cost
function in the community. Because there are so many providers doing basically the same thing, we are able to do some
comparative cost analysis and the final report includes
three graphs of this. The variability of the data is startling. Looking at cost percent
a line mile of roadway, the highest cost providers are
four times the lowest cost. And the difference is
highly correlated to size. The report recommends a new approach. Instead of providing highway maintenance, by the geographic structure of the cities, towns and villages,
let’s do it another way, by population density. We think this approach can save
two to $3 million per year. I need to tell you what I
think about the big picture. First, our government
needs to be structured so that it’s effective and efficient. In many functions, we need
to right-size our operations. Second, we need to recognize
that we’re one community. When you’re out of town, and someone asks you where
you’re from, what do you say? You tell them you’re from Syracuse, not Minoa or Elbridge or Jamesville. 69% of workers in Onondaga drive to a different municipality
to work every day. We’re all dependent on
the special organizations that are mostly located in the city, such as the hospitals,
Syracuse University, and government offices. If we’re one community, why do we have two complete governments? Our survival depends on jobs. Companies come and go. We have got to attract our
share of new businesses. Companies need to evaluate this area relative to their other options, and come to the conclusion
that Syracuse provides them with the best opportunity
to be successful. We need one economic
development organization that will convince them that Syracuse is where they need to be. You probably heard about the recent Brookings Institution report
the ranked Syracuse dead last in economic growth out
of 100 metropolitan areas in the country. Since we’ve just completed March Madness, let’s pretend that we’re
the basketball team that finished last in the country. How would you respond? First, you do some soul-searching, and look for the reasons
why you got this result. Then you change your leadership
by hiring a new coach who would bring in a new system. Many people have said, “Show us where consolidation has worked.” We usually respond with
examples like Louisville, Nashville, Jacksonville and Indianapolis, but there’s an excellent
one closer to home; New York City, which combined
five local governments in 1898 and never looked back. I think it’s the capital of the world. In the Brookings Institution
report I quoted earlier, the New York City metropolitan
area ranked in the top half nationally for economic growth. And let’s not forget what a
powerhouse New York state is. If this state were an independent nation, its economy would rank 12th
in the world, ahead of Spain, yet here, Syracuse Metro is
ranked last in economic growth. Our local government
structure is holding us back, and it’s time to take action. I think the recommendations
of the Consensus report give us the blueprint for what
a new system should look like and I’m proud to have been
a part of this effort. Thank you for having me here,
and I’m looking forward to a frank and productive discussion tonight. (crowd applauding) – Mayor Miner? – Thank you. I want to start off by
thanking the Campbell Institute for having this, thanking all of you and people in the overflow as well. I want to thank Bill and Congressman Walsh and all of the members of Consensus, they were volunteers and they
all worked extremely hard. And I think they all got a lesson in what all of us local government officials know which is people really care
about local government. I had this abject lesson
when I ran for mayor in 2009, I had a guy approach me
and he pulled me aside and he said to you, “I want
to talk to you about trash “and I want to talk to you
about economic development “and I want to talk to
you about the schools.” And I spent 10 minutes giving him my best. And he said, “You know what, kid? “I like you and I’m gonna vote for you.” I thought this is great. I said, “Well, that’s terrific
sir, where do you live?” And he said Lysander. (crowd laughing) Now, nobody from Lysander has
ever voted for me, yet anyway, but what we learned is, and as Bill said, the city of Syracuse, it
is incredibly important to all of us here, and
the data backs that up. The census tells us 62,000
people come in from outside to the city of Syracuse. 37% of all of the jobs in Onondaga County are within a three-mile
radius of downtown. 50% of the jobs in Onondaga County are in the city of Syracuse. The top five employers, none of which pay
property taxes by the way, are located in the city of Syracuse. Syracuse is the healthcare center, the recreational center,
the cultural center, the economic center of Central New York. And that is incredibly
important for where we are as a country right now,
because we are in the midst of the 21st century, which
is the century of cities. The Brookings Institute,
and McKenzie will tell you more people than ever
are living in cities, and that’s because in a
knowledge-based economy like we are living through,
people need to come together and they thrive off the
diversity and the creativity. And it’s whether it’s Moore’s
Law that you learned here or the knowledge-based doubling,
or the digital economy, that is all happening in cities. And look, we’ve seen it happen here. The vibrancy that my opponents don’t like to actually point out, downtown has had more people
living in it than ever before. They have had more
growth than ever before. When I started my elective
career, there was big talk about the precursor CenterState
CEO did this huge study, talked about the brain drain, and how we were losing
people under the age of 35. At the time, I was under the age of 35, so people used to come
and talk to me about it. They paid thousands if not
millions of dollars to do studies all of which said have a
vibrant creative downtown, have an open community and tolerance, and people will flock back. And guess what, they have. And we’ve seen that that
tax productivity downtown far outpaces the tax
productivity in the suburbs. And you don’t hear people talking about the brain drain anymore. 71% of downtown residents are under 35, 40% increase in population
in the last five years, a 99% occupancy rate, a 50% increase in population since 2006. And those aren’t my statistics, those are CenterState CEO’s
Downtown Committee statistics. There is growth in our community and it’s happening in the city. Let me tell you the other place where there’s growth
happening, immigrants. We have had plus 11,000 immigrants
move into our community, and 98% of them have come
into the city of Syracuse. Per capita, we are the fourth
largest recipient of refugees in the United States. And yet outside of that topic, Onondaga County has lost 18,000
people, domestic migration. So if it weren’t for the
immigrants in our community, we’d be doing even worse
than that we already are, so Syracuse is a burgeoning, vibrant city that has its challenges, absolutely. So it’s not just important to the people who live outside of
Syracuse obviously though, it’s important to the people who live in the city of Syracuse as well. A city’s performance has
to be measured in ways that just aren’t a bank. And look at New York City. In the late 60s, in the early 70s, New York City was on the brink. President Ford said, “Drop
dead, New York City.” They didn’t say, “Get rid of New York City “and consolidate it into Long Island”, they doubled down and said, “We have to find out what works for us.” So a city’s performance has to be measured in social conditions, in education, it is more than a bank. It’s a place that gives
voice to often the voiceless, to the people in our country
who have been disenfranchised. And all we need look is at our history in the city of Syracuse. As a national conversation
was roiling about whether or not we had the
right to marry who we loved, it was the city of
Syracuse that 15 years ago proudly raised the rainbow flag, and over and over again said people should have the right to marry. And we had rallies and
over and over again, we stood there and said
to our state leaders and our federal leaders, “This is something that we believe in.” Our country is being roiled
right now about immigrants and immigration. It was the city of Syracuse, and the leadership in the
city of Syracuse that said, “We value immigrants because
that’s how we all got here, “and we’re gonna be a sanctuary city “because we’re gonna
stand for those values.” There was silence from other places. And how about poverty? There’s a huge discussion
going on in our country about income inequality. And yet you saw in the city
of Syracuse very early on, people make hard choices and decide to take advantage of Say Yes, give millions of dollars
when we didn’t have millions of dollars, before
anybody else was doing it. And now because of that, we
have almost 4,000 students enrolled in two and
four-year education systems. And we have a 75% retention rate at two and four-year colleges. It’s a huge success and we did it first. In New York state right now, and the governor is talking
about what an accomplishment they just did in Albany, they followed our lead
with the right to marry, they followed our lead with free tuition, they have followed our
