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Control Board Leader Welcomes Unions Input

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – The unions that represent two thousand blue- and white-collar city workers say they are "not the enemy" as a fiscal control board tries to dig out of a financial mess. AFSCME created a list of recommendations they say could save Buffalo as much as $15 million.

Saying they want to be "part of the solution," AFSCME submitted a list of 13 cost-cutting and revenue-generating recommendations to the city. The ideas were delivered to Mayor Anthony Masiello as his administration drafts a four-year finanical plan that is due to the Fiscal Stability Authority next week. AFSCME Council 35 President William Travis says they hope the recommendations open the lines of communication between the city, control board and working people.

"We are not the enemy here and we want to emphasize that point," Travis said. "If we are going to get through this financial crisis that the city faces, we are going to have to do it together. The working people of Buffalo are part of that solution."

Buffalo Common Council President James Pitts supports the unions' effort. Pitts says he doesn't believe it is too late for the unions' ideas to be considered as the city closes in on its deadline to submit its finanical plan to the control board.

"What people must realize is that the unions, the Common Council and many other participants in the city have not been part of the development of that administration's plan," Pitts said. "So I think it is very important for control board members to get as many ideas as they can."

The unions say some of the recommendations are not new. Among the ideas, AFSCME suggests the city create its own traffic ticket adjudication system. Right now, the state performs the task, keeping the money it collects, and then billing the city for associated costs. State Senator Byron Brown applauded the unions' recommendation.

"It is estimated that if Buffalo had the ability to adjudicate its own traffic tickets that there could be revenue generated around $2 million which is very significant," Brown said.

Other recommendations include improvements to parking enforcement, a tougher crack down on residents who don't follow garbage and bulk trash rules, a return of city recycling to the public sector and the creation of a landlord licensing fee.

The unions say they will also send this plan to the control board. AFSCME says it has had no meetings at this point with the board. Fiscal Stability Authority Chairman Thomas Baker says he hasn't had a chance to review the suggestions, but welcomes the unions "spirit of cooperation."

"We continue to wait for plans from the city, that is sort of our baseline," Baker said. "I suspect several might say why we haven't spoken on issues. Well, the (mayor's) plan is really the stepping off point for us.

"Until we have that plan in front of us and have the opportunity to basically dig into it and take advantage of the knowledge and education we are trying to build at this point, then we will be able to be much more responsive."

Many city unions are concerned about the board's power over current labor contracts. But AFSCME Local 264 President William McGuire says union concessions are not the answer when it comes to bailing out the city.

"Concessions have been given and we've already saved money," McGuire said. "But we have new ideas on how to save money. That's why we got together. Concessions are not a way to save money. Work with us and we will help."

Masiello is supposed to submit the four-year finanical plan to the control board by September 1st. But Board Chair Thomas Baker says that will realistically be Tuesday, September 2nd, following the Labor Day holiday. Then a public hearing will be held on September 6th.

Baker also defended the board's recent work. There were some concerns that members have been holding private meetings, violating the "open meetings" law. But Baker says the board has complied with that law.

He says, so far, they only have one staff member in place, so board members have been "chipping in" to gather information as they prepare for the next obligation -- to quickly review of the city's fiscal plan and respond by September 15th.