Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of February 20, 2023

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of February 20, 2023

Date: February 24, 2023

By 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

For this summary, we will focus on two meetings. The Caucus Meeting is where members from a specific political party, in Buffalo's case, the democratic party, meet, but official voting on issues does not occur. The Regular Meeting is the Common Council's primary meeting, where they make official decisions on issues.

During the Caucus Meeting, Common Council discussed the Comptroller's Office requesting a certificate of necessity for $200,000 to assist the Buffalo Fire Department ("BFD") if it needs to hire contractors for demolitions in case of emergencies. The Department of Public Works entered an estimated $3.3 million agreement with the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to reconstruct Okell Park. 

Council Member Wyatt discussed an issue with the University Festival Committee regarding payment for artists who could not perform at the festival. He stated that the City of Buffalo ("the City") paid these artists before the event. However, no decision was made to acquire refunds from these artists for not performing and completing the paperwork.

The Regular Meeting began with Council Member Wyatt discussing the University Festival Committee. Wyatt discussed the financial discrepancies regarding entertainers who received several thousand for their services but could not perform due to flight cancellations. This caused concern for the Comptroller's Office, and the council member took the liberty to discuss this matter further.

Council discussed land value taxation as it focuses on how the community should benefit from the value of the land—taxing the value if it's separate from any other entities. It helps cities because it pushes for more development and generates revenue based on the value of the land, leading to business development, affordable housing, and reduced costs of buildings. The Council requested the Office of Strategic Planning to look into this tax system further and how to implement this initiative in Buffalo.

Council Member Golembek brought up this tax system 20 years ago. However, it received opposition and criticism over possible land value increases. Golembek clarified that this would be extremely helpful for homeowners who take care of their properties to have a decrease in property taxes compared to absentee landlords who don't take care of their property or vacant lots that would see a tax increase. He believes this will ultimately level the playing field for homeowners who take care of the property and those who do not. However, Golombek mentioned the opposing side to implementing this new taxation system is that the City will need to reassess this yearly, which can be costly. 

Governor Hochul proposed a ban on gas stoves in newly constructed buildings from 2025 through 2028, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—with gas stoves being one of the most significant emissions sources in New York. Some homeowners and business owners were not pleased with this proposal as replacements for geothermal pumps could be costly to upkeep. Additionally, previous winter storms in Western New York resulted in power outages, leading residents to rely on gas stoves for heat and cooking, which can be a potential threat amidst the switch to fully electric homes. 

Council Member Golembek stated countless constituents expressed concerns over discontinuing gas stoves for themselves and their restaurants during block club meetings. He proposed a resolution to call upon the New York State Legislature to clarify its goal with this proposal. Council President Pridgen added that the people most affected by this switch would be the poor and renters because the costly renovations would be pushed onto them rather than landlords retrofitting. There's also concern with churches and nonprofits with much bigger spaces to heat. Common Council adopted the resolution.

Additionally, Council Member Scanlon sponsored a resolution calling on CAC to halt the implementation of stipulations in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act ("CLCPA") until the Council can decide the best course of action for Buffalo residents. Council also adopted this resolution.

Over 40 people died during the Christmas blizzard, including those whose gas stoves were the only heat source, which led to fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. Buffalo's infrastructure is not ready for extreme weather events. Climate advocates favor reducing the state's carbon footprint to invest in more sustainable alternatives and minimize extreme weather events, reiterating that Governor Hochul's proposal is to phase out gas and oil-powered furnaces in newly constructed buildings. This will not affect existing heating equipment for homeowners and businesses. Furthermore, New York State's Climate Action Council ("CAC") laid a clear path for a just transition. The electrification of newly constructed builds will create jobs and yield lower energy bills than fossil fuel buildings.

To learn more about the critical need to fund and invest in the CLCPA fully, visit www.nyrenews.com to read about the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package.

Council Member Wyatt presented a resolution to call on New York State to reintroduce an eviction moratorium for specific zip codes, including 14215, where evictions have disproportionately impacted residents. COVID-19 had a significant economic impact on landlords, as per the Council's statement. However, the legislative body hopes that landlords will work with tenants to reach an agreement before issuing an eviction. 

A temporary moratorium on evictions would assist both landlords and tenants with providing resources and financial assistance for about six months. Residents of Council Member Golembek's district urged him to refrain from supporting the temporary moratoriums as they feel it would impact some of the smaller landlords significantly. He continued to state that the "mom and pop" landlords are not the problem in this instance, but rather absentee landlords from other areas. Another landlord told Golembek that some of their tenants neglected rent payments, and the moratorium caused losses for landlords.

The Council discussed varying matters during the Regular Meeting, with an exception of a few items that it approved or adopted. Common Council adopted the $585,000 cultural funding recommendations for Buffalo Arts Commission, including operating expenses and public art programs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated roughly $12.3 million in HOME-ARP grants to the City of Buffalo to support services, shelter development, affordable housing, and administrative fees. Council approved the HOME-ARP plan. Lastly, Common Council approved the bond resolution for the construction of a new police training facility and $535,000 in financing for the construction project. 

Need more than just a summary? Contact us at info@ppgbuffalo.org, or find full meeting information and schedules here: http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx