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We asked how you would spend Onondaga County’s $100M surplus. You had a ton of ideas

Onondaga County’s rainy day fund is three times bigger than usual, weighing in at $200 million or so. Setting aside $71 million for emergencies leaves $100 million or more to spend or save. We asked: What would you do with all that money?

County Executive Ryan McMahon knows what he would do with it: build an aquarium and some housing, send $200 checks to senior homeowners and supercharge the rainy day account.

Dozens of readers offered ideas that were by turns ambitious and down-to-earth. Among them: a botanical garden, more trees, grocery stores in every neighborhood, community policing centers, free school lunches, pothole repairs, a property tax rebate, and so much more.

Here is a selection of your responses to our call for suggestions. They have been edited for length and clarity.

Public safety

Community policing centers: We should spend some of the funding on community policing centers. I was an AmeriCorps worker at the former Northside Community Police Center on Wolf Street and run by Officer James Clarke. It was a true community police center. Volunteers of all ages staffed it. There was a clothing center, tutoring, food pantry, Christmas party for kids, neighborhood picnic, books, games, camping trips, ropes course activities, etc. Clarke knew all of the kids in the neighborhood and their families and they trusted him. It would be great to have those types of community policing centers in Syracuse and even in suburban areas. … We need to create safer communities through true community policing that integrates law enforcement into neighborhoods so that relationships between citizens and officers are developed. — Marissa Joy Mims, Manlius

Police officer next to car he stopped

An Onondaga County Sheriff’s Deputy writes a ticket for speeding to a driver on Seventh North Street in the Town of Salina, Jan. 27, 2015. More patrols would “help reduce the number of red light runners, aggressive drivers, speeders and inattentive drivers,” writes Paul Campanella, of Liverpool. (Stephen D. Cannerelli | The Post-Standard)

Traffic enforcement: Take $20 million of it and set up four sheriff’s deputies, one for each quadrant of the county, and task them solely with vehicle and traffic control. That should help reduce the number of red light runners, aggressive drivers, speeders and inattentive drivers and would benefit everyone in the county from law-abiding drivers to bikers, joggers and pedestrians. As it is now, there is nowhere in this county where a driver can drive the posted speed limit without being harassed. It’s high time the county was proactive on traffic control rather than reactive to the constantly occurring flaunting of our traffic laws and regulations and its resulting consequences. Everyone in our county deserves to be safe on our roads, streets and byways. — Paul Campanella, Liverpool

Counseling for troubled youth: On the same day you asked for suggestions on how to spend the county surplus, another article regarding juvenile crime caught my attention (”Teens who kill: Syracuse’s alarming death toll spreads heartbreak across city.”). It stated Syracuse’s rate for teens charged with homicide is 13 times the nation’s rate. Those statistics are unbelievable and unacceptable! The answer is not to build an $85 million aquarium. Seriously? These kids and families obviously need help. It’s unbelievable to me that it’s OK that teenagers keep killing each other and we accept that! We need to be proactive, not reactive. We need programs and counseling for these kids and families. These juveniles also need to be held accountable and that is not happening right now. … I worked in the criminal justice system for 14 years as a counselor at Hillbrook Detention Center and as a teaching assistant at Beard Alternative School. I know what these kids are capable of with a chance at success. I worked with many kids who could have easily been the president and CEO of a company as opposed to being in charge of a major drug-dealing operation. Children learn what they live. They need positive role models and mentors in their life We can’t start helping these kids when they are in their teens. We have to get involved when they are young so they have a chance to live their best life. — Kimberly Briggs, Syracuse

Neighborhoods, kids, elders, families

Fix food deserts: I would put a grocery store in every part of our county. All parts of Syracuse need a grocery store that is easy to get to for everyone; not everyone has a car. Next, I would put a playground on every school property, and make sure every part of our county has one. A playground reminds me of my childhood, a simpler time, and today’s kids need them. Third, I would give a lot of money to food pantries and school lunch programs, and places that give away formula and diapers. — Patrice Granger, Syracuse