lead, in all due respect, with infrastructure as well. I started talking about
infrastructure and I was told, “Fix your own pipes.” This year in this state budget, there’s two and a half billion dollars for water infrastructure. So guess who’s helping fix our pipes? That’s what advocacy’s about, that’s what leadership’s about. But what we have is a
group of people that say, “Take this burgeoning, challenging issue “and make it a debt district”, almost as if, you’ll forgive me, but it’s like a British colony. And the last time our folks
were subject to a British colony our ancestors high-tailed out of there, got in a boat and came over here. A debt district would take
all, a billion dollars worth of legacy costs and liabilities and keep them right here. Nobody’s going to expand a
business or move into a business when they see that they’re
saddled with those results. Young people aren’t gonna stay here or buy because of the creativity
that drifts apart. And you would have all the liabilities and none of the services, and you would be
disenfranchising the very people who are essential to the
vibrancy of our region; Poor people, black people, gay people, young people, immigrants. They would make it far too costly to live or start a business in
the city of Syracuse. As I said, Brookings,
McKenzie, anywhere you look, cities are the economic
drivers of our nation, of our county, of our region. By saddling the city of Syracuse with a one billion dollar debt and
calling us a debt district, we make them less competitive, residents will move out who can afford to, people will stay here, the
entire region will suffer. With a 21st century
knowledge-based economy, the disillusion of Syracuse would condemn the entire Central New
York region to poverty. Put succinctly, replacing a vibrant city with a debt district
will extinguish any idea of having a vibrant county
or a vibrant region. (crowd applauding) – Congressman Walsh. – Good evening. Last time I was here, I was in the middle of a political debate. This is a little more enjoyable. Thank you Grant for organizing this. I have some prepared
remarks, which I will provide and I will read, but I would
just like to comment on a couple things that the mayor said. I agree with most of what she said. This is a great city. But its trajectory is wrong. The challenges are great,
the resources are few. The mayor made a decision this year to cut the road
improvement budget by half, to $2 million, so the
city will spend $2 million which gets you two miles of road repairs in a city with 411 miles of roads. So that’s a 200 year replacement cycle. The city was just forced to close recently the busiest fire bar in the city because they couldn’t afford the repairs. So it is a wonderful city,
but is it sustainable? That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re here
because as Bill Hudnut, the former mayor of Indianapolis told me, you can’t have suburbs around nothing, you’ve got to take care of your city, and that’s what we’re about here. So let me begin with a
simple declarative sentence. We can do better. Our current government
structures don’t serve us well. 200 years ago, we set up
these forms of government. This is what prompted our review. We’re fractured, we have
500 elected officials and appointed officials in
a community of less than a half million people. We pay a premium for redundant services, 15 villages, 19 towns,
36 highway departments, 54 fire departments,
14 police departments, and I could go on. Last month, we held town
and village elections. The winners had 11 votes, 13 votes total. The winners. Tens of thousands of
residents didn’t even vote from those jurisdictions. With our patchwork quilt
of local governments, how many truly know which
government is responsible for which service? Where’s the accountability? How many even know there was an election? Is that good representation? We must do better. In Onondaga County, our
electorate is 37% Democrat, 29% Republican, 34% unaffiliated or affiliated with another party, yet our county legislature
is 13 Republicans and four Democrats. Not to pick on one party over the other, the city of Syracuse, the
electorate is 55% democratic, 15% Republican, 30% unaffiliated or enrolled in other parties, and yet nine out of 10 city
councilors are Democrats. Minority populations are
woefully underrepresented in our current structures of government. In the city of Syracuse, people of color make up
44% of our population, and yet only 22% of the voting
members of the Common Council are from that community. Each of the metro
governments that we reviewed, and you’ve heard of a
number of them listed, does a much better job of
minority representation than we do. People see the problems
with our current structures. Just look at the voter turnout. When it comes to representation,
we can do a lot better. We’ve proposed a model we
believe will do better. As Bill showed, we followed the data, we’ve also listened to thousands of people across the community and
heard their priorities. What do they want? Better access to elected officials, local voices at the table, representation that’s responsive, a legislative body that’s inclusive, an ability to solve big problems, and we face big problems as a community. If we were starting with
a clean sheet of paper, nobody would draw the lines
the way they’re drawn today. So how do we do this? We begin by insisting at
independently drawn districts rather than politically
gerrymandered districts. This way, we’re more likely
to see a balance of officials who more closely reflects the population. There are a number of ways to do this. In Louisville, they hired a geographer from the University of Louisville to lead the process of
drawing new districts. Neighborhoods and communities of interest will take precedence over
maintaining political power. We propose smaller
districts, much smaller, 16,000 residents per district. Currently, the Common Council, there are 28,000 of residents, in the county leg, there
are 27,000, so much smaller. This is better access, this
brings truly local voices, this is more responsive, and
ultimately, more inclusive. We have balanced districts. No single segment of the
community will hold the majority. We’ll have city districts,
suburban districts, rural districts, we’ll
have blended districts, city and county, city
and outside of the city. They are 50/50. Currently, there’s an incredible
disadvantage to the city the way these districts are blended. And four at-large districts
so that we’ll have individuals on the legislature focused
on community-wide issues and not parochial issues. With this approach, we’ll
start to act as one community, which only makes sense since
seven out of every 10 of us get up every morning and go to
work in another municipality. We are highly interconnected. It’s time for a new political dynamic, which will help us to solve
problems through a new prism, a new structure that takes us
away from the divisive view of town versus village,
city versus county. We need a new paradigm
for how we see ourselves and a commitment to work together. Of course, none of this
happens without your vote. Throughout the country,
nearly every community that has chosen to modernize
its government structure and services has done so
through the voice of the people, a grassroots effort to
examine the possibilities followed by a public referendum. That’s what we’ve begun here
in the last three years. Since Consensus was formed,
every member of our commission, and we are volunteers has
gone out into the community to talk with our neighbors
across the county. We’ve held over 1,000 meetings, and 6,000 people attend these meetings, not to mention the social media and the action that we’ve
gotten on our website. We’ve listened to your priorities, we’ve heard your call for more
jobs and a growing economy that invites our next generations
to stay here and thrive. After all, what is this all about if we don’t have our kids
and our grandkids with us? We’ve heard your desire to
no longer be the community with the 14th highest
property taxes in the nation. How many times have we heard that? We’ve heard you tell us
that you like services that you receive, but
you’re worried about cuts you’ve seen to funding
for things like parks, road improvements, police
and fire services, and more. We’ve heard you say that
we should be a community that controls its own destiny, and is less dependent upon
Albany and Washington. We’ve even commissioned
a community-wide survey by the Siena Institute of research to see if it reflected
what we were hearing in those 100 meetings. It did, and it’s clear
that our community is open to coming together and creating
the second largest city in the state of New York, and the 38th largest city in
the United States of America. The survey shows 48% of our community is open to a new metropolitan government. 45% would stick with the status quo. The balance are undecided. A majority of our community
supports consolidation in every service category; Infrastructure, economic development, municipal operations,
governance, public safety. Now we have done our
part, now it’s up to you. If there is a change,
it’s only going to come through the people, not
through the elected officials. You need to demand that your
voice is heard on this issue through a public referendum. Don’t let anyone take your voice away. Thank you. – Thank you.
