Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of April 15, 2024

Date: April 19, 2024

by PPG Staff
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. As a reminder: anyone can attend these meetings. They are on the 13th floor of City Hall, and all the agendas can be found on the Council’s meeting website.

For this summary, we will report on the Caucus and Regular meetings. ‘Council Member’ is abbreviated as CM; ‘Council President’ as CP; ‘President Pro Tempore’ as PT; and ‘Majority Leader’ as ML.

In the Caucus meeting, members heard about the Department of Public Works’ plans to open most of the city’s pools this summer, though the Masten Park pool will be closed for construction. They have budgeted for 80 lifeguards and supervising lifeguards, who will be paid $20 and $22/hour respectively.

CMs had a disagreement about a new council practice, namely when residents would be allowed to speak at meetings. Previously, if a member of the public sent in an item, the Clerk’s office and the CMs would send it to the appropriate committee, where the person would be allowed to speak. Now, it sounds like most items are likely to be received and filed without supporters speaking at a committee meeting. However, it’s difficult to understand exactly what this new practice will be since the council has not made a clear public announcement about it. CMs Wyatt and Rivera argued that people should be given a public pulpit, and the right to be heard in council chambers-- “to at least have an audience,” as CM Rivera said. ML Halton-Pope replied that people’s right to speak was being honored because they sent in the item. “I would argue that by submitting it to council that is an opportunity to be heard, because we’re reading it,” she said.

In the Regular meeting, the council approved a $238,738.50 contract for American Rescue Plan funding to the Massachusetts Avenue Project for their Growing Food Justice Project. This project is meant to increase “food equity and sovereignty by creating new initiatives and opportunities for underserved youth and families living in Buffalo’s East Side and other food insecure neighborhoods.” The council also signaled that they would accept $2.4 million from New York State’s opioid settlement. This money, a mandated payment from pharmaceutical manufacturers, is being disbursed by the state; it is to be used for needle disposal programs, as well as support for clinics, counselors, and first responders.

The Council sent an item concerning the SAFE Streets Act (which aims to improve roads and increase biker and pedestrian safety) from the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Board to the Community Development Committee for discussion. They received and filed a second item the Bicycle and Pedestrian Board submitted, a resolution calling for the city to commit to developing a sidewalk snow removal pilot project. This means that the topic is no longer open for public discussion at the council unless a new item on the topic is submitted.

The council adopted a resolution supporting a New York State ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes, 8-1, with only CM Feroleto voting against it.

The council also talked about several housing-related policy ideas. The first was an idea to create a Municipal Code Violations Bureau (MCVB). The CMs spoke about how housing condition violation cases sit in housing court for far too long. CP Scanlon said that if an MCVB was created, the city could handle some of these cases internally to speed things up. As PPG understands it, the city expanded its Bureau of Administrative Adjudication a few years ago to do just that. It is unclear to us what distinguishes the MCVB from the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication. The council adopted this MCVB resolution, which asks the city’s law department to speak at the next legislation committee meeting about what creating an MCVB would look like.  

Next, the council asked the law department to draft a law that would update city code to reflect certain New York State housing code violations. This would allow city inspectors to fine property owners for violations that are illegal under NYS code, but not yet illegal under city code.

Last, the council asked the law department to come speak at the next legislation committee meeting about adding unpaid fines and fees to a property’s tax bill. According to the resolution, this is a law that the council worked with the state legislature to pass in 2018. When property owners fail to pay fines and fees (e.g. fines associated with housing violations), the city can tack those fines and fees onto the owner’s tax bill, which makes a property owner more likely to pay them. The council is asking the law department to talk about whether this tool has been used in recent years or whether the law needs to be updated in any way.