Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of July 18, 2022

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of July 18, 2022

Date: July 22, 2022
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By: E. Lydia Rodriguez, Nina Raj, and Sydney Browne |

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 five meetings, including a special session to vote on the redistricting plan. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters. Common Council held a Special Meeting to vote on the proposed redistricting map. The Community Development Committee focuses on issues about work or improvement using revenue from another government unit. The Civil Service Committee addresses matters relating to human resources, civil services, and personnel. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds.

The first item discussed during the Legislation Committee was a proposed charter amendment presented by Amy Gathings of the Western New York Law Center. The proposed amendment would codify the current held policy, which allows former homeowners during in-rem foreclosure auctions to make an application to the City of Buffalo to recoup some of the lost equity in their properties. The Western New York Law Center has done studies in which the organization asked previous clients how they utilized recouped funds. Answers ranged from schooling and healthcare costs to securing alternate housing. Before applying to the City of Buffalo, which currently receives titles to the properties before auctioning them off, once homeowners were responsible for going through the state to recoup lost equity funds. 

The Common Council worked with the Western New York Law Center to develop and simplify the process for homeowners so that they may apply directly to the City instead of New York State. Council Member Feroleto responded by stating that he is open to making permanent changes to ensure that the current process endures. He agreed that the Council must take action to protect the current process from potential changes in the administration. Council Member Wyatt requested a drafted document for Corporation Council to review. Council Members Wyatt and Rivera both voiced concerns that the City has a vested interest in refraining from giving the funds back to homeowners as the monies can go to the general fund. Because of this, the Council agreed codifying the current process to prevent future administrations from putting monies in the general fund instead of returning them to people is critical. Common Council tabled the item and sent it to Corporation Counsel with a request for a 60-day response.

Beyond several tabled items at the meeting, concerns from two residents arose on a special use permit application from Reach Academy Charter School requesting to purchase a nearby property to expand the school. Residents did not oppose them. However, they did have safety concerns about children who may be walking to the school. Concerns included adequate greenspace for the children to have outdoor activities, high rates of 911 calls to the area, and safety concerns about a nearby underpass littered with hazardous materials. 

Council President Pridgen requested that the school respond to the residents' concerns. Michael Olsen of Reach Academy answered that they have met both formally and informally with the residents who appeared. Olsen stated that this is a change in ownership and that a comprehensive green space plan will allocate for student activities. The school has the same safety concerns about the underpass as well. Council President Pridgen also noted that the Council met with Harbor House and local police about safety concerns as other residents also share similar sentiments on safety.

Common Council held a brief two-minute Special Session to vote on the redistricting map and an amendment to the Common Council boundaries. The body received and filed the submission of the map and demographics, along with the reapportionment plan. Council unanimously denied the initial amendment to the district boundaries. Instead, Common Council approved a second proposed amendment to the district boundaries that reflected public opinion compared to the previous amendment. Residents in attendance shouted in opposition to the newly approved boundaries when Council adjourned.

This week's Community Development Committee meeting began with Council Member Wyatt informing the body of additional signatures to the Hopewell Opioid Treatment Facility petition. Over 1,100 residents have now signed in opposition to the center's opening in Cleve-Hill Plaza. Wyatt is working on a letter to Congressman Higgins to prevent the facility from getting federal approval. Council Member Wingo supported these efforts and shared how the methadone clinic in his district has lowered property values and created excessive traffic. Wyatt and Wingo thanked the residents for their civic organization. They agreed that while a treatment facility is a needed service, the center belongs on a medical campus or another location distanced from residential areas. 

Community Development Committee Chair Golombek provided a brief update on the "Lots of Clover" project started in 2021, which planted clover fields in vacant lots on Tonawanda and Saratoga Streets. Since then, the clover has encouraged greater pollination and improved ecosystem health while remaining low maintenance. Golombek said Public Works Commissioner Finn would look into expanding the project to other lots throughout the city, given its success.  

Finally, Council Member Wyatt expressed interest in learning more about the City of Buffalo's snow removal and street cleaning plan this winter. Council decided to review a snow clearance plan by September to implement proactive measures to keep pedestrians safe.  

In a very short Civil Service Committee meeting, Council approved a motion to accept a senior planner. Common Council approved a motion to receive and file numerous agenda items before adjourning.

This week's Finance Committee opened with a motion addressing the amendment of the 2020-2021 Annual Action Plan and preliminary annual action plans. Brendan Mehaffy, the Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Planning, spoke on these plans. The amounts received from the federal government were primarily the same, with decreases in Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and approximately a $500,000 increase in resources used for single and multi-family home repair. Mehaffy then stated the budget's current emphasis on street, sidewalk, and house repairs. There is also less of a focus on parks and community centers due to finishing the places currently in development and assistance from American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. Budgets remained the same for public service agencies.

The panel then opened the floor to the council for questions. Council Member Bowman inquired about funding distribution and the intent of the funding. Mehaffy responded that his agency is looking to increase the capacity of its housing agencies, citing a request for proposal (RFP) the Division of Housing with the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) released. Council Member Rivera then reiterated the importance of street and sidewalk repair to Brendan Mehaffy and requested that council members have access to which streets and sidewalks will be repaired. The committee then voted to send the agenda item without recommendation and discuss it at a later date due to the impending August deadline and Council recess. 

Senior Resiliency Grant Manager Kelly St. John spoke on ARP fund assistance to keep Buffalo residents out of foreclosure. The program in question would conduct direct outreach through Buffalo Promise Neighborhood with homeowners either in foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure to help pay off any existing debt against their user fee. So far, the program has identified just under 60,000 households (worth $5 million) at risk of foreclosure to target. To be eligible, participants must show proof of homeownership for a Buffalo address, proof of low-income status, and proof of public assistance. 

Council Member Wyatt questioned the panel on whether they believe low-income individuals own homes. They responded that eligibility might widen given any leftover funds following the first round of assistance. The agenda item was then sent without recommendation and seconded by Councilmember Bowman. The Council then voted to table several other items on the agenda before adjourning the meeting. 

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