City of Syracuse discusses impact COVID-19 has on education, city services, and public safety

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — City of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh was joined by Syracuse City School Superintendent Jaime Alicea and other city leaders to update residents on the impacts COVID-19 has had on education, city services, and public safety.

COVID-19 IMPACT

The City of Syracuse has roughly 45% of the COVID-19 cases in Onondaga County, and the 2nd highest amount of cases per 10,000 people in the county.

Walsh said the city continues to work with Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and health officials to shed light on those numbers.

The density of the population plays a key role in those numbers, but Walsh said there are a number of nursing homes and healthcare facilities in Syracuse that could drive those numbers up as well.

SYRACUSE POLICE & FIRE

There have been no positive cases of COVID-19 in the Syracuse Police or Fire departments. Walsh said the city has been extremely fortunate in that regard compared to others. Staffing levels remain within a normal range which in the midst of a crisis, is a testament to the men and women of the police force and fire department.

The Syracuse Fire Department has worked with 911 on procedures to get any COVID-19 related information to responders. Walsh said those procedures are working and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Syracuse Police have responded to 348 calls related to social distancing complaints. Walsh said 300 of those calls were in regards to individuals who were gathering and 48 calls were about businesses. Those businesses were either nonessential businesses in operation or essential businesses not following social distancing protocols. 5 business violation reports were submitted to the Attorney General’s office and those businesses have either closed or complied with regulations.

The pandemic has had an impact on crime. Violent crimes have decreased about 9%, but property crimes are up 11% with burglaries driving that trend. Overall service calls are down 2%.

There’s been a drop in overall EMS calls specific to fire as well.

CITY SERVICES

Many buildings in the City of Syracuse are closed to the public. Some staff needed is on-site but most are working remotely. However Walsh said they are continuing to deliver critical services to the community.

• The typical yard waste pickup the city does every spring has been postponed throughout the month of April. Walsh said this was not due to staffing shortages but a health and safety issue. Crews would normally pile into one truck and work together closely. Walsh said the city has been looking for ways to modify the work and yard waste will be picked up starting in May.

• Sewer services are being provided with the exception of going inside of homes.

• Rotary construction has not been impacted. Crews are still filling potholes and full road reconstruction projects will begin at the end of May.

• Water services have not been impacted either, continuing to operate.

• The City of Syracuse has had to close its park facilities, playgrounds, tennis courts, and remove the rims from the basketball hoops. Residents are still able to enjoy the parks as long as social distancing guidelines are met. Four Syracuse City parks close some of their roads on the weekends to allow more space for people to walk. The golf courses at Burnet and Sunnycrest will remain closed until the governor’s “NY on Pause” order is lifted.

COVID-19’S FINANCIAL IMPACT

On April 8 the Mayor delivered the budget to the Common Council and at that time the impact on revenue from COVID-19 for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal year added up to a loss of $20 million.

Today, the latest projections have that loss up to nearly $30 million.

Much of that loss, said Walsh, is sales tax revenue.

Walsh said they have adjusted the budget after speaking with Onondaga County.

The $30 million revenue loss doesn’t take into consideration the possible 20% cut from state funding. That could possibly mean an additional $14-$15 million loss for the City of Syracuse.

Walsh expressed disappointment in the lack of funding for local governments in the recent federal stimulus package. He said local governments are the foundations of the community, providing essential services for its residents.

IMPACT ON SCHOOLS

Syracuse Schools Superintendent Jaime Alicea thanked parents, students, teachers, and community partners for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is new territory for all of us,” he said.

The Syracuse City School District began response to school closing on March 17 with meal distributions. The district set up 29 different sites to serving around 6,000 meals everyday to students. To date more than 200,000 meals have been served for students from Pre-K to high school. Alicea said it has truly been a community effort.

In addition to the meal sites the school district has also partnered with First Student to deliver to more than 400 students who could not visit meal sites.

Education also continues everyday. The Syracuse City School District began mailing or delivering packets to students. The district has also handed out laptops to some students.

Teachers began to familiarize themselves with different learning platforms, working parents and students to learn in different ways.

40% of students in the Syracuse City School District don’t have access to the internet so a partnership with WCNY created classroom TV programming. Not only does this initiative benefit the students in Syracuse, but students across 18 counties can tune in.

Alicea said the school district is also working hard to give high school students prom and graduation. They have not cancelled these events yet.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State will decide whether schools will be able to reopen. The state will issue guidelines to school districts. There is a local committee also working on a reentry plan to make sure everyone is safe when schools reopen.

A committee is also looking at how teachers should grade the 4th school period. Guidelines for grading are expected to be released Friday afternoon.

Alicea said he does not expect a drop in graduation rates.

SYRACUSE SURGING FORWARD

The initiative for a S.T.E.A.M. school in Syracuse is advancing forward. The funding for the school was included in the state budget. It is the state’s first regional high school and worker training center that focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.

The project to convert the City’s street lights had been going strong before the pandemic. About 13,000 lights were installed. The project is not essential so it is currently on pause but when it resumes a total of 17,000 lights are expected to be replaced.

The Housing Resurgence Neighborhood Initiative still has funding in place for construction on new single-family homes to address the concerns around housing in the city.

And 5G wireless installation has begun. Walsh said it is an important tech investment, especially during this pandemic when everyone is relying on technology to stay connected.

You can help the City of Syracuse during this crisis by simply completing the U.S. Census. 41.3% of the Syracuse population has submitted their information. The U.S. government has extended the deadline until August 15. Families can go online to 2020Census.gov to complete the form. It takes just a few minutes to do.

You can watch the full briefing below:


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