|November 28, 2022
By Sarah Wooton and Tanvier Peart |
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 Common Council Summary focuses on two meetings. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters.
The Finance Committee meeting began with a public hearing on the City of Buffalo's ("the City") Four-Year Strategic Plan. Only one resident—Nathan Feist—came to comment on the plan. Feist encouraged the Office of Strategic Planning ("OSP") to add the following to the plan:
He also asked for increased transparency on the indicators mentioned in the plan, such as the City’s recycling rate and community block chat meeting information. Feist would like to see use of force reports included on the City’s open data website. Council Member Wyatt asked Feist to put these comments in writing and to submit them to the City.
Next, Delano Dowell, Commissioner of the Department of Administration, Finance, Policy and Urban Affairs, reported on the City's first quarter (July 1-September 30, 2022) financials.* The City has $30 million more than it did last year. Dowell explained that this was likely because Buffalo received $36 million last year from the “Tribal Compact” [We believe the Commissioner was referencing the compact the City and Seneca Nation had regarding casino funds]. Funding received through traffic tickets is trending low, but the Commissioner Dowell projected the City will receive the budgeted amount by the end of the year.
Buffalo has $1.9 million in unbudgeted policing costs. This is because of a 6.25% wage increase that the police union negotiated with the City. Commissioner Dowell also estimated that police overtime will go over budget by $3 million by the end of the fiscal year. This is likely because of understaffing, so existing staff use more overtime. Right now, the Buffalo Police Department ("BPD") has 67 officer vacancies and 45 civilian vacancies. Council Member Rivera said that it’s difficult to keep the budgeted staffing levels because more employees retire, and you can’t expect the timing to make up for those vacancies that are open. However, the City needs to fill those vacancies because, according to the Finance Department, paying overtime is overall more expensive than filling the vacancies. Council Member Wyatt asked for additional data on how the department is using overtime.
Commissioner Dowell then presented a report on American Rescue Plan ("ARP") funds. So far, the City has spent $59 million of the $331 million it received through ARP. Council Members Rivera, Bollman, and Wyatt expressed an interest in understanding how the City’s various forms of funding (e.g. ARP, Capital funds, CDBG funding) can be used to fund proposed projects. Council Member Bollman volunteered to set up a meeting with the relevant department heads to figure this out.
Mike Godfrey, the Deputy Director of the Department of Planning presented on the capital budget plan. Godfrey explained that the City received $130 million in requests for the capital budget. However, the City has a $26 million debt cap, so it can only take $26 million, and those involved had to prioritize and focus on immediate needs. These include streets, sidewalks, city-owned buildings, and fire and police department needs. Charging stations for electric vehicles were also included in this budget.
The "Citizens Planning Council" is the group that helps decide funding for capital budget projects. Council Member Rivera explained that he does not like the Citizens Planning Council title because, according to Council Member Rivera, there is very little citizen input involved.
*The City’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
During the Legislation Committee, Council Members held a series of public hearings on properties business owners wanted to use to set up shop or expand their services. Amanda Catalano White special use permits to turn three properties into non-owner-occupied short-term rentals. She disclosed she spoke to at least 10 residents in the Masten District who didn't have an issue with the intended rental at 209 Leroy. However, Ms. Williamson, a resident and Leroy Avenue Block Club President, who lives next to the property, told Council no one spoke to her. She noted the home in question came out of Housing Court and doesn't maintain the property—including shoveling the walkway after the recent snowstorm—that affects the community.
Barbara Dixon, a day care owner and Leroy Avenue Block Club member, alleged vermin come to her property from 209 Leroy that affects her business and general well-being. "I don't know who she spoke with in the neighborhood, but she did not speak with us," Dixon stated.
White admitted to Council Member Wingo she's managed and sold properties in Buffalo for over a year. Wingo questioned if she or someone from her company reached out to the Masten District Office to coordinate with local block clubs. White confessed she hadn't and did not know the process. The committee tabled special use permits for the two properties in the Masten District for the owner to reach out to Council Member Wingo and community members.
Council Member Golombek asked about visiting 881 Tonawanda, the third property White sought to get a special use permit. He inquired to Corporation Counsel about a one-year sunset clause. Assistant Corporation Counsel Carin Gordon acknowledged Council can do an additional approval to make the property owner return, ensuring compliance. The committee sent the item to the full Council without recommendation.
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