Coronavirus: Picking up school lunches

Children and parents went to Bellevue Elementary School Tuesday, March 17, 2020 to pick up school lunches and homework as schools are closed in the Syracuse School District due to the coronavirus. Every child should get free breakfast and lunch, writes Jennifer Wells, of North Syracuse. (N. Scott Trimble | [email protected])N. Scott Trimble | [email protected]

Free lunch: Onondaga County school breakfast and lunches should be free for all kids regardless of income qualifications for the 2022-23 school year. — Jennifer Wells, North Syracuse

Child care: We really need some affordable child care. More women could work and there would be less of a burden on the working class. I would trade an aquarium for those services all day long. My daughter pays $270 per week for a 3-year-old. This is more than the mortgage on her house. — Lori Hall, Fayetteville

More trees: Spend it on planting trees and design sustainable environmentally friendly landscaping for the poorest neighborhoods. Green spaces provide safe resting spaces for residents. They help ease mental stress and reduce anxiety. Trees and plants help remove pollution from car fumes. Trees and plants provide privacy screens for houses. They are attractive and they make people feel proud of their environment. They cheer up people. They show that someone cares about their environment. They provide shade from hot weather. They attract birds and wildlife. They help increase property values. — Adrienne Neff, Syracuse

Cash for all seniors: There are a lot of seniors who do not own a home and therefore are not eligible for the $200, which is a low amount. There are many seniors who rent homes. How about helping out all seniors? They pay the same amount at the pump as young working individuals. The same at the register of a grocery store and unfortunately too much at the pharmacy. There has to be a better way to help seniors, especially those who rent homes. They could use assistance with maintaining their homes. We have a fiscal crisis in this country and Onondaga County can’t figure out how to spend the money? Not on aquariums. How about helping individuals who live in Onondaga County? — Shawn Kosdrosky, Liverpool

Help kids. Please spend the money on schools and children’s programs. Of all the demographics, the children were most adversely affected by the pandemic. — Gabe Alberry, Auburn

Beautify blocks. Why not invest in turning abandoned blocks around and beautifying so many areas that need attention? The ability to attract young people to lifeguard at local pools that aren’t open because they can’t be staffed? I’m sure each one of us could think of a project their neighborhood needs. I just don’t see an aquarium as a primary attraction here. Was any survey done to see how many folks in the area would actually visit such a building? I hope the aquarium is not already a done deal. This county can do better with its $200 million. — Karen Stearns, Syracuse

Businesses and workers

Essential worker bonus: I feel that some of that surplus money should be used to give essential grocery store workers in the county to thank us for being there for all of Onondaga County since the pandemic began. Most people have forgotten in 2020 when no one knew what Covid was and how dangerous it was that grocery stores were open. We were risking our lives and our families’ lives so citizens could buy food. A large majority of the U.S. stayed home safe, getting $600 a week, while we got nothing and took all the risks. We were called heroes and fighting a war we didn’t sign up for. — David Marshall, Onondaga

Rides to work: Allocate $2 million to provide transportation to work. So many jobs are available and people cannot get to work. Our Shuttle to Work program could expand and 1,000 more residents could have transportation to and from work. Companies would have plenty more employees. This provides an ongoing Service for our neediest residents finally to break poverty. Our program generates $47 in the local economy for each $1 of our grant. This would keep giving more economic profit for our local economy. — Deborah Hundley, Shuttle To Work, Syracuse

Covid relief: Some of the money should be given to local businesses for losing their revenue because of Covid. — Baljit Singh, Onondaga

Restaurant vouchers: One of the best ways to spend some of the $200 million would be to have at least one or two rounds of restaurant vouchers. This not only helped so many Onondaga County restaurants but also so many residents. Spending $5 million of the $200 million would help so many. — Ellie Childs, Bridgeport

Attractions

Botanical garden: I would much rather have a botanical garden to visit than an aquarium in the Inner Harbor. A botanical garden changes with the seasons and would provide respite from the Northeast’s long, cold winters, as well. An aquarium would consume huge amounts of energy and once viewed it pretty much stays the same, so it’s a one-and-done thing. A botanical garden could provide a living classroom for students at SUNY ESF, Syracuse city schools, Le Moyne and Onondaga Community College to use. I can just imagine it now: a beautiful glass dome stretching around the Inner Harbor filled with plants providing greenery and oxygen. It could also include a special exhibit about our wonderful eagles that visit Onondaga Lake every year. Christmas time would be magical at our Botanical Garden! — Ellen L. Tillapaugh, Liverpool