(crowd applauding) Comptroller Antonacci. – I want to welcome everyone to the debt district of Syracuse. Thank you for joining us tonight. We were outside so I couldn’t hear if Professor had introduced all of the mayors of our sewer and lighting districts. I want to make sure that was done. Tonight, we are being asked to adopt a metropolitan form of government because its Consensus proponents advocate it will save our community
and move us forward. This merger is being touted
as driving economic growth and will solve a host of problems from lack of jobs to high taxes. Support for establishing a
metropolitan form of government comes from desperation. The Congressman is
right, we must do better, but we agree on how to get there. Central New York has been
desperate for so long for a miracle, we have
been inclined to believe whatever the snake oil
salesmen have offered without proof or evidence. The community will be disappointed
by the real-world results of Consensus and that
is why I am against it. What problem does
Consensus purport to solve? We are overtaxed, over-regulated, have had little economic
growth in our community, and our population continues
to stagnate, if not regress. Let me dispense with the false premises of a metropolitan government
will cut our taxes. Consensus commission just as much concedes the primary finding of the Commission was little or no tax savings. However, in the final report,
the range of possible savings on the motion before the
House which is the merger was the potential
savings from $8.7 million to $22.9 million. The rest of the savings projected
by Consensus can be done without the merger that
is before this House. My office has offered
to audit these estimates and projections, but
was politely rebuffed. After years of performing consolidation and shared services audits
for our local municipalities through our CSI tax force, we would offer a valuable
service to our community. Any projections of savings
must be thoroughly audited and be vetted before it is put to a vote. We all know what happens
when we pass something to find out what is in it. With regard to these savings, I would ask have things been done, like
working with the unions, and assessing the bargaining potential and the bargaining impact
when these governments merge? A mere change in structure
without significant and demonstrable savings is nothing more than a sign of desperation and
an appeal to our base facts, base fears, I’m sorry. The morning after our new government, as Mr. Byrne says when you’re out of town, you’re either gonna have to say you’re from Ononcuse or Saradaga, we will be disappointed however. Now, not disappointed in us, I mean look at this room,
look at our community, look at the volunteers from Consensus that have invested their time
and effort into this elixir, we will be disappointed
because way too much of our government policies,
taxation, regulation, unfunded state mandates are
just out of our control. So we must ask, what is the
cause of our demographic and economic stagnation? The answer is clear; New York state taxation
and regulatory policy. The Consensus apologists will say, “Don’t go there, it’s not
all the state’s fault.” But did you know in 1960, New York State was the most populous state in the Union? Today we are number four. Because of this relative
loss in population, we have also lost power in Washington DC. This stagnation is not
just a local problem nor are the solutions solely
found in local government. The last major reform of local government occurred when Onondaga County moved from a board of
supervisors form of government to the county charter form of government just back in the 1960s. And do you know what happened? Ferrier shuddered most of
its manufacturing operations, GM closed, New Venture
Gear Chrysler closed, the middle class in our
county was eviscerated, and as CenterState CEO
stated in a recent email, our county has had no
population growth since 1970. We are ranked last out of 100
cities in economic growth, our city is 23rd poorest
in the United States, our population is fleeing, our tax structure is the
worst in all 50 states, and there’s just about every
day an article on that issue. We spend more on education
per pupil than any state with less than expected results, our electric rates are
the highest in the nation, save Hawaii, and we spend more on Medicaid than Texas and Florida combined. Now does anyone seriously
attribute all of these ills to the 1960 charter form of government? I would hope not, just as I would hope that
you would seriously not say that a new reformation of local government would suddenly unleash
this dormant potential in Onondaga County. The Consensus apologists will cry out, “We have 10,500 local governments “and we need to do something.” This number is smoke and mirrors. The truth is we have about
3,100 local governments, but again, why let facts get
in the way of a good story? One just needs to revisit the headlines of a week or so ago involving
the Collins/Faso amendment to gain an appreciation
of the state mandates that are passed down on local governments. In our county where
Medicaid alone makes up 70% of our county property tax bill, appropriately labeled
State Mandated Costs. This year alone, our mandates
have gone up over $10 million. The Consensus plan and
proposition before the House assumes both immediate tax savings and potential future tax increases will somehow be minimized by the merger. I disagree because we are
not changing the rules by which the new government will operate. Saradaga will still be
under the oppressive thumb of state government. Despite the claims we would
magically become a larger city, we will receive no additional senators or members of the Assembly to combat the down state influence. I therefore do not see how
bigger is necessarily better. Rather, all of the tax laws, the rules, the unfunded
mandates will continue to litter our property tax bills, continuing to drive up cost as Albany cannot quench its thirst
for our tax money. Ononcuse, or just Acuse, will be subject to the Wick’s
Law, the Taylor Law, Medicaid, while our school districts also comply with edict after edict
that comes with no funding. Did I mention our worker’s comp laws, our heavy taxes and health insurance and our pricey energy bills,
all outside of local control? Our citizens will wake up
the morning after the merger expecting a new beginning
only to be disappointed as the hemorrhaging continues. Our way forward is to buck the status quo. To get jobs back to our community,
we need statewide reform, we need to compete on the tax
field, and lessen regulations. I respectfully submit our
worthy opponents tonight have not met their burden. Will a metropolitan government
make us more competitive? Will it attract more population? Will a metropolitan government
bring back employers and thusly the jobs we so crave? Will a metropolitan government really cut our property taxes? Again, in Onondaga County,
our five key state mandates have gone up $10 million
in one year alone, yet the Consensus projection
may be as low as $8 million, so that savings is gone right there. Vote for the proposition, if you must. Vote for it if it makes you feel better or as a sign of defiance, we will succeed, and I certainly hope so, but eventually, we will have to turn
our energy collectively on the beast that is Albany
for that is where the costs are and that is where the
rules must be changed for any local government, much less a newborn to be successful. Thank you. (crowd applauding) – So we will move now
to the rebuttal periods. We’ll start with the affirmative. You have 10 minutes for your
rebuttals and questions. So go ahead. – Just by briefly responding
to my worthy adversary, Mr. Antonacci, we can
control what we can control. We can’t control the state, but we can control our
own destiny here locally, and we need to fix what we can fix, and that’s what we’re about here. Both the mayor and the
comptroller mentioned this debt district idea. Just to be clear, in any
consolidation, any merger, the state law requires that the debt remains where it’s incurred. So the debt that the city has incurred will remain with the city, just as the debt, the county has, that the towns have
would remain with them, but there’ll be lots of
help on the other services from the rest of the community. So that’s a way to provide
additional resources to the city. Now speaking of resources,
I’d like to ask, to pose a question to
Comptroller Antonacci. Bob, you pride yourself on knowing budgets backwards and forwards, and I suspect that you’ve taken a look at what’s happening in
the towns and villages, and it’s not just the city that has economic challenges right now. So the trajectory is
revenues are relatively flat, costs are escalating. And so the county now shares
its sales tax with the city, not with the towns and villages. I’d like to ask you if you would support a redistribution of the sales
tax to the towns and villages and take it away from
the city and the county? – I believe that sales tax
should be shared countywide, so if that answers your question. I’m not a fan of the current agreement, and I think if we were to
go back to sharing that, it would be more equitable
for the towns and villages as they make those
investments in our community. – Thank you. – Isn’t this kind of the point though? Isn’t it that we sit
around here and we say, “Oh, we want to make promises, “we’re gonna cut property taxes, “the city’s gonna have the debt, “but we’re gonna give you more resources”? No, the city’s gonna have
a billion dollars of debt and no revenue. And guess what happens? It’ll sit there. And so if you want to open a business, you want to buy a house in the city, they’re gonna say to you, “By the way, you used
to get great services, “your trash used to be picked up, “you used to have a fire department “that would come to your house, “you used to have a police department “that would come to your house, “now they go all across the city.” Our property taxes are
being driven by mandates from New York state. Ask EJ McMahon on the conservative side from the Empire Center, ask Mildred Warner from Cornell, ask the legislators and
the governor themselves when they stood up and talked
about the property tax cap. They said, “It’s gonna be fantastic. “The first thing we’re gonna
do is freeze property taxes, “and the next thing we’re gonna
do is get mandate relief.” And guess what we’re still waiting for? Mandate relief. I disagree with the Congressman about we can’t control New York state. We absolutely can control New York state, that’s why we vote for them,
that’s why we advocate, just because the first
time they say no to you or they insult you or
they disagree with you, you keep coming back for more. So 200 years ago, we formed a government. Guess what? We had a constitution that
still works pretty well, we still have separation of
powers that works pretty well. Just because something is
old doesn’t mean it’s broken. And I would also posit to all of you, if you want to have good public policy in this home of extraordinary
study of good public policy, you start by identifying the real problem. And the real problem is
that the onerous mandates which Consensus itself mentioned in their successful application to the transformative
Hunger Games, and they said, “It’s onerous mandates
and we’re gonna join you “and work on those”, and
yet, we’ve heard nothing. We’ve heard that, well,
we hope New York state will come in and do something. The reality is, we have
to force them to do it. Now I also want to just correct
respectfully, Congressman, you said that the city of Syracuse has less than 30% minority
representation on the Council? They have 30%, and we’re
not counting women. I would also share with
you that when you look at what the other governments
that you have talked about, Louisville, Nashville,
and the other places where they have had consolidations, they’ve lost minority representation, they haven’t gained it. Now, I noticed that in a
couple of presentations that you guys or somebody on your side gave– – I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you supposed to give a rebuttal– – [Grant] I’m watching, I got it. – If I’m, I know I was– – I didn’t mean to interrupt but– – No, that’s all right.
