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Control Board Says Restoring City's Fiscal Health Depends on Wage Freeze

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority Tuesday said that the viability of the city's four year plan depends on continuing the wage freeze.

The Control Board reviewed the fiscal plans from the city, as well as the school district, the municipal authority and Urban Renewal Agency. The control board applauded what they called tremendous progress, including the school board's vote to go to a single payer health insurance. But Executive Director Dorothy Johnson says the crisis continues.

"Even under a wage freeze, when we look at the growing costs, and impossible to predict what revenue increases might be, you could see that they are really in some ways hanging over a precipice here," said Johnson.

And she says that will require more tough action in the four years ahead. Board officials said they are poised to to vote on the plans -- and the corresponding wage freeze -- at next month's meeting. Six city unions currently have lawsuits fighting the wage freeze. AFSCME Local 264 President Bill Travis says the freeze is illegal and unfair.

"Heading into the fourth year with a zero pay increase, and if the four year plan is acted on by the Control Board, they're telling them it's another four years of zeros - it's tough to live," said Travis.

But Control Board Chairman Brian Lipke says this is not a question of merit, but of hard fiscal realities.

"The responsibility of the BFSA is to make sure the city delivers a balanced budget. Right now, when you look at the make-up of those budgets, a huge percentage of the total budget is made up of labor costs and benefits," Lipke said. "So, if there is an area where savings can be extracted, unfortunately, that's the area where they come from."

But some are concerned about where those cuts are leading. One attendee at a recent control board public forum worried that maintaining quality workers -- especially teachers -- will be harder with the ongoing freeze and other contested cutbacks. A review of academic scores show Buffalo's students under-performing in the face of staff cuts.