Water park: I would do what it would take (discounted land, tax relief) to lure an exceptional indoor water park themed hotel to the Inner Harbor. How does the world’s largest, most exciting indoor water park adventure sound? That, in itself, as a privately owned attraction, would attract more overnight tourists than the aquarium, which as proposed would require county ownership. Overnight guests surely are many times more likely to support local businesses than those who would come, visit an aquarium and be on their way. Many of these guests would also be staying multiple nights as a hotel water park could draw vacationing families from a greater distance. To me this would represent a superior return on a lesser investment vs. the aquarium. Also, if the aquarium were to gain support, this would complement it nicely. Could not the aquarium theme fittingly be carried over into the design of the water park and hotel? Both attractions basically side by side would sweeten the offering to potential tourists, and benefit each. — Brian Meany, Liverpool

For sale sign on Toggenburg Mountain

The trails at Toggenburg Mountain ski resort in Fabius are a lonely place, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. It closed in 2021 and is for sale. The county should buy it because “we need every opportunity for kids to be involved in positive, outdoor activities, writes Wendy Millard, of Jamesville. (Rick Moriarty | [email protected]) Rick Moriarty

Parks and recreation

Buy Toggenburg: Onondaga County has some amazing parks. But we recently lost a recreation area that has had quite an impact on our young people: Toggenburg Mountain. Everyone from every town around loaded up the buses and went to “Tog.” Safety was key, and kids from elementary school to high school ski clubs would ski all afternoon and evening and eat dinner with their friends. Super fun! I’d buy my kids season passes, and they’d be outside in the fresh air with their friends as often as they could. We need every opportunity for kids to be involved in positive, outdoor activities. Tog is now for sale. I know county citizens from many towns would support the county buying Toggenburg Mountain. What a great way to invest in our young people. — Wendy Millard, Jamesville

Burnet Park golf: City-owned Burnet Park par 3 golf course is a diamond in the rough. Its affordable greens fees and membership rates make it an ideal course for a quick nine holes. You cannot find a better-maintained course for $6 a round! One hole stands out as nearly unplayable in its current condition. No. 3 is 191 yards with a green slope that makes it nearly impossible to keep the ball on the green from the long tee distance and just as impossible to make a putt on once you are on the green. — Andrew Gill, East Syracuse

LaFayette park: I would like to see a new city-county park at the former LaFayette Country Club. The property is partly in the city of Syracuse and partly in the town of Onondaga. I envision a wildlife-learning nature center, with activities including horseback riding, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, swimming, an outdoor shuffleboard court, a cafe, and perhaps a tram-trail loop around the property. City kids could learn about farming and spend time with donkeys, goats, alpacas and cows. A year-round vegetable and herb greenhouse could be a learning center, too. Plant flower gardens, orchards, and an indoor conservatory; all with a spectacular view of our beautiful, green city! — Betsy Price, Jamesville

Parks and libraries: Parks and libraries are the last truly democratic spaces that provide equal access to all, regardless of economic status. Our community deserves quality public spaces. I would like to see the county invest in both of these areas by expanding access to communities that need it the most. Invest in a bookmobile/tech van and staff that will provide services and resources to the underserved communities — both urban and rural. This will help close the digital divide and improve digital literacy — critical for school success as well as employment. Invest in continued partnering between these two community-based institutions to advance the well-being, both physical and mental, of Onondaga County residents. — Glenna Wisniewski, Skaneateles

Lake causeway: To help with project of “looping the lake,” build an offshore walkway-biking causeway along the eastern side of Onondaga Lake. This would keep activities off of the parkway and be a unique attraction. The area between the causeway and shoreline would be wetlands and act as a buffer between causeway and railroad tracks. Another proposal would be instead of the new sports facility being placed at Hopkins Field, use the large open field that is east of the inner harbor facility, bounded by Solar Street, Bear Street and Spencer Street. — Gene Cheetham, Liverpool

Splash pads: How about using some of the surplus to add splash pads or kiddie pools to existing playgrounds for toddlers and preschool children to play in on hot summer days? — Karen Rumore, Fayetteville

Infrastructure, environment, etc.