– This is really our time to rebut.
– Well then, I will respectfully sit
back and let you rebut. – Okay, well I’ll start it– – Per the conversation that
we had prior to the debate, the affirmative will have
two more minutes of time. – I think we’re getting
a little bit theoretical. Right now, the city’s debt service, the so-called debt district
is $16 million a year, that’s what it is, okay? The city is, you’ve just proposed a
budget, this $18.5 million short of balancing, but this isn’t, we’re not in a crisis situation. You mentioned EJ McMahon from Albany, he said that, he just said
in the paper today that we’re in better shape than
a lot of other communities from a debt standpoint,
but one of the things that you’ve accused Consensus of is stripping assets from the city. And let’s talk about
that a little bit, okay? There’s 411 miles of city streets. This year, your paving
budget is just two miles. At that rate, it’s gonna
take us two centuries to get to get to all the streets, to repave all the streets in the city. Firehouse 7, Station 7
was closed for less than $1.5 millions in repairs
that were needed for it. That station would have
been the first to respond if this building caught fire. You’ve had to make significant cuts to the Parks budget too. Are these the assets that
you’re talking about? – Yes, I am. So let me talk about our Parks Department. Our Parks Department provides funding and provides programming
for the poorest people in our region. And so they provide summer programming and Parks programming and making sure they
have breakfast and lunch. We are a service provider. Most of the people in my city
will never go on vacation. The only vacation they have
are our Parks Department and the programming that we have and making sure that our pools stay open and they have constructive
activities to do. That is vastly different than
what the Parks Department does in the county. And Station 7, we closed it, and response time didn’t change at all, and health and safety was
not put at risk at all. And the paving budget that you keep coming over and over again to, that’s only a small
portion of the equation. New York state every year passes, and I saw there’s somebody
here from New York state, every year, they passed millions
of dollars in CHIPS money and TIP money, Transportation
Improvement Program, where we get reimbursed, so
this is just our local share, that’s not the total share of it, but it might, stripping assets, and let me go back too, there is– – Let’s put that in the
negatives rebuttal if we could. I want to make sure you
have plenty of time. Go ahead. – Yeah, let’s go back, let’s go to, let’s talk about the
issue of sustainability. And last year, the city of
Syracuse withdrew $12 million from its rainy day fund
just to make ends meet. Today, the balance stands
at about $43 million. Without some painful
measures, the city is on pace to be out of money by the end of 2020. Mary, you’ve warned on
more than one occasion that bankruptcy may be in
this community’s future. To your credit, you’re
making tough decisions. Syracuse is cutting services,
leaving more potholes to fill, more streets to pave, more
water pipes to replace. Many towns and villages are
also facing tough choices. The needs are growing while the
bank accounts are dwindling. How does this lead to a prosperous
future for our community? – So the answer is that when virtually 70% of your budget
is being driven by mandates, that’s the cause of
our dwindling resources is the fact that we have
to pay for pensions. In the eight years that I’ve been mayor, our pension payments have gone up 300%. There is nothing that
we can do about that. The largest expenses that we have are binding interest arbitration
with our police department and our fire department. That’s a policy set by Albany. So if you, in Syracuse,
as you said, is not alone. The city of Albany is already bankrupt. They were bankrupt last year, they got a 12 and a half
million dollar infusion of cash, they did it again this year. Yonkers has a higher fiscal stress. Monroe County has the highest
fiscal stress of any county. Nassau County is already in
a financial control board. The city of Buffalo has been in and out of a financial control board. What do all of these have in common? New York state. So you can’t take the trends
that are impacting all of us and say, “City of Syracuse
and Onondaga County, “you can solve this alone by
disenfranchising your people, “by giving up your voices.” – You’ve got more time if you like. – There are, I’m told, over
200 people who came out tonight to hear this debate, and
God bless you for it, we’re glad you’re here. We were told by one of our
county legislators that this proposal was dead on arrival. How many of you were asked before he said? It’s a rhetorical question. Another one said, “Nobody’s for this,
everybody’s opposed to it.” Again, did anyone ask you before
that county legislator said nobody is for this? We have a poll that says
better than half of the people who were polled who have made
up their minds are for it. So let me just ask this question of our two worthy opponents. Would you support taking
this to the people? Ask the county legislature to send a memorializing resolution to the state and ask the City Council
to send a homeroom message or memorializing, easy for me to say, legislation to the state
asking that the people have an opportunity to vote
on whether or not to proceed? – I have no problem with the people having an opportunity to
vote on this, but as leaders, elected leaders, we
have people coming to us on a daily basis saying,
“This is a bad idea, “this is not what we want.” But there are too many
unanswered questions, and I as the comptroller
have an obligation to let the community know of the pitfalls that are in these consolidation decisions. Have we gone through the
union bargaining agreements? Have we talked about
the impacts on unions? Let’s talk about a
decision that was touted as the savior in the original plan, merging our corrections department with the sheriff’s custody at
the Public Safety Building. And that was touted as, “Wow, we got two corrections departments, “what are we doing? “Why can’t we just have one?” Well, you know why? We’ve got two different
unions, and if we merge them, we’re looking at about a million
dollar increase in salary. If we–
– Not of both unions. – Under the Taylor Law, you’re going up, you’re not going down, and
when you start merging rules on who gets seniority on vacation days and which health insurance survives– – If both contracts survive and you just consolidate
the management teams, there would be a saving without it– – But what does that serve? All right, let’s talk
about police department. You have the city of
Syracuse police department and the sheriff’s
department merging together. There’s a touted savings of– – [Grant] Wrap this point up here, and then we’re gonna move on. – A touted savings of $3 million. Again, has anybody talked to the unions? There’s a $4,000 discrepancy
in the starting pay between a Syracuse police officer and an Onondoga County sheriff’s deputy. That rate, that’s going up. You are not gonna have these
men and women in uniform making different salaries, but answering the one common boss. It’s not gonna happen. – One comment–
– So for the record, you’re for a vote of the people? – Oh, sure. – Put it down for the referendum
with some reservations? – Absolutely, no problem,
love the conversation. – So I would say that–
(scattered applauding) Thanks, Consensus. (crowd laughing)
I would say that I am all in favor of votes,
that’s how I live and die is by votes and asking
people to vote for me, but what are you asking them to vote for? You say if, and I want
to quote you exactly, what are we doing this– – [Grant] This is a good
segue to your rebuttal, so we’ll start the
negatives rebuttal here. Go right ahead. – Thank you. I believe I heard you say in
your introductory remarks, “What are we doing this
for if not for our children “and our grandchildren?” Excellent, that’s eloquent. You don’t address any
of the school districts. 45% of the children in our county go to school in the city school district. And they are part of a
dependent relationship. And so what happens to them? Now, I can tell you that every person that I’ve ever talked to in this community asks me about education, and they ask me about what
happens to their children? And you’re just going
to leave them orphaned? I’m not going to go to
voters and tell them to vote for something when
the most important asset that they have, their children’s
future, isn’t addressed. And you can say, “We’ll
talk about it later.” We don’t talk about
children’s futures later. I would also tell you
that when you say that, when you say, “Strip its assets”, yeah, you’re taking our assets
and then telling people we’re gonna leave you the liabilities, and the liabilities are a
billion dollars of legacy costs. Believe me I look at those debt
offerings and I know exactly their legacy costs,
their healthcare costs, their pension costs for
people who are long gone. The reason that our
