Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of October 10, 2022

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of October 10, 2022

Date: October 17, 2022

By Rose Thomas 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 summary focuses on four meetings. 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 Community Development Committee focuses on issues about work or improvement using revenue from another government unit. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters.

The Civil Service Committee lasted less than three minutes. During the meeting, council members sent without recommendation the suggested appointment of a Director of the Office of New Americans to the full Council. This will enable engagement with the person in question before approval. Council approved the recommended appointment of a Deputy Corporation Counsel.

Gregg Szymanski, Investment and Debt Management Officer in the Comptroller's Office, spoke on the August 2022 cash flow report during the Finance Committee. Council Member Wyatt inquired if the report included projections for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association ("PBA") due to the recent compulsory interest arbitration award the City of Buffalo ("the City") must pay. He noted the City is in the positive and wondered if payment would reverse progress. Council Member Rivera acknowledged notice of the award for back pay but needed to know the dollar amount.

Commissioner of Administration, Finance & Urban Affairs Delano Dowell, Sr. disclosed the retroactive amount owed for the fiscal years 2020-2022 is approximately $8.8 million. The City reserved about 2% for the required payment over the three fiscal years and will pull the remainder from the general fund. The settlement is for the police increase for the fiscal years 2020 (a 3% increase) and 2021 (a 3.25% increase). Commissioner Dowell stated there is no intention to use any American Rescue Plan ("ARP") funding right now, though the City could utilize the COVID relief funding.

City Auditor Kevin Kaufman reviewed the City of Buffalo payroll audit for the fiscal year 2022. He highlighted an estimated 21% increase in overtime pay from $27 million in FY 2021 to $33 million in FY 2022. Overtime hours also increased about 19% during this time frame, with total hours worked remaining "pretty consistent." Kaufman noted the City "plugged a lot of its holes with overtime instead of regular time." The auditor also flagged the City's actual overtime amount exceeded the budget by 41%, a trend he noticed with overtime allocations for "quite some time." Another trend Kaufman acknowledged is that 550 city employees earned more than $20,000 in overtime, and 147 earned more than $50,000 in overtime during his FY 2022 payroll assessment.

Council Member Wyatt inquired after Kaufman's report if the City looks at other municipalities to compare how Buffalo's spending aligns. He mentioned the PBA's declaration police are underpaid but didn't see documentation to support the claim. Council Member Rivera asked for a breakdown of the departments with the most overtime. He acknowledged the need for additional hours (for public safety and other efforts) but didn't believe so much overtime pay was sustainable for the City of Buffalo.

Commissioner Dowell discussed the FY 2023 HUD funding allocation the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) would receive. Council Member Bollman inquired about a data breakdown by districts to see which properties benefited from the funding. Commissioner of Community Services and Recreational Programming Otis Baker discussed the annual agreement with Say Yes Buffalo for a family support specialist program. Common Council approved a $500,000 allocation the program received last year.

The Community Development Committee focused primarily on sidewalk snow removal plans. Many community members expressed their concerns and frustrations to Common Council with how the City handled snow removal during past winters. Council Member Wyatt looks forward to seeing what community volunteers will do about helping with snow removal and thinks that snow blowers would be a helpful tool as winters get harsher due to climate change. Seamus Gallivan, a co-founder of Slow Roll Buffalo, spoke about the organization's collaborative efforts on snow removal over the years with the City of Buffalo. Slow Roll represented Buffalo as one of three cities chosen for the 8 80 Cities' Wintermission program. The initiative aims to address social isolation during the winter months. A community survey in Buffalo revealed sidewalk snow removal was the primary issue needed to address basic needs.

Francisco Guzman, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, told the Council that the finalized snow plan for the City would be available by November 1, including best practices. Council Member Wyatt gave his frustrations to Guzman for lack of an available plan when the Council has asked for something since last year. Guzman could not answer concerns from Council Member Wyatt regarding technology to notify community members when the snow plowing will be happening in their neighborhood. Instead, he stated that they're still working on the snow removal plan available on November 1. 

Lastly, council members opposed an opioid treatment clinic in Clev-Hill Plaza. The company affiliated with the clinic has yet to respond to Council Member Wyatt's request to come before the Common Council to justify its decision to establish a clinic in his district. Community members expressed frustration toward council members for not fighting as hard to halt the building process in their neighborhood.

The Legislation Committee began with Council Member Wyatt stating plans for the Common Council to work with the administration and the Western New York Law Center to create a feasible policy for former homeowners to access surplus funds after foreclosure. There is an appetite to codify a more streamlined process as existing procedures remain unclear. Wyatt hopes the Common Council will be able to enact a policy before the end of the year.

A public hearing discussed a special use permit for a home at 53 Riverview. Michelle Smart spoke on behalf of the owner. The property manager expressed intentions to use the non-owner-occupied residence for short-term rental use (e.g., Airbnb rentals) and long-term rental use—for traveling nurses and others who might come into the area on an extended stay.

John Berry resides in the same neighborhood and testified in opposition to the permit. He noted the owner's absence during the public hearing he feels foreshadows future inactivity that will impact the community. Berry cited examples of owners purchasing houses, including a condemned apartment, within the area who failed to care for properties. He asserted he contacted multiple city departments that became "a circular firing squad" because no one took action or knew what to do.

"This city has done a very poor job at representing the people who own real estate here and live here," Berry declared. "We're opening up this possibility of creating—and I'm going to say it again—another situation where you have an owner of a property that's not going to reside there. And who's going to hold that property accountable?"

The property manager argued she and the owner live close to the house in question and plan to keep the structure up to date. Council Member Scanlon expressed concerns the owner already allowed people to stay on the property before obtaining the necessary license when the City advertised the process to get one.

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