Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon speaks at the Micron event at OCC in Syracuse on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. Photo by Mike Greenlar | Central Current.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon at his State of the County address introduced initiatives to fix the county’s lead crisis, reduce a shortage of nurses and prepare for the county’s expected growth. 

McMahon gave his speech Wednesday night at Storer Auditorium on the Onondaga Community College campus. 

He also provided updates on the aquarium and the county’s plans for growth as Micron arrives in Onondaga County.

Lead initiatives, new director

McMahon announced the county will create a new position to help combat Syracuse’s lead paint crisis, a director of lead operations. 

The city and the county have invested heavily in initiatives to combat the crisis in the last three years, allocating $18.4 million since 2020. The director of lead operations will lead those initiatives.

McMahon also announced a pilot program named “Lead it Go,” intended to help children who have elevated levels of lead in their blood by providing services before a developmental delay is detected, McMahon said. 

The county executive plans to allocate $100,000 for lead hazard reduction in the homes of potential foster parents. That’s designed to remove a barrier to some Onondaga County residents interested in becoming foster parents.

McMahon added that the county’s mobile lead testing van, whose return McMahon announced in November, will return soon. 

Scholarships for nursing students

McMahon announced the Heartbeat of Healthcare scholarship fund to fix the local nursing shortage.

Onondaga County residents who pursue a nursing degree at SUNY Upstate Medical University, St. Joseph’s College of Nursing, Le Moyne College, OCC or Bryant & Stratton College in Syracuse are eligible for the scholarship. 

The scholarships can be used to cover tuition and related expenses, McMahon said. 

The county plans to seed the fund with $1.5 million, to last for three years – about the length of time McMahon said the field needs to gain employees. 

The Community Foundation will manage the fund and the Allyn Foundation will make a contribution, McMahon said. 

Aquarium, Inner Harbor updates

Construction on the aquarium at the Inner Harbor will likely begin this summer, McMahon said. 

C&S Companies was selected in December by the county to design the aquarium, he said.

The county is nearly done with the state-required environmental review for the project, McMahon said. The results will be presented to the Onondaga County Legislature in May. 

The county is currently in the process of accepting proposals by companies to operate the aquarium, McMahon said. 

He called the Inner Harbor a “burgeoning neighborhood” and devoted significant parts of his speech to discussing efforts to revitalize the Inner Harbor and the land around Onondaga Lake. 

McMahon highlighted the “Loop the Lake” trail and proposed two new additions at Onondaga Lake Park, a public marina to attract boaters and pickleball courts. 

Planning for Micron

The county is working on updating its “Comprehensive Plan,” to reflect the big announcement that Micron wants to build a microchip manufacturing campus here, McMahon said. 

The plan, which is still being finalized, will identify development around villages and towns and prioritize walkability.  

McMahon said the plan would be a “roadmap for our regional growth” and a blueprint for developers looking to build mixed-income, market-rate, mixed-use, affordable and senior housing. 

The County Legislature previously approved hiring four new county planners, and set aside $1 million for towns and villages to redo their own comprehensive plans. 

Cicero will get $170,000 and Van Buren will get $120,000 as the first two recipients of grants from that money, McMahon said. 

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Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.