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Mayor Delivers Bleak State of the City Address

Mayor Anthony Masiello

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello says city government was destined for a melt down long before September 11th. Masiello delivered his annual State of the City Thursday before members of the Building Owners and Managers Association, Working for Downtown and the Buffalo Rotary Club.

"I believe we have a chance to get our fiscal house in order -- once and for all," Masiello said. "Buffalo is at a critical juncture".

He says city government is trapped in an old, antiquated system. The mayor says a shrinking tax base, costs of state mandates and expensive union contracts are hurting cty finances.

"For years,our tax base has been shrinking," he said. "And on top of that, we are forced to comply with state laws and contractual obligations that are designed to stymie our abilities to deliver efficient and cost effective services. A system like that is bound to collapse and it did."

Masiello says of the $130 million raised in property taxes, $67 million goes directly to the Board of Education. That leaves the city with only $63 million to operate. The city's budget has also relied heavily on state aid. Fifty-two percent of the budget is made of state funding. But the mayor defended the use of state assistance.

"Some have characterized the state aid we got as a hand-out," he continued. "I consider it compensation for the lack of action on any reform packages.

Several times throughout his address Thursday, Masiello urged city unions to come to the table and begin working toward his proposed fiscal reforms. The mayor says the cost of police and fire fringe benefits are "startling."

"I need help from the rank-and-file members of the public employee unions, from the Council, from the state and from you to get our public employee union leaders to see reason and to negotiate in good faith," Masiello said.

But when it comes to expensive union contracts, the mayor places some of the blame on the State for binding arbitration rules.

"I expect the State Legislature to enact meaningful reform on binding arbitration -- a commitment to stop saddling local governments with unfunded mandates and the development of a comprehensive plan for New York State cities," Masiello said.

Masiello also used his speech to, once again, urge the Buffalo police department to implement one-officer patrol cars. He says Buffalo is the only city still sending out two officers per car.

"It works in Milwaukee. It works in Pittsburgh. It works in Cincinnati. It works in Toledo. It works in Louisville. In Rochester. By the way, it works in Kenmore, so why can't it work in North Buffalo? It works in Cheektowaga. Why can't it work in Kaisertown? It works in West Seneca. Why can't it work in South Buffalo?"

Masiello also offered his support for regionalism. He says Erie County is an important partner. He challenged the county to work with the city.

"Let's pursue a common agenda to collaborate on realistic regionalism," he said. "We must elevate the dialogue and raise the bar to achieve responsible regionalism that includes programs and services. Let's put everything on the table and bigin to move forward."

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra attended the State of the City address. He has already made efforts toward regional cooperation. Giambra says he's up to the mayor's challenge.

I'm very much committed to continuing a department-by-department review with the mayor and the Common Council to determine which services can be merged with the county," Giambra said. "But the costs should not be transferred to the suburbs. I think there are opportunities if people have the political will to change."

But Giambra says he is not in a postion to offer a county bail-out for the city's fiscal crisis.

A number of private sector business leaders who have a stake in the city also attended Masiello's address. Jay Hogan, who's company is located in the city, restores commercial industrial buildings. Hogan agrees with the mayor's message. He says Buffalo needs to move away from traditional government.

"This county has to get involved with this city," Hogan said. "And the county needs to be given a broader mandate."

Hogan is from Cleveland, but says he selected Buffalo for his business because it has the right resoures.

"There's an available 'blue-collar' workforce, plus fresh water -- a major resource of the 21st century -- and unlimited power," he said. "These are the components necessary to build."

But Masiello's speech was not all gloom. He says the Joint Schools Construction Project begins in two weeks. He says the Adelphia project and Bioinformatics will renew the economy. And Masiello says "stay tuned" for future development at the Guaranty building, Asbury Church and the old Bergers building.

"With your help, I know that we can ensure that history will make this fiscal crisis as Buffalo's turning point," he said. "Together, we'll all build a better Buffalo."