costs are so much heavier than Onondaga County? It’s very easy, we’re an
older city, that’s all it is. So you take our assets, you leave us with a billion
dollars in the debt district, well, what’s gonna happen
to property owners? What’s gonna happen to
people who pay taxes? What’s gonna happen to your children? We don’t go to voters,
let me be very clear, it’s been my experience in this community as I think the comptroller
eloquently said, we have been promised
Magic Bullet solutions. “Nothing like it in the world. “Don’t worry, it’s gonna be
nothing like it in the world.” And you know what it is? It’s a mall, and we were
promised that we were gonna have so much sales tax receipts that it was gonna dwarf
our property tax revenues. Hasn’t happened, hasn’t even come close. – The sales tax revenue
for the city is $83 million and the property tax levy is $34 million, so wouldn’t you say that sales tax dwarfs property tax revenue for
the city of Syracuse? – I was talking about
destinies promised to us that because of their tax break– – How about this county’s promise to you? – That wasn’t a promise,
it was a hard negotiation, a hard bargain. No, let me finish my point
and then I’ll get to yours. My point was we in this
community have been over and over again promised that there are Magic Bullet solutions. There aren’t. There’s only hard work and
real, solid public policy. But if you go and ask
somebody to vote for it, a promise, don’t buy it. You want to vote for something
that’s real and actual and that you know the details, particularly if it’s your children who are in that school district. – Let’s try to remember
that we’re not applauding each time someone speaks necessarily. Sorry, not good timing. – No problem. I did see my colleague,
Mr. Maxwell walk in. Have you been here the whole time? Beautiful. In my office, we’re not
advocating that we curl up and die and the Congressman is absolutely correct. We shouldn’t, we have to do what we can do what is within our control
to make our community better. We have had 18 studies
on our CSI tax force. Supervisor Coogan is one
of our favorite clients. We’ve helped her with some
consolidation studies. And across the community,
supervisors in town boards have called and asked for our help. Some makes sense, some don’t, and some we’re gonna continue to study, but we can do all that we can do here, and I know it’s the trite
unfunded mandates, but that’s it. A local politician just said recently, “We’re afraid to have the conversations.” No, we’re afraid of the answers, and we’re afraid to stick
up to the bullies in Albany and say, “You’re the problem.” So I’d like to ask the Congressman, a phenomenal member of Congress, not talking about the health care act, whether you liked it or not, but the Faso amendment, do you support it? Do you see it as a sign
of how much mandates are forced upon us by
the governor and Albany? And will you advocate to
Albany that they have to start cutting our property tax bill and stop forcing unfunded
mandates on counties? – Well, I’ve not read John Faso and Congressman Collins’s amendment, but basically as I understand it, it would require that
New York state take on the Medicaid responsibilities
that they should have. And I absolutely agree, I’ve
been preaching that gospel for as long as I could remember. We got a bad deal, and
it’s still a bad deal, but what I do like is closer to home, Al Stirpe has a bill in that
if we did do a Consensus, do a merger or whatever
you want to call it, create a metropolitan Greater Syracuse that embraces all of the
county, that’s one big city, not one big debt district, it would be a city with
actual resources and revenues and opportunity and
growth for kids, but yeah, I liked what John Faso tried to do, I like what Al Stirpe is trying to do, this is what we can do using this process to leverage the state of New York. The governor, God bless him,
he didn’t ask us to do this and we didn’t ask him to help us do it, we started this long before
he got involved in this. And he likes the idea so
he proposed legislation that would get us additional revenues that for every dollar we save, he’s proposed that the
state will match that. That’s great, we like that, but we also say we like
Al Stirpe’s bill better. You take all the Medicaid responsibilities as soon as we do this deal, and we can drop our
property taxes by over 50%. – But, it’s gonna come with a hitch, and the hitches are gonna
take back our sales tax. So we’re gonna be break-even
maybe a few million bucks to the good, for as long as
it takes for them to come back and take the money. If Al Stirpe’s bill is signed
into law tomorrow morning, that they’re gonna take $100 million off our property tax bill with no hitch, no taking back of the sales tax, let me know where I
sign on the dotted line. But that’s just not gonna happen. – Let me just add that I
find it really interesting that we’re not allowed to
talk about going to Albany about unfunded mandates, but we are allowed to
talk about going to Albany about Medicaid savings. So you can’t have it both ways. Either we go to Albany to tell them they own part of our problems and they should help us
be part of the solution, or under your scenario,
we don’t do any of that, we just ourselves alone moving– – Just to clarify, who
said you can’t go to Albany and talk about mandates? We don’t have any leverage,
that’s the problem. This is leverage. We don’t have any leverage. – I think the fact that
we don’t vote is leverage. I think the fact that every
election time comes around, it’s leverage. And I speak firsthand with this, as somebody who has stood up
and talked about these issues and was bullied and laughed
at and personally attacked and then, you know what? Lo and behold later, two
and a half billion dollars of water infrastructure. Talking about the
importance of infrastructure and building our economy and they said, “No, no, no, we’re gonna
have economic development, “you’re gonna be able
to fix your own pipes “because everything’s gonna be great.” Over and over again, that’s
what a democracy is about, it’s about advocacy, and it’s about holding people accountable. And we simply cannot have
the kind of robust results that we want for our community
if we allow Albany’s policies to be unsaid and continue to drive us further and further behind. – You said that we have
to be accountable, okay? Isn’t the real point that we have to hold ourselves accountable with respect to what kind of government
we have around here, okay? Isn’t it really, and do we or
do we not have two governments for one community? That’s what we have. We have two complete governments. We have trucks and we
have fire departments, we have all kinds of assets,
we have all kinds of management and it’s duplicated, that’s what it is. And we need to hold ourselves accountable to change that system. And look, we don’t like the mandates, we don’t like Medicaid, we understand there’s a ton of problems and we’ve gotten really kind
of in the weeds here tonight, but the bottom line is that’s what, by showing the good faith
effort that we can do, of doing the things
that’s within our control to change this local government, to move from the the kind of patchwork quilt that we have right now, but the real issue is
the city and the county because those two together
are 88% of the expenses, okay? Those two governments need to become one in order for us to say to
ourselves in good faith we’ve done everything we can
here to really rationalize having the kind of
government that we need. And if you look at the
consolidated, look at Nashville. Nashville, on the same
scale that we were rated 100th in the country,
they were fourth, okay? Every single one of the
communities that we that we talked to you about the consolidated is way above us in economic growth. – Well I would just say,
we’re doing these things, people are talking, we have
studies that are being done. We’ve had mergers, we’ve
had consolidations, we just had the East
Syracuse police department merge with the town of DeWitt. That took two whacks at it,
by the way, but it happened. So we’re having these conversations, simply merging the government with it is not gonna just do it. And by the way, this duplication
I keep hearing about, what is a duplicate of service? If you don’t take the
cost out of the system, and I daresay it, if
you don’t cut services, you’re not going to save money. That’s how you save money. You don’t go out to dinner
if you can’t afford it. So if we’re gonna
provide the same services that we want to provide,
it’s going to cost money. Will there be some efficiencies maybe having one boss instead of two? Yeah, okay, here and there, but it’s not going to
amount to the savings that Consensus believes it will. – And let me just say too,
we have two governments. If you’re a new American
refugee on the north side and you’re worried about
what’s gonna happen, who’s speaking for you? If you are gay and you
wanted to marry your partner so that you could have death benefits, who’s speaking for you? When we’re talking about income inequality and the minimum wage, who raised it first? We did in the city of Syracuse. So do we have multiple
