|Date:||July 8, 2022|
By Sydney Browne and Nina Raj|
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 the Finance Committee and Community Development Committee meetings. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Community Development Committee focuses on issues about work or improvement using revenue from another government unit.
The Finance Committee meeting began with Deputy Comptroller Delaine O'Dowell reporting the City's total cash flow for May. Buffalo gained approximately $15 million and dispersed roughly $37 million from the $31 million starting balance. He reported no significant changes from the past months. Still, He stated that American Rescue Plan Act ("ARPA") funds and other programs helped break the trend of Buffalo being in the negative around May. Common Council approved agenda items for City Hall improvements and observed available areas for overtime cuts.
Fire Commissioner William Renaldo spoke about an agenda item on vehicle availability. Council Member Wyatt thanked him and the Buffalo Fire Department for their work on a house fire on July 4 that took the life of Dr. Jonathan Daniels and his two daughters. The Council questioned the need for more vehicles before approving the item. Deputy Commissioner Nicole Dryer clarified an agenda item pertaining to summer youth programs and Bene-care payroll services Common Council approved.
Zainab Saleh, Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Arts Centre Executive Director, spoke on behalf of her organization and Frontline Arts Buffalo. Saleh voiced their support for keeping community spaces as environments where creativity and experimentation can thrive, advocating for equitable funding distribution, and prioritizing BI&POC in leadership positions.
Frontline Arts and similar arts and cultural organizations must often give wages below the industry standard and had to reduce staff and programming due to lack of funding during the pandemic. However, with $2.5 million of ARPA funding earmarked for frontline arts organizations, they would be able to rebuild after the pandemic, restore lost positions, and increase wages, among other measures. Saleh concluded with a request to publish the RFP report for Frontline Arts Sustainability Fund and release the ARPA money. Desiree Kee from El Museo and Timothy Chen from Grassroots Garden spoke on their organizations' missions, the state of affairs, and what the fund could provide their organizations. Council Members Nowakowski and Bollman addressed the importance of these programs in Fillmore and Lovejoy Districts, voicing their support for the release of the funds before a motion to table the agenda item.
Local 264 President Sean Kearney spoke on behalf of the Transport Workers' Union to advocate for frontline workers and ask for the approval of their contract. Ninety-six percent of their membership approved the contract, and the mayor co-signed it. Council Members Nowakowski, Bowman, and Rivera voiced their gratitude and support for the union and the work they've put forth before the Council approved the agenda item and adjourned the committee meeting.
This week's Community Development Committee Meeting began with a presentation by Hope Young-Watkins, Director of Real Estate at the Office of Strategic Planning, regarding the transfer of 24 properties along Adams and Sycamore Streets to the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC). The lots' usage would create 10-12 market-rate homes, financed through a collaborative effort among BENLIC, Evans Bank, city officials, and MMB Realty Group. Also present was Royce Woods, Chief Diversity Officer for Evans Bank, who emphasized community engagement's role in the project. When Evans Bank first opened a branch on the East Side of Buffalo in 2021 and spoke to its neighbors about ways to improve the area, Woods said a need for single-family homes was the overwhelming response. Common Council approved the transfer, and Council Members Nowakowski and Wyatt expressed optimism about the plans and desire to replicate them in their districts if successful.
Next, Common Council reviewed a petition for a street name dedication of "Crystal Boling-Barton Way" on Elmwood Avenue in front of McKinley High School. Crystal Boling-Barton, who passed away earlier this month, served as an educator in the Buffalo Public School system and was principal of McKinley High School for 42 years. Committee Chair Golombek said he had received calls from people at McKinley in support of the memorial, and Council Member Wingo referred to Boling-Barton as "one of the most profound leaders in our school district."
Justin Booth, Executive Director of GoBike Buffalo, then spoke to Common Council about the urgency of enforcing safer street policies to prevent roadway collisions. Between 2017 and 2021, an average of 19 crashes per day occurred in Buffalo, most of which occurred in low-income communities of color, Booth notes. He listed the following instances of preventable deaths unsafe street conditions caused:
Booth stressed the importance of not calling these collisions "accidents," as it minimizes the role poor policy played in those deaths. He also told the council members reforming street policies can help protect citizens. Council tabled the item.
Resident Debra Wesp complained about Slow Roll Buffalo, a community bike ride organization. She conveyed how the traffic caused by Slow Roll has caused 45-minute delays for cars and public transport, drawing particular attention to how being late to a job, class, or appointment can seriously affect people with financial insecurity. Though Wesp says she supports bicycling, she suggested that Slow Roll posts its routes in advance so people can adjust commutes—or that bikers travel in smaller groups every five minutes, rather than one large procession. Council President Pridgen strongly supported requiring Slow Roll to post a route map on its website, and Committee Chair Golombek confirmed that he receives half a dozen complaints after every Slow Roll event from members of his district. Common Council tabled the item, but Council plans to ask representatives from the Special Events Office and Slow Roll to attend their next meeting.
As the meeting neared its end, Council Member Wyatt reminded the Common Council of the ongoing fight in his community against opening an opioid treatment center in Cleve-Hill Plaza. This past week, Wyatt sent a letter to the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports on behalf of over 1,000 petition signatures from the community opposed to the proposed facility. He warned that organizations in the area are planning civil disobedience and protesting, but as of now, scheduled plans for the center will continue.
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