Here’s a list: Repair all the broken roads in the city, potholes, etc. Fix up some of the abandoned buildings (there are a lot) and use them for homeless veterans and others in need. Hire more police officers. Make the bridge higher on the Onondaga Lake Parkway so no more idiots drive their trucks into it. Hire summer help to go around and clean up the streets and roads around the city. Pay the Onondaga County workers who worked two jobs over the pandemic. — Mary A. Manfredi, Syracuse

Here’s another list: Free remediation of lead paint and other sources of lead poisoning as a constant incentive to all county residents. A beach at Onondaga Lake, if the cleanup permits it, and transportation from city sites during the season, plus all supportive services (lifeguards and good security, etc.) Wi-fi upgrades throughout rural areas. — Dave Pasinski, Fayetteville

Roads and pipes: It’s a no-brainer: The money should first be spent on repairing the roads, as many have not been repaved in several years and they are in dire need in the county and city. Second, the antiquated pipes that deliver water to the city of Syracuse. Some of the money should be allocated for when they do break or can be repaired before it happens. I don’t think we need to have an aquarium, as we are not considered a large city. Where do the politicians think all the revenue is going to come from to support it once it is built? — Bill Goodwin, Syracuse

Reader praises Centro (Your letters)

A Centro bus at the hub on South Salina Street. Onondaga County should electrify its fleet and help Centro do the same, writes David C. Ashley, of Syracuse. (Megan Craig | The Post-Standard)

Electrify everything. Onondaga County has a goal in their last 2017 Climate Action Plan of reducing their fossil fuel use in all their departments by 25% by 2036. The problem with that is that the International Panel on Climate Change has determined that we need to reduce our emissions from burning fossil fuel by 45% by 2030 — only 7½ years from now — to be on track to hold climate temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius by switching from oil, gas or coal to electricity use generated from renewable electric sources like wind or solar. Because these will be one-time, expensive expenditures, starting to switch all the county vehicles and buildings to electric is a perfect fit for the surplus. We are going to have to do it anyway and later we may not have the money and will cry poverty. And all the buildings need to be converted to electric heat pumps for heating and cooling which means, in some cases tearing out perfectly good boilers. And if we could help the hundreds of Centro and school district buses — they may not have the money — to be electric, that would be a big help. The next step would be to look toward doing what our little neighbor Ithaca is doing: go Net Zero for the whole community. — David C. Ashley, Syracuse

Give it back to taxpayers

Governments cannot have a surplus. They earn no money. They take money from taxpayers. Give the money back to the people who earned it. Give it back to the taxpayer. Not a subsidy for everyone but a refund to the people who earned it. — Alan Pack, Manlius

That surplus money should go back to the tax-paying citizens of Onondaga County — many of whom either lost their jobs, loved ones, or in some cases both, during the Covid-19 pandemic. With New York state being one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation, this seems like a no-brainer to me. Ryan McMahon may think that a $200 check won’t cut it but wants to justify building an $85 million aquarium that no one is asking for. — David Gallardo, Baldwinsville

The best idea would be a property tax rebate. Property owners in this county get very little relief for the outrageous school taxes and property taxes. The STAR program does not go far enough. This would be the best option for the money. Would it ever happen? It would be more likely for a person to escape the jaws of a great white shark. — Michael P. Russo, Syracuse

The money should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a residential property tax rebate. These are the people who actually give to the community. These are the people who are taxpayers and provide capital to support Onondaga County. These are the people who deserve a break, for a change. — Dave Haller, Liverpool

MORE COVERAGE OF ONONDAGA COUNTY SURPLUS

Swimming in $200 million in cash, Onondaga County looks for ways to use it

Onondaga County to send senior citizens $200 if they qualify for Enhanced STAR

How Ryan McMahon plans to use Onondaga County’s overflowing $200M rainy day fund

Here’s how Onondaga County should spend its surplus (Your Letters)