levels of government? Yes, but they represent
people and important voices, voices that are important to
the future of our country, not just to the future of us locally. So the Onondaga County,
they represent the city, they do all the same things, and yet you have heard deafening
silence on these issues in this year of all years
when we have started to really realize everything is political. And who’s speaking for the people who are being disenfranchised, feel like they’re being ignored, feel like that they have been left behind? Government is not just a bank. Government is about speaking for people and empowering people. – Okay, we’re going to move
on to the question portion of the debate. So again just to remind you, there are a couple
microphones going around. Please raise your hands if
you’d like to ask a question, make a point, make it brief, and direct it to one team
or another if possible. We have this woman here. We’ll take the, they’re gonna ferry it in by courier, but these two folks right here will start and then we’ll get that side of the room. – Hi, I want to express my
appreciation for this evening. It was five after eight before the word school was mentioned. That has been the huge
elephant in the room in terms of acceptance
of the Consensus report. I think more is owed to the
people of this community to deal with that issue
and not say that we can do Consensus consolidation, and
some point down the road, we will address the issue of
schools and the importance for in migration, rather
than endless out migration. Thank you. – [Grant] Are you directing
that to the affirmative? – I would like everybody’s
thoughts about it. How can we ignore that? – I can assure you, we did not ignore it. There was a lot of discussion
early on in the process some three years ago. But you can see how difficult
it is just for this, just for governance. And the schools operate
under different laws, they have different budgeting rules. We decided that we just
couldn’t take that out. We agree that it needs to be reviewed. We actually in our report
suggested that there should be a similar project taken on. But, 19 volunteers plus staff, and I’d like to thank Kathy Murphy, who has given up pretty
much her whole life for the last three years on this thing. (crowd applauding) I think we are realistic in knowing that we couldn’t take
on the whole Megillah, so we took on half the Megillah– – Then wait for the second
half to be developed, and present it to the
community as a unity, not as let’s do this now,
then maybe this’ll happen– – But in the city, the
schools are part of the city, but they’re not in the towns and villages, it’s a different governmental structure and the rules are different. So, I get your point, but we just didn’t think
we could take it on. – Let me just speak to that
issue in another context. It’s often talked about, it was talked about in Consensus, some of the remarks about
poverty in the city of Syracuse and what are we gonna do to help poverty? And I said to the Consensus
members is when they came to me, I said if you look at the
studies that have been done in other communities that have
been able to mitigate poverty they’ve done three things. Raj Chetty, the Economic
Opportunity Project, he’s an MIT person, you can
all Google it and find it. So you do three things. The first is that you make sure that your schools are integrated by class. The second is that you make sure that you do not concentrate
affordable housing all in one small location. And the third thing you
do is you empower people in their community so that
they have social capital, so that they can work and
be part of these solutions. And I respectfully say to you that none of those things
are done in this report. – And we have… – [Crowd Member] Thank
you, and thank you to all of our debaters, this
is really informative. Could someone please clarify
for me the status under the consolidation proposal
of the towns and villages? We hear, and the
conversation tends to lead with the talk of the 26
departments of Public Works and the 54 fire departments
and I only get to those numbers if I include towns and villages. And it’s been my understanding that they are not participating, are not required to participate, so I find that a very confusing and for me incomplete part
of this proposal and very, one of the significant
impact on projected savings. Thank you. – The towns and villages would have the ability to opt out. Or opt-in, okay? Or they would have the ability to move, for example, in highway service, we propose this core highway services area where a town could continue to exist but move its Public Works function into a more comprehensive organization. Same thing when it comes to to fire, okay? It’s possible, there’s some
dispute over whether or not a referendum will be
needed at the town level. I think that’s something we
need to find out in the future exactly whether or not there would be a referendum required for each one, or it depends on the different function, there may be ability to move. – [Crowd Member] Which
towns and villages have one? – I know that there at least
one town passed a resolution against any consolidation,
like the day after the preliminary report came out last June, kind of like Mr. Antonacci
who announced his opposed opposition to Consensus based on the preliminary
report last night. – I never said that. Never said that. Wrote a letter to the
editor and talked about a lot of things we talked about tonight, that the savings that we
think is gonna materialize just isn’t going, but
I want to add to that, there’s several town supervisors
in this room tonight, I won’t single any more of them out, but if you don’t think every one of them is trying to save money
in their community, you’re just sadly mistaken. Everyday they work hard,
their town boards work hard. If there’s an opportunity to save money, they’re gonna take advantage of it. Nobody’s out here to try
to waste people’s money. But again, a mega merger,
we’re gonna be disappointed. – There’s a gentleman up here, and there’s another hand on this side. We’ll take the microphone over. We’ll just go right down the row. – So I wanted to follow up on
a point that Mr. Byrne made in his introductory remarks
about the report that came out a couple years ago about the concentration of poverty in Syracuse. The striking thing for
me in reading that report was not just the level of
concentrated poverty in Syracuse but the author noted that
this wasn’t accidental, that it was the result of
deliberate policy choices, land use among them. The Consensus report talks
about the number of officials, 550 officials scattered
across Onondaga County involved in land use planning. And it also calls for a
countywide enforceable land use policy. And I’d like to understand
how a vote in favor would result in that outcome. – I assume that it wouldn’t because the only question before the House is with a merger of Syracuse
into Onondaga County. So all the towns and
villages would still have their zoning policies and
their planning policies, that would in effect, you would
still have the concentration of affordable housing
in the city of Syracuse because of all of those zones and plans and deliberate decisions that
have been made all along. – And also that you
hear all this talk about those politicians don’t
want to work themselves out of a job. The Consensus plan actually increases the number of elected officials. – Do either of you folks want
to respond to his question or to what you’ve heard? – No, but I’d like to make a point. The mayor mentioned earlier on that she disputed our numbers
on the voting members of the City Council, and I would, so the voting members of
City Council is really, it’s two out of 10. I was a City Council president too, I voted once in four years, so the City Council president
could be counted I suppose, but not realistically. But the point I want to
make was she said that these mergers in these metropolitan
cities that were created did not improve minority representation. They did, they clearly did. Jacksonville, or Indianapolis
before the merger, there were seven. After the merger, today, there are 32. In Jacksonville, there were none. No minority members of the legislature. Today, there are 32. And in Nashville, there were
10, and today there are 25. So part of our, we had
three goals in this process and they were to create
opportunity for economic growth for our kids and our grandkids, second, to have an inclusive,
accessible government, and three, to modernize
and improve services. – And I’m gonna interject. There’s a specific point there
made about the representation If this side wants to
respond to it briefly, but then I want to get
back to the questions that the audience is driving here. – I would like to respond to it first. I could tell you that as the
president of the Council, he does have power. If you want to say the president doesn’t
have any power at all, that’s your perspective,
but three out of 10– – Voting power.
– He does, he can vote. – In a tie. – Yeah.
