|Date:||May 14, 2021|
By Orlando Dickson |
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, the Common Council held four meetings. For this summary, we will focus on four: the Legislation Committee, Caucus Meeting, Budget Workshop, and Budget Public Hearing. The Legislation Committee addresses local laws, ordinances, and general legislation, except for civil service matters. 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 Council also held a budget workshop and a public hearing to discuss Mayor Brown's 2021-2022 Recommended Budget.
During the short Caucus Meeting, Common Council submitted a survey of Buffalo residents on defunding police. Council President Pridgen commissioned council staff to survey 4,156 residents asking, "Are you in support of defunding BPD?" Of the respondents, 58.7% said yes, 37.1% said no, and 4.2% said maybe. Community members stated the funds taken from police should go to schools, community centers, police training, and affordable housing.
During the Legislation Meeting, the Council highlighted a proclamation denoting multiple acts of kindness by two Buffalo Police officers. Common Council also approved an early retirement incentive supplement for injured Firefighters who are receiving state benefits. The Council adopted a resolution requesting that Corporation Counsel obtain a judicial opinion on a few issues – including an interpretation of Buffalo City Charter Article 3, Section 19, and the result of the inaction of the ordinance amendment if the mayor does not respond to Common Council.
The Common Council adopted a resolution promising research on multiple next steps on advancing police reform that include:
Common Council also intends to require BPD to open the access of body-worn camera footage to persons involved or their legal representative.
The Council officially requested the Department of Tax and Assessment delay the In-Rem auction of foreclosed properties to spring 2022. Council President Pridgen explicitly thanked PPG for helping to make sure the Council was aware of the issue.
During the two-hour Budget Workshop, Common Council asked the Fire Department Commissioner William Renaldo whether the New York State Fire Academy was adequate compared to the Erie County Fire Training Academy. Commissioner Renaldo responded that the New York State Fire Academy trainers also train the Erie County Fire Training Academy trainers, so he doesn't get why the City's version would be any better. Renaldo also stated the New York State Fire Academy is adequate as he has reviewed the program personally.
Fire Commissioner Renaldo mentioned that after the current class of firefighters graduates, the Fire Department would be overstaffed. It will promote eight people – both of which will reduce overtime costs. Common Council wants to help Commissioner Renaldo to promote people as fast as possible when departments have open spots and people are eligible. The Council also seemed to consider electrifying the City of Buffalo's fleet of vehicles, especially large vehicles like fire trucks.
Deputy Police Commissioner Lark provided details for the Taser program. BPD is purchasing 85 tasers for $947,000 over seven years. The department will pay $17 million in health care benefits for retirees as a legacy cost, which means it is a fixed cost that the City of Buffalo must pay. Deputy Commissioner Lark noted the Behavioral Health Team (BHT) only operates during the day on weekdays. It would cost an additional $4.5 million for the city to staff the BHT seven days a week during all ours. As of May 10, 2021, BPD has 220 officers trained in de-escalation training.
BPD stated it has 20 detectives assigned to homicide, and the City of Buffalo has had 66 murders in the 2020- 2021 fiscal year. The Council says residents are concerned about how slowly BPD resolves homicide cases. Deputy Commissioner Lark stated that detectives have difficulty getting information from witnesses because most homicides are gang-related, and people fear retaliation. She also mentioned said that perpetrators wearing masks due to COVID makes it more difficult to identify them. In another update, the Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner explained that the department needs a software work order system to get public works done more efficiently.
During the short Budget Public Hearing, Common Council heard public comments on Mayor Brown's 2021-2022 Recommended Budget. Just Buffalo asked the city to elevate cultural funding as a priority by making grant awards to cultural organizations. The organization also requested the City of Buffalo completes PPG's Community Agenda priority of adding an annual 0.25% into the budget for frontline arts organizations. Heather Gring from Frontline Art's Buffalo also spoke about making sure that the process for receiving money and grants from Buffalo is transparent. Josie from Black Love Resists in the Rust (BLRR) stated that BLRR believes the City of Buffalo can cut nearly $16 million from the police budget by establishing a hiring freeze, making further cuts to overtime, cutting vacant positions, and taking civilian employees out of BPD.
PPG Community Researcher Colleen Kristich applauded Mayor Brown and Common Council for funding the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Colleen stated that police spend 70% of their time responding to non-criminal issues. If the City of Buffalo funded other agencies to take up those non-criminal issues, police could spend more time solving crime.
Community member India Walton stated that the process for the mayor's budget should include more community input when the mayor creates it rather than last minute. India asked specifically about installing a participatory budgeting mechanism. Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. The public helps design the process, brainstorm ideas, and develop proposals. The community votes and the government will fund the winning ideas.
Jalonda Hill from the Buffalo Fair Fines and Fees Coalition stated she believes the City of Buffalo should reinvest $5.8 million in street infrastructure to remove Buffalo's reliance on street cameras and reduce excessive police ticketing in the most vulnerable communities. Multiple Buffalo residents asked the City to fund snow removal in the current budget rather than waiting until next year. Council President Pridgen mentioned the Council receives the funding on May 1 every year, so any time before that, residents should be sending the mayor their requests and proposals for what they want to see included in the budget.
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