Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of May 17, 2021

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of May 17, 2021

Date: May 21, 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 seven meetings. For this summary, we will focus on three: the Legislation Meeting and both Budget Meetings by the Committee of the Whole. The Legislation Meeting addresses local laws, ordinances, and general legislation, except for civil service matters. The Council also held two Committee of the Whole Meetings to hear the Comptroller's response to Mayor Brown’s 2021-2022 Recommended Budget and another to decide on the budget.

During this week’s first Committee of the Whole Budget Meeting, Common Council admonished the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (the Control Board). Council President Pridgen stated the Council requested attendance at the meeting from the Control Board, and it did not show. The Control Board receives $750,000 of taxpayer funds, and Council President Pridgen questioned the ethics of the Control Board based on its inability to work with the Council. The Council then heard Comptroller Miller-Williams’ Budget Response Report (the Report). Councilmember Wyatt questioned why the Buffalo Comptroller’s Office did not send the Report in with enough time for Buffalo residents to comment.

Common Council spent most of the meeting stating its concern about expected revenue sources, specifically tribal funds – not received since 2017, COVID recovery grants, and stimulus funds from federal and state governments. The Council stated it doesn’t want to rely on funds it doesn’t know for sure it will receive, especially when a higher government hasn’t specified the funds' rules.

The Council didn’t take much time talking about the Report, so here are some highlights. You can find the Report in full here: http://www.buffalocomptroller.com/DocumentCenter/Index/43.

Deputy Comptroller Delano Dowell spoke on behalf of Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams and seemed to share the Council’s concern about budgeting for uncertain revenues. The Report states Mayor Brown predicts a budget deficit of $11.2 million, but Buffalo's Comptroller believes it could be as high as $17.2 million. Comptroller Miller-Williams' Report urges the mayor’s administration not to continue covering increased expenditures with one-time revenue sources because she does not believe the practice is sustainable.

The Comptroller's Office states Mayor Brown’s budget appears to have over budgeted for city employee fringe benefits. The average for fringe benefits over the past three years is about $132 million. This year, Mayor Brown expects to spend $162 million, roughly a $30 million increase. The Comptroller’s Office highly recommended that Mayor Brown’s administration, the Common Council, and the Control Board work together to develop a comprehensive plan for using federal funding. Common Council stated it has until Friday to make the final budget, so it put the committee in a recess – which means Council President Pridgen can recall the Council at any time with notice.

During the Legislation Meeting, the Council agreed to send an amended version of the Buffalo Emergency Stabilization Fund legislation to a vote. This fund allows Buffalo to set aside surplus revenue for use during unexpected deficits. The amended version ensures that the Council makes all decisions about surplus revenue before it passes the budget each year.

The Council signaled its intentions to amend and update Buffalo’s flood prevention laws. Councilmember Nowakowski sponsored legislation that regulates the use of properties subject to flooding, increases requirements for flood prevention in initial construction, and regulates flood barriers. The Common Council intends to pass the legislation during next week’s Regular Meeting.

Common Council President Pridgen spoke about delaying the In Rem Auction, noting expectations the administration will postpone it. However, Pridgen stated the In Rem Auction process needs an overhaul to help families keep their homes and help residents purchase the houses rather than out-of-town investors.

The Council also stated it would vote again on applying its amendments to the speed regulations and the Speed Camera Program. It’s not immediately clear what the outcome of the vote will produce, considering the Council already voted with a supermajority to remove the Speed Camera Program

During this week’s second Committee of the Whole Budget Meeting, the Common Council finalized and approved Mayor Brown’s 2021-2022 Recommended Budget. The Council spent most of the rest of the meeting talking about how proud it was of its ability to compromise with the mayor’s administration. It also discussed a few key initiatives, such as approving funding to replace speed zone cameras with traffic calming measures, the Council receiving a dedicated attorney, and $1.3 million in funds for a neighborhood initiative to split between council districts. 

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.