Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of July 3, 2023

Date: July 7, 2023

Written by Hannah Gabelnick, Megan Battista, and Regine Ndanga, edited 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.

This week’s summary focuses on the Common Council’s Community Development, Finance, and Legislation Committees. In this summary, we will abbreviate “Council Member” as CM, "Council President" as CP, and "Majority Leader" as ML

In the Community Development Committee meeting, the committee discussed lease agreements for community centers. ML Rivera noted that the Grant Street Community Center's lease was the only one not on the list. Reps from relevant departments (e.g. law department) will look into this further. CM Wyatt expressed concern that by extending leases the council would be tacitly approving the programming happening in those community centers. A city attorney told CM Wyatt that the centers’ programming is not related to their leases.

NY Citizens Audit is an election conspiracist group that promotes distrust in our election system. A representative from this group, Nicole Duffin, asked the council to pass a resolution in support of an audit of the 2022 General Election. The committee recommended this item be received and filed.

Lindsey Hicks, a member of the Art and Public Places Committee, raised concerns about discrimination and corruption in the Buffalo Arts Commission in regards to an art installation project. CM Nowakowski warned Hicks that alleging public corruption is a very serious matter. The committee will review a response from the Buffalo Arts Commission and revisit the item in a future meeting.

The Finance Committee recommended approval for a request by the Buffalo Water Board and Buffalo Water Authority to sell $35.1 million in bonds to pay for improvements to the Buffalo water system.

Gregg Szymanski, Investment Debt Officer at Buffalo’s Office of the Comptroller, gave an annual report about capital debt service fund deposits. ML Rivera asked if the city was currently paying down more debt than it was incurring, and Mr. Szymanski confirmed that this was the case.

The committee recommended approval for the following:

●      $40,000 for an external payroll service for Buffalo Summer Youth

●      $70,000 to City Swim Project for a swimming program

●      $60,000 to Dress for Success for job readiness workshops

Director Crystal Middleton from the Office of Strategic Planning (OSP) presented the 2024 capital budget. ML Rivera asked that the capital budget be delayed because the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds have not been allocated yet. He would prefer to look at both plans at the same time so that the CMs can ensure that their projects are funded through one of those two budgets. CM Bollman agreed that they needed more transparency about what ARPA funds will be used for and when they will be issued.

Holly McNamara, Demolition Coordinator at Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, explained that there are currently 90-100 properties on the city’s demolition list. The storm and large fire on Main Street resulted in a $500,000 increase in the city’s demolition budget this year. The criteria for a demolition is that the house must be vacant, dilapidated, and have usually been involved in court and received multiple violations over the years. If a home is on the demo list and the owner sells the home or gives it to someone, the process needs to be restarted. This is because the demolition order is attached to the owner–not the property.

The total budget for demolitions for the city is about $1.25 million. 60-70 properties were demolished last year, and the same approximate number is expected this year. A housing demolition generally costs between $17,000-$20,000.

Cathy Amdur, Commissioner of Permit & Inspection Services explained that the Buffalo Neighborhood Enhancement Team assesses the need for demolitions, balancing  preservation and safety. CM Wyatt noted that demolition without construction creates additional vacant lots. Director Middleton mentioned that there are infill projects happening on Adam Street and Laurel Street.

Maria Melchiorre-Chudy, Buffalo’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD)Programs Manager, presented the 2023-2024 Action Plan, which outlined the distribution of the city’s federal HUD funding. Some council members recommended moving $100,000 to home repair/rehab budget from the blight budget.

During the Legislation Committee meeting, council discussed a proposed amendment to the Buffalo Green Code (also called the “Unified Development Ordinance” or UDO). Corporation Council Carin Gordon explained that this amendment allows the city to regulate licensed cannabis activities within specified zones and to add restrictions aimed at limiting youth access. The goal is to follow the State’s cannabis rules, including ensuring that residents are aware of business locations.  Gordon clarified that the council can provide input on proposed locations. However, the final decisions rest with the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. The committee recommended approval for the ordinance.