– Once every three years. – Well, that’s still a vote. People still run for it. But I think that this is
an excellent point though about minority representation because what the Congressman is telling, is saying to all of us,
the illustration is that the change in governance
actually resulted in more minorities, however you
define them being represented. And that was contrary to
everything that I had read and everything that I had learned. So we asked the question, what
was the baseline they used? And the baseline that
they used for Nashville, you used a baseline that
predated the Voting Rights Act. In Indianapolis, you used a baseline that was just five years after it. In Jacksonville, you used
a baseline during the years which schools were just
beginning to be desegregated. So I would say to you, the
consolidation dates of 1962 in Nashville, Jacksonville,
1967, Indianapolis, 1970, that perhaps what was really fundamentally got more people represented is Martin Luther King’s
I Have A Dream speech, is Selma, is the Voting Rights Act, is the Civil Rights Act, that all of that was what caused people to
get active and involved, not a form of government. Just like they’re saying to us, “You change the form of government, “we’ll have all this economic energy.” No, you’ll just change
the form of government and in the process, you’ll
disenfranchise people. – We’re going to go to the
next person with a question. Go ahead. – Just have a quick comment. They had the events, the
Southwest Community Center, and they talked about this merger. And I heard our former
Congressman say that they did a polling and
that people were for it. When I was at the Center each time, no one at the Center was for the merger. So I’m just curious as
to who did you poll, one, and let me finish, just let me finish, and then to follow up on
the young lady’s question about the schools, I asked that question, why didn’t you pick the schools– – I want to try to keep this
to one question a person. – Okay, real quick, why didn’t you put the
schools on the table? And the first thing they said, “It would have been dead in the water.” – So we hired we hired
Siena Information Services or Polling Services or whatever, and they polled typically,
like everybody else does, registered likely voters. Sample of about four or 500. And the poll came out, 48%
were in favor, 45% opposed, and the ballots were undecided. I can’t tell you who they
called, they didn’t call me, but they did call registered likely voters in Onondaga County. – Okay, there was another gentleman. Briefly, go ahead. – Of course, if you call someone and say, “Hey, can I save you some
money, will you go with it?” Who’s gonna say no? But again, we don’t have a
plan, we don’t have details. I’m all for voting, putting
this before the people, but it can’t be with some pie-in-the-sky, we’re gonna save you money, it has to be a plan that is agreed to and approved by the unions and all the officials
in those governments. – I would like to take offense
to your characterization of savings of opposing the
budget would be pie-in-the-sky. We did a lot of work on this, okay? We looked at a lot of different factors, and for you to say that
the potential savings on this consolidation are pie-in-the-sky I think is an unfair statement, and I just can’t let it go by. – Can I say something to that? – Quickly, and then we’re gonna move on. – So I spoke with Beth Greenwood,
who’s the mayor of Tully. The kind of maybe not
unironic part of this is that Consensus really did build consensus between the democratic city and the republican towns and villages. Beth Greenwood, who is the
mayor of the village of Tully, she gets elected to office,
she has three DPW workers. And she says, “I want to merge
them with the town officials, “the town DPW workers.” And they did all the
work and they found yep, you have to increase the
salaries that you pay them, and therefore, there would be no savings, it would actually end
up costing the village more money to do that. Consensus came and did a cost per mile of what it costs the village of Tully. And she looked and she
said, “That makes no sense.” She called them, she said,
“Where did you get this number?” They said, “Well, we took your DPW workers “and we divided it by the
number of miles you have.” She said, “Well, my DPW
workers also do my sewer work, “they also do my parks work,
they also do my water work, “they’re not just DPW workers.” And she said to Consensus, “You
need to change that number.” Consensus didn’t change that number. Details in governance like
everything else matter, and when you start talking about savings, that you’re gonna get savings, I have yet to find a
consolidation that has occurred in this country that has
actually resulted in savings. It doesn’t result– – So we’re having a back
and forth on saving. I want to give the affirmative
side to respond back to this and then I want to introduce a question from the overflow row. – Your debate partner said earlier on the town of Clay merged police services, and they saved $7 million, or
$12 million in seven years, so there’s an example. – How about the merger of Aqua
and Metropolitan Water Board? Wasn’t that a merger? – I’d say it’s off. There was no savings of
Aqua and MWB right now. It was a sale, it’s the truth, man. It was a salesmanship to
get it passed in the budget. Period. Nobody wants to talk about it though. – I have a question here
from the overflow room and it appears I would say
to be originally directed toward the affirmative, and it’s this. Given that the Syracuse School District is a dependent district, how
will the creation of a new metropolitan form of government impact the cost or debt allocations
for that district? That’s the question. – So the school district
would continue to be funded by city residents,
it’s their school district. So taxes would be raised on property tax, they would use their
state aid as they do now. I mean, the city budget, the city budget, that school district, but the city budget’s about $288 million. The city’s tax levy is $34 million, barely 10% of the cost
to run city government, let alone the school district. So the school district will
continue to get state aid, it will continue to
benefit from sales tax, it will continue to benefit
from economic development deals that at least one of the IDAs does, and so that’s not gonna
change, but as I said, this talk about debt
district, it’s a great, it has real cachet debt district, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about growing our city, making it more sustainable. And the school district
would be kept separate unless there was a new
Consensus Commission after this one was successful, and they decided to do something consolidation-wise with the schools. – Another consolidation
that went extremely well for the county that that
not only saved money but also improved service
was the 911 Center, okay? We replaced separate
emergency call centers, we put in a unified system
with improved technology, eliminating misdirected emergency calls, saved money and saved lives, and we improved this asset
for the entire community. And that’s exactly what that
was was a consolidation. – Yes, and Mayor Bernardi sued the county and how we paid for it over the abstract. So the reason that it became successful, we ultimately as a city
had to sue the county in order to make sure that
the allocation was correct. And when I said consolidations
in other places, so this has been studied by
Louisville’s Professor Savage, I gave those studies and
referenced them in my first letter after the preliminary
recommendations were up, the National Research
Council commissioned a review of consolidations and
concluded that quote, “There is general agreement
that consolidation “has not reduced costs and
in fact may have increased “total local expenditures.” In Jacksonville, no measurable impact. In Metro Miami, studies
found costs actually rose after the consolidation. In Louisville they, quote, “Failed to deliver on the key
arguments used to promote it.” Again, these were after the
preliminary recommendations. I was asked as elected
official to let the public, but let me, please, let me finish, I sent a letter to Consensus,
I cited these studies, I cited this information. I said, “Give me something
back that shows me different.” – Okay, let me give you something back. My study on Louisville
is from Jeff Wachter, it’s called A 10-Year
Perspective of the Merger of Louisville and Jefferson County. It says that, “While population
growth and economic changes “may only partially
attribute it to the merger, “improvements in government efficiency “and efficacy are primarily
the product of the merger. “The new government has
been able to provide “a comparable level of service
without increasing costs “with fewer employees,
achieving a major goal “of merger advocates. “Additionally, having a single
government setting the agenda “and ordering priorities
has been beneficial. “Through the merger,
Louisville Metro government “has gained an ability
to address major issues “and move forward on substantial projects, “both big and small. “Fears of opponents to the merger “have not come to fruition.” – [Grant] All right, I’m
gonna take this gentleman’s question right up here. – [Crowd Member] Yeah,
I have a statement here. This is from the New
York State Constitution. This is Article 8, Section 9. This may bring some clarity
for some people to understand what’s kind of– – And it’s a short section, I hope. – Oh, very short.
