Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of March 27, 2023

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of March 27, 2023

Date: April 3, 2023

By Sarah Wooton and Rose Thomas

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.

This week's summary focuses on two meetings. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and contracts. The Community Development Committee focuses on real estate transactions, economic development, and other neighborhood initiatives. In this summary, we abbreviate “Council Member” as CM.

In the Finance Committee, a representative from the comptroller’s office explained that the city is on track to receive an unexpected $9 million in interest. This extra interest is largely due to the unspent American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.  Roughly $200 million in ARPA funds is being invested on a short-term basis and is generating that interest. These interest dollars are unrestricted, so they will go to the General Fund.    

The Dept of Public Works requested funds for pedestrian safety improvements. This will include crosswalk striping, fixing traffic signals, and more at 21 locations across the city.

The Parking Dept is updating its handheld device software for its ticketing processes. They are extending the contract with the software company because the transition is taking longer than expected.

During the Community Development Committee meeting, Dan Bellrit from Beacon Communities and James Williams, president of the First Shiloh Housing Corporations and current owner of Ellicott Town Center, came before the council to speak about their new development project. Ellicott Town Center is rehabilitating about 281 units for low-income tenants. The renovations are beginning in early April. Council President Pridgen said that this company has been very responsible in the past and that residents can anticipate returning to their newly renovated apartments after the renovations are completed, one building at a time. 

Justin Booth, Executive Director of GObike Buffalo, joined the council to speak about the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board’s Annual Report. He said that the state will increase its share for the complete streets but will follow up with the council about the exact percentage of the combined financial package.

Booth also spoke about sidewalk snow removal. A municipal sidewalk snow removal program is the #4 plank on the 2023 Community Agenda. For the one-in-four Buffalo households without cars, getting around when the sidewalks are full of snow can be very difficult. To address this, the Board developed research papers on the issue. One brief looks at what other cities like Rochester and Syracuse are doing about sidewalk snow removal. The other brief examines who is responsible for shoveling bus shelters in Buffalo. 

While some block clubs and other folks in Buffalo have developed programs to help with sidewalk snow removal, these programs are scattershot. Further, there are many city–owned properties that are not regularly shoveled and are therefore dangerous. Booth explained that there needs to be a municipal-level program to deal with this issue. He mentioned that the Board has discussed this problem with the council for the last 17 years and that he’d like to see the council take real action on this problem. Booth asked the Council Members to hold a public hearing during evening hours to get more public feedback on this issue. 

CMs Wyatt, Bollman, Golombek, and Nowakowski expressed support for a sidewalk snow removal pilot project in the upcoming city budget. CM Rivera explained that it needs to be clear which streets the pilot project will actually address. Council President Pridgen suggested building up a fund based on ticketing that could then be used to pay for a pilot project. CM Scanlon said he also agreed that snow removal should happen on main thoroughfares. Many of the CMs support a bus route-specific pilot program. CM Feroleto suggested prioritizing bus shelters. None of the CMs agreed to hold a public meeting. 

Later in the meeting, CM Golembek brought up the issue of electric appliance conversion. He referenced a previous Community Development Committee meeting in which he asked National Grid about its ability to handle a conversion of this scale. According to CM Golombek, National Grid said it wouldn’t be ready in time. He suggested that the state’s conversion to electric power slow down so that the grid can be fully equipped and that future residents will be safe in the transition to electric heating.