|Date:||November 10, 2023|
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 Finance, Legislation, Civil Service, and Community Development committee meetings. ‘Council Member’ is abbreviated as CM; ‘Council President’ as CP; and ‘Majority Leader’ as ML.
In the Finance Committee, Director of Planning and Zoning Crystal Middleton from the Office of Strategic Planning (OSP) came to speak about vacant lots and the city’s plan to reuse and build on them. CM Wyatt asked about the possibility of modular homes, which could be built quickly, taking advantage of American Rescue Plan funds. ML Rivera wondered how many vacant lots in his district are city owned. Director Middleton explained that OSP would be doing an inventory to figure that out by early 2024.
Delano Dowell, Commissioner of Administration and Finance, came to speak about the American Rescue Plan Funds. CM Wyatt asked about the funding that was supposed to have been set aside for water debt forgiveness. Commissioner Dowell said that this program had not yet started, but that they were “having conversations” to prepare for the rollout of this arrears program. The commissioner also mentioned that the city is expecting a budget shortage of $30 million in 2024 and $20 million in 2025.
CM Feroleto, chair of the Legislation Committee, oversaw various public hearings about permits for properties.
Community residents argued both for and against a permit for a cannabis dispensary. Supporters hoped that having more legal, licensed establishments in the neighborhood would help decrease the illegal drug trade. They argued that regulated sales would be better than the current situation. Opponents noted that there would be children nearby; the proposed location is down the street from a daycare and a mosque. They also said that increased traffic and limited parking would present a challenge. The committee voted to table the matter, which allows them to revisit an issue later.
Residents also came to speak about short-term rental properties (e.g. Airbnbs). Several said that these rentals damaged the fabric of their communities. CP Pridgen reminded residents that they are not allowed to rent property without permission from the city.
The Civil Service Committee approved the hiring of a tax clerk, a lawyer, and a handful of Department of Public Works employees.
The Community Development Committee meeting began with a discussion of the city’s recently-released snow plan. Department of Public Works Commissioner Nate Marton offered to answer questions. He assured CM Wyatt that he had reviewed DPW’s snow equipment and that 36 plows and 14 front end loaders will be enough to handle regular snow events. In the case of big storms, outside equipment is necessary; last November, we had over 200 pieces of equipment on the roads, and the December storm saw 600 plows, dump trucks, and loaders working. Marton noted that sidewalk snow removal is not a part of the plan. CM Wyatt said that this is a big issue, especially for disabled people.
Vincent Ventresca, from the firefighter’s union, discussed how under-resourced the fire department remains. In an impassioned speech, he said that because of Buffalo’s inaction, our city remains completely unprepared to deal with another big snowstorm. “Let’s make this simple: there is no plan,” he said.
CM Scanlon asked about having more warming shelters and parking lots, especially at Buffalo Public Schools. He also asked about plowing side streets. Commissioner Marton said that those discussions were ongoing.
CM Golombek pointed out that there is not, in fact, any warming center planned for the North District. CP Pridgen noted that there should be more commissioners present to talk about the snow plan. Commissioner Marton said that the newly appointed Emergency Manager will not start work until next week. “All I hear is excuses,” said Fillmore District resident Samuel A. Herbert. “We need an accurate and inclusive snow plan!” Residents complained that there is money for new police weapons and a huge Kensington Expressway project, but not enough for emergency generators.
The committee also took up the question of water bill concerns. Paul and Nancy Fitzpatrick testified about how often their water usage is estimated and noted that the water board consistently rounded their estimates upwards. Damon Sykes from the Water Authority said that this is, in part, because the Authority only has three meter readers employed right now. CM Golombek noted that because both the Water and the Sewer Departments are also state authorities, the council has limited power over their actions.