(crowd laughing) When debt-incurring power of
certain counties shall cease, whenever the boundaries of any city are the same of those of a county or when any city includes
within the boundaries more than one county, the power of any county wholly
included within such city to contract that indebtedness shall cease. Now the thing is, if we lose
our power to spend money, who’s gonna control that? And if you live in a township or an area that lives within its means, you’re going to be punished by this. People have to understand, I know you’re not gonna like this, we’re not a democracy, we’re actually a constitutional republic according to Article 4, Section 4. And you really need to
read the Constitution to understand that. – Do you folks want to take note? Okay, all right– (crowd laughing) Let’s take one last question before we go to closing statements. I know there are more but we
can continue that conversation, there’s a woman right there in the center. – [Sharon] I don’t need that. – The folks in the other
room need you to have it. – [Sharon] Okay. I’m Sharon Owens, I’m the director of the Southwest Community
Center and a Consensus member, Commission member, and
biasedly, I would say that we had the best three
sessions of all of them. Very good conversation. Schools. I made that comment. It was gonna die on
arrival, and this is why. Until this community begins
to deal with some deep-seated real socio-economic and
racially driven issues we have, you’re not gonna sell me the swampland that a kid on South Ave is
gonna have the same ability and shared resources of a
kid in Fayetteville, Manlius. Until we begin to deal
with our community’s deep-seated socio-economic and
racist foundational issues, that’s why we couldn’t deal with schools. – Let me ask for brief responses to that, and then we’ll move to
the closing arguments. Either side want to jump in on that? One last question. Okay, I’ll make an exception I guess. – Thank you, I have a lot of questions, but I just want to clarify, I don’t think it would
be responsible to leave some of the things that were said that weren’t exactly accurate out there. First of all, when Onondaga
County and the counties got the Medicaid mandate from the state, it was a negotiation
that included our right on the local level to collect sales tax. So I think people should understand that were those mandates to go, the revenue that came with
them would probably go. There is a million dollars, at least, in savings between Aqua and
Metropolitan Water Board. You can read the budget in
Onondaga County and see it. – Seriously, go and monitor it. – He does. He does, he’s the auditor. So let me just say–
– Let me ask you– – No, there were teams–
– Let me ask you to make your quick points, and
then we’ll give the sides a quick response, and then we’ll move on to closing arguments. – Okay. With respect to the union issues, there were Teamsters at the
Onondaga County Water Authority and CSEA at the Metropolitan Water Board and we successfully merged. The county is older than the city. And downtown does not go away in a merger, we don’t take downtown and
bring it somewhere else. And then two more quick clarifications. The city of Syracuse
is in Onondaga County. Onondaga County also represents
African-Americans, gays, immigrants and everybody,
and we do it well and we do it proudly. So the notion that we’re
a county government to take over some of the responsibilities, the people who live in
the city are currently county residents, I hope
everybody understands that, when we talk about this
city versus county, the city is in the county. And my final comment is I could
virtually guarantee to you that like the consolidation of purchasing and like the consolidation of water, were we to create a
metropolitan government, almost no one would have any difference in their daily lives. You would see virtually no change. We’re talking about two governments. We’re not talking about
taking the roads away or rolling up the sidewalks or the awnings or taking away services, we’re
talking about governments– – Thank you. I’m not hearing anything
I think the affirmative is gonna want to disagree with, so let me the negative
have just a quick chance to respond to that, and then I want to move
to closing arguments. – Look, I’m gonna just
focus on a couple of things. Onondaga County does represent
the city of Syracuse. Have you heard anybody
from Onondaga County talk about sanctuary city status? If you are a refugee or a new American on the north side of the city, or you are somebody who
lives in the near west side, you want to know that. The right to marry, did
we see anybody stand up and talk about the right to
marry and advocate for that? We raised our own minimum
wage for our own employees to $15 an hour long before
New York state did that, long before it became an issue. Onondaga County has been silent. So these are issues for people, and as Sharon very eloquently said, these are people who are often voiceless and city government gives them voice, and it makes that they have a voice so that we can form a more
perfect union together by empowering people and letting them know that they are important to us. Silence is not empowering people. – Okay, thank you, and we’re gonna move to the closing arguments now. And we begin with the affirmative, and I believe that Congressman Walsh will be be delivering that statement. Thank you. – Okay, here’s where we are. Let me just say thank you to
all of you for coming out. I’ve always said democracy
is not a spectator sport. You got to roll up your
sleeves, and you did. Tonight’s discussion was difficult. We’re talking about change. We’re asking why things
are the way they are. We’re offering real alternatives. Status quo has left us
with a stagnant population, painfully slow economic growth, too many people in poverty, and a real question about the viability of our government structures and services that we all depend on. Our 50 recommendations
show that we can have better representation, better
services, real savings, and new revenue streams helping to make our economy stronger. We can do this. Yes, it’s a hard conversation, but I’m so proud that we’re having it here in my hometown. So thank you to Grant Reeher
and Syracuse University for hosting us tonight. Thank you to Mayor Miner
and Comptroller Antonacci, you’re worthy opponents. Thank you again to all
the Consensus volunteers who worked so long and so
hard to produce this result, and I think it’s a good result. And again, thank you all for coming out to learn more about this issue. We must keep the conversation going. Talk to your neighbors, read the report, make up your own mind. It’s the only way we can
make an informed decision for our future. My final thought, your voice matters. It matters. We must do better, but it won’t happen if you don’t demand it. It’s your voice which will determine whether our roads will
continue to deteriorate, or whether we can start paving again, whether we’re closing fire
stations or building new ones, whether our children and our grandchildren continue to leave for better
opportunities elsewhere, or if we create a community so vibrant and an economy so strong
that they’ll proudly stay and write the next great chapter in Syracuse’s storied history. This is not dead on arrival, oh no, it’s not dead on arrival. It can’t be, and our future
is not dead on arrival either. When another elected official
says, “Nobody wants this”, remind them that some people do want this. That’s why it’s up to you now, don’t let anyone take your voice away. We know that they’re opposed,
but where do you stand? There’s only one way to find out. Let them know tonight
with a vote for reform as you walk out these doors, and then let everyone
else have a voice too. Demand a public referendum. It’s the surest sign that our community cares about its future. Thank you very much. – Thank you.
(crowd applauding) We’ll have now closing
statement from the negative, and Mayor Miner will be delivering that. – Thank you, I want to
start with where I began, commending the Consensus
members for their hard work. Cities are contradictions of capitalism spelled out in crowds. They are engines of
prosperity and inequality in equal measure. And when inequality tips
rich, they look unjust. And when it took tips poor,
they look unsalvageable. To be in a city is to be
in a constant struggle. Downtown Syracuse does well, and people resent it as
a sign of rich houses for rich people. Other neighborhoods struggle and they’re cesspools of hopelessness. How do we solve this problem? By identifying the causes of the problem and having an intellectually
fact-based solution not promises based on wishful thinking, not empire zones, not nothing like it in
the world tax breaks, not inordinate press conferences releasing promising thousands of jobs. There are no magic solutions,
only hard-earned lessons. Don’t believe the hype,
there are no easy answers, and nothing is free. Cities are the essential
American experiment. They shine by attracting
people, often outcasts, like poor people and immigrants,
gays, geeks, artists, but they thrive by asking
these different people to live and share together. And it’s that diversity and that energy that is essential to compete
in our world’s economy. But it is as important, it is essential to find the
commonality in our humanity while holding on to the uniqueness of each of our individual experiences, so together we can live
and thrive in peace and proudly say we’re Americans. Never has this been more important now than the time we’re living in, giving people voices in their
government, their future, ensuring that they are participants
in finding the solution no matter how hard it is. While well-meaning and commendable, our opponents ask us to believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that eliminating the
city of Syracuse alone will turn around our economic fortunes. The data shows that
instead it will smother the budding flame of
vitality and economic growth, and strip away hard-earned empowerment at a time when both are
existential for our future. It is for that reason that
I ask that you vote no on the proposition. Thank you. – Thank you.
(crowd applauding) I have a, thank you, thank you. I have a few things I
want to say in closing. First of all, I want
to thank the panelists for a great debate, a lively
debate, a spirited debate, and being mindful of the
time most of the time, and I also want to thank all of you for attending and contributing. I have a few other things
I want to say, but first, let’s give the debaters and ourselves another round of applause. (crowd applauding) – [Crowd Member] And
Maxwell School for hosting. This is a fantastic public
service, thank you Maxwell. – Thank you, our pleasure. (crowd applauding) So first in the tradition, still have a couple more
things here, and I’ll be brief, in the tradition of other
Oxford-style debates and parliamentary bodies around the world, we’d like to ask you to
vote on tonight’s debate by walking out of one of two doors. And don’t do it yet, the affirmative door is to your left here, and the negative door is to your right. But since we know that we
are not used to doing that, we’re also asking you to
fill out a paper ballot similar to the one that you filled out on your way in outside. And the ballot box and the
ballots are outside here. Now I have to tell you, we are not employing sophisticated
voter fraud techniques for this–
(crowd laughing) But we believe that a civic
group like this can be trusted. And I will just remind you that we are in the Maxwell
School of citizenship. And George Washington is outside watching. I’m almost done here,
I’m almost done here. I have a question for the audience. Does someone have a debate
brochure with the letters CD circled on the back? (crowd chattering) Okay, we’ve identified this person. All right, hold on to that brochure sir. We are giving each of the
debaters some Maxwell swag as a token of our appreciation, but as a symbol of the importance
of the audience’s role, we want to give another set of that swag to one of the members of the audience, and that sir is you. (crowd applauding) It’s waiting for you
outside, congratulations. That brings me to my final point, the reception that’s
waiting for us outside. We have food and drink outside,
please join us for that. After you have filled out your ballot, we’ll continue the conversation and we’ll figure out
something else to argue over. ID1 comes to mind for example. But absent that, we just
want to thank you all again. Thank you very much. (crowd applauding)

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