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Common Council passes Buffalo's 2018-19 budget by 8-1 vote

WBFO file photo

Admitting it's a tough year for the city's finances, the Buffalo Common Council voted Tuesday to approve a budget that includes the first property tax hike under the Brown Administration.

Councilmembers speaking with WBFO about the budget say as the City of Buffalo has grown and become busier with people coming downtown to enjoy sporting events, the arts and newer attractions such as Canalside, the cost of protecting and maintaining the city has gone up. While praising Mayor Byron Brown's hold-the-line stance on tax rates for a dozen years, they said this was time they knew was coming.

"The Council cut approximately $1.5 million from the budget and reallocated some lines so that we get some reimbursements in ths budget from the capital budget coming up in a few months," said Common Council President Darius Pridgen.

Mayor Brown, earlier in the month, proposed tax increases of 3.4 percent for residential property owners and 5.5 percent for commercial property owners. He also introduced a new ticket surcharge for events at five downtown venues to raise revenues to cover police and public works expenses.

Critics of the surcharge say the mayor's projections for revenue by that new fee are overly optimistic. Pridgen pointed out that in addition to approving the budget, they also approved and signed two Memoranda of Understanding, including one that sets up monthly communication with the mayor's office on budget matters.

"What the council is not going to do is wait until the end of the year for an 'uh-oh.' We're not going to do that," he said. "It'll be every month. If there's an 'uh-oh' moment, there's going to be an 'uh-oh' change somewhere. That's going to be pushed by the council."

Councilmember Richard Fontana told WBFO lawmakers are exploring the possibility of allowing a waiver on the new public safety ticket surcharge for city residents. But that, he added, would mean even less revenue for the city. Fontana was the lone budget "no" vote Tuesday.

"People say it's a bare-bones budget but there's still programs in the budget that could be taken out," he said. "But the problem is, you take them out this year and you've still got a problem next year. So, my no vote was essentially to say that at this point the City of Buffalo has a budget problem and it's going to be there for quite some time to come."

Fontana also pointed to rising city employee wages, some of which are bound by union agreements but others for exempt employees. Fontana was hoping to adjust some of the salaries or raises of the latter category. 

The council left alone funding for senior and youth summer programs. Councilmember Joseph Golombek was among lawmakers who told WBFO that while the city is spending precious dollars on such programs, it's a better alternative than having to spend on police needs when idled youth, not having the programs to keep them busy, instead get into trouble. 

He also wanted to make sure all neighborhoods, not just the redeveloped and commercial sectors, remain protected.

"While we have to spend money in downtown Buffalo and in the artistic and sports venues, I don't want to forget about the neighborhoods in Black Rock, Riverside, Northwest and the rest of the City of Buffalo," Golombek said. "We do need that money to make sure we can keep the quality of life up for all residents of Buffalo."

The city's 2018-2019 fiscal year begins July 1.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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