New County Executive J. Ryan McMahon held his first town hall meeting in Fayetteville on Monday, Oct. 29 at the village hall on 425 E Genesee Street to discuss current issues faced by the county and possible solutions. (photo by Lauren Young)
Joined by over 30 residents and several local elected officials, incoming Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon held his first town hall meeting in the Fayetteville village hall on Monday, Oct. 29, discussing several current issues facing the county, from aging infrastructure to poverty.
After former County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced her resignation last September, McMahon was appointed by elected officials a few days later, officially beginning the position on Friday, Nov. 2.
“This is truly a historic event,” said County Legislator Kevin Holmquist, who said he could not remember the last time a county executive, or a county executive to be, came to address residents at a town or village hall in Fayetteville or surrounding areas.
“It’s exciting to have a new county executive — I’ve been calling it an era of cooperation and collaboration that we have to look forward to,” said Holmquist.
McMahon’s friendship with City of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, first beginning at four years old, “will be a breath of fresh air,” said Holmquist, because it is a “truly wonderful opportunity to have the mayor and county executive working together as advocates for local government.”
McMahon said he chose to hold his first meeting in Fayetteville because relationships, especially those built locally, are “really what make us successful for good government.”
McMahon, a Bishop-Ludden High School and Le Moyne College graduate, was involved in politics early — first running for office when he was 23, and losing. But experiencing the very public loss at a young age “helped make who I am as a person,” he said.
McMahon said that though Onondaga County has been “pretty successful at a lot of things,” like maintaining a good credit rating, cutting property taxes at the county legislature and investing in infrastructure, but it still needs to do better.
“What’s happening now is our infrastructure is not modern — it is aging,” he said, referencing the Town of Manlius and its struggle to update infrastructure due to lack of funding. He also discussed the Meadowbrook Limestone Wastewater treatment plant that needs to undergo a $9 million project to fix its pipes — but the county does not own those pipes. After applying for a state grant, McMahon said the goal is to receive about $4 million from the state.
In addition to its necessary corrective measures, more sewer capacity will attract more employers, he said. Over the next few months, McMahon said he will work with the legislature, as well as partners in local governments, and have “a real honest conversation about the best way to do this.”
Poverty is another core issue, especially generational poverty. “We have probably 300 families that we can identify today in Onondaga County that, without question, their children will be in poverty,” said McMahon. “The question is how do we fix it?”
McMahon said the county needs to rethink its economic strategy, focusing on retaining current businesses and helping them thrive rather than bringing new businesses in.
The need for vibrant main street life was another focus, as these streets are representative of its village or town’s character and viability, said McMahon.
The Village of Fayetteville, McMahon said, is a good example of a vibrant main street because of its many businesses, pedestrian activity and “beautiful homes.”
“You have beautiful community here, but not every village is governed this way and has residents like this,” said McMahon.
When Town of Manlius Supervisor Ed Theobald asked if McMahon has reached out to Gov. Andrew Cuomo yet and questioned the possibility of increased funding to local communities as the town “hasn’t seen anything in over five years,” McMahon said he will not have the tight-knit relationship Mahoney had with Cuomo, but is “serious about working with elected officials who are serious about solving problems,” and will work toward boosting funding for communities, especially regarding infrastructure.
When asked about his stance on the I-81 project by Town of Manlius board member Karen Green, McMahon said he thinks it will come down to two options: a community grid or a grid with a tunnel — believing the latter to be “the best option for the community.”
One of the most frustrating parts of the project, said McMahon, is that there is no set budget — the first situation of its kind he’s seen in his 13 years of government.
“We’re talking about options and we’re saying ‘this option costs too much money’ but no one’s even told us what our budget is,” he said.
Ideally, McMahon said Cuomo should ask for a budget from the federal government and talk with state legislators to see how much they can fund, and “no matter what,” there should be mitigation funds for communities.
