Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of January 15, 2024

Date: January 19, 2024

by Caitlin Crowell
Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from council meetings related to our Community Agenda items. If you want to learn more about how the council meetings work and how you can get involved, check out our guide.

For this summary, we will report on the Civil Service, Finance, Legislation, and Community Development Committee meetings, as well as a Special Meeting of the full council. ‘Council Member’ is abbreviated as CM; ‘Council President’ as CP; and ‘Majority Leader’ as ML.

The Civil Service committee received and filed notice of the city’s hiring of Marc Pope as Director of Infrastructure and Quality of Life. They did not talk about what this role will involve.

In the Finance Committee meeting, discussions began with the tentative labor agreement between the city and the police. Negotiations on this contract began in mid-2022, explained Corporation Counsel Cavette Chambers, and it would guarantee both retroactive and future pay increases. Because bargaining has taken so long, the 3%-4% pay increases will cover the period from mid-2021 to mid-2025. One new provision would require all Buffalo police to live within in the city limits for seven years. CM Wyatt pointed out that allowing officers to live outside of the city would lower Buffalo’s tax base, as well as possibly contribute to the department’s documented racial disparities in policing. New department officers would have to contribute 15-25% of the cost of their health insurance for 10 years, and there would be changes to the evaluation and training policies. Officers will be evaluated by their direct supervisors up to four times a year, and any deficiencies that are found will lead to an assigned training.

Chambers pointed out that the council’s approval was not necessary, but that it would spare a drawn out mediation process. Commissioner Delano Dowell, from the Office of Finance and Administration, explained that the city had analyzed the city’s ability to pay, and concluded that it would represent a possible savings for the city compared to an arbitrator’s decision.

The agreement would cover 737 existing officers, but it budgets for 812 officers; this means that the police could hire an additional 65 officers. This contract ultimately represents a multi-million dollar increase to the city’s police budget in the next four years, something several council members expressed concern about. CM Rivera noted that as ex-police, he himself is a member of the Police Benevolent Association, but he said that these costs would be difficult for Buffalo. CM Wyatt pointed out that the city also has to pay for lawsuits against the police, which can be very expensive. He expressed frustration that some of these officers often remained on the force, even when their behavior has cost the city dearly.

Gregg Szymanski, Investment and Debt Officer, was asked to speak about the case of an employee on paid leave for many years. He said that he was not able to offer any information about the report, other than that Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams had filed it. CM Everhart said she would like to hear from someone who could answer questions, and Szymanski suggested that they ask special assistant to the comptroller Demone Smith to come talk to the council.

The committee also cleaned up its agenda by receiving and filing many old items. Most of these were old budget reports, but the list also included a letter from Grassroots Gardens, pleading for the city to disburse needed American Rescue Plan funds. Receiving and filing these items means that the council will not discuss them again.

The Legislation Committee meeting featured several public hearings. Brandon Kennedy, from Preservation Buffalo Niagara, spoke about the Allied Mills Complex. He noted that Buffalo is becoming known for its creative adaptive reuse of our industrial heritage sites, and he asked for the site to be granted landmark status to preserve its eligibility for development tax credits. The committee tabled the item.

CM Wyatt also mentioned the Buffalo Affordable Safe Housing (BASH) resolutions. Former CP Pridgen proposed these resolutions to implement the Affordable Housing Task Force’s policy recommendations. It sounds like CM Wyatt wants the council to approve these resolutions, but he will also create new resolutions to move the recommendations forward.

The Community Development meeting began with a discussion of water fluoridation. CP Scanlon reported that he had talked with the Sewer Authority, and the general manager, Oluwole McFoy, had assured him that there would be a timetable for remediation in place within the week. The council also held a public hearing on Douglas Development’s purchase and development plans for the Mohawk Ramp. No members of the public testified, and the council recommended approval of the project.

The full council also held a Special Meeting in advance of the expected snowstorm. The goal was to agree to the new police contract, negotiated between the city and the police bargaining unit (the Police Benevolent Association) before the newest class of department recruits graduated from the Academy. The council approved the agreement, but CM Rivera noted that this gave the council little time to consider the city’s multi-year budget obligations, which this new contract would increase.