When asked about consolidation between town, villages and the city, McMahon said he believes government should be “small, efficient and local, as a principle,” and appreciates the work done by the Consensus commission.
As an example, McMahon said Town of Fayetteville Mayor Mark Olson has been “beating the drum” about municipalities deviating from having one cellphone service where one provider manages all the plans, which would save “thousands of dollars.” To further this effort, McMahon said he issued an executive order and an RFP (Request for Proposal) for the county earlier that day.
However, where Consensus went wrong, said McMahon, was that if it was interested in consolidation, it should have been referring to Onondaga County consolidating with Cortland, Madison, Oswego or Cayuga counties to form “one large super county” that would have “a lot of voice and electoral power in Albany.”
“I think we’re here to partner with anybody for consolidation opportunities when we do the same things, and that has to be a local decision,” said McMahon.
As for nepotism in the hiring process, McMahon said he is currently drafting a bill that states that neither the county executive, nor the county comptroller, chairman of the legislature or clerk, can hire any immediate relatives for confidential management positions to “send the right message,” said McMahon.
McMahon said he will also soon debut a transition council to make structural recommendations on behalf of every department.
Emergency services funding
On emergency service funding, Fayetteville Fire Chief Paul Hildreth asked about the burden placed on local fire departments, like Fayetteville’s, that picks up the slack for nearby communities lacking staffing or providing little to no emergency services, but are receiving tax revenue for it.
“We’re running a lot of calls, but we’re running a lot mutual aid calls,” said Hildreth. “Something needs to be done about emergency services in the county, because people aren’t getting the services their paying for.”
McMahon told Hildreth to email him some more thoughts on the issue so they can further discuss its solution.
Shoppingtown Mall future
As for updates on the Shoppingtown Mall situation, McMahon said the legislature recently passed a resolution that would allow the property to be taken on back taxes and sent over to the county IDA (Industrial Development Agency) so it can work with the Town of DeWitt to form a plan. From there, an RFP will be sent out to the private sector to buy the property so the county can get paid back.
“We said enough is enough,” said McMahon.
After property owner Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC failed to pay a single property tax on the mall since its purchase, it now owes the county $7.6 million. Now, it’s suing the county to avoid payment while Macy’s is suing Moonbeam because of its concern that the county will take its property due to Moonbeam’s negligence, said McMahon.
“Our hope is that they pay their taxes … but we’re not going to let somebody abuse all of you because you’re all paying for Moonbeam to collect rents and not pay any bills,” he said.
This December, Judge Gregory R. Gilbert will make a decision; if the judge rules in the county’s favor, McMahon said the property will be taken back immediately.
“We can’t allow things like this to happen — it’s outrageous,” he said.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, McMahon officially announced the new deputy county executive and chief of staff — Brian Donnelly, 49, of Brewerton and Sue Stanczyk, 51, of Baldwinsville — both starting their positions on Friday, Nov. 2.
Donnelly currently serves as chief of staff to Mahoney and will replace William Fisher, who retires from county government on Jan. 1, 2019, and Stanczyk recently worked as a budget director for the county legislature.
Leaving government has been Fisher’s plan for “many months,” said Fisher in a press release, and the legislature “made an outstanding decision when they voted to appoint my friend Ryan McMahon as the next Onondaga County executive.”
“I would like to thank Bill Fisher for his outstanding service as deputy county executive since his appointment by County Executive Joanie Mahoney in June 2009,” said McMahon in a press release. “While I’m sorry to see Bill leave county government, I’m glad that he will continue serving on several boards to which County Executive Mahoney appointed him.”
McMahon will be the featured speaker for a free public forum from 7 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13 in the Performing Arts Centre of Academic II at Onondaga Community College. FOCUS Greater Syracuse and Leadership Greater Syracuse will coordinate and moderate the event.
To register for the event or learn more about Focus Forums, which features program speakers like Fayetteville Mayor Mark Olson and Cicero Town Supervisor Mark Venesky, visit Focussyracuse.org/focus-forums.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.