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Few speakers comment on Buffalo's proposed budget

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City of Buffalo
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A relatively small group of commentators turned out virtually Monday to talk about Mayor Byron Brown's budget proposal, now before Buffalo's Common Council.The Council has until May 22 to make decisions on the budget proposal and there are usually some changes. Among the changes suggested by speakers was cutting the Police Department's spending plan.

The department's budget actually drops, a little, in Brown's proposal. Activists have been pushing to slice millions out of the budget and put it into other community purposes.

Speaking for Standing Up for Racial Justice and Black Love Resists in the Rust, Josie Diebold called for police spending cuts.

"We must now stop spending millions of our tax dollars on the police that are making our community members unsafe, and most especially poor and working-class communities, Black and immigrant communities of color," Diebold said, "and we have an incredible opportunity to use those funds to fund safe street infrastructure, youth education employment and housing and jobs."

Brown and the Common Council have been making changes in how police operate, particularly in how incidents involving the mentally ill are handled. That effort brings in mental health experts to incident scenes, potentially to avoid situations getting out of hand and leading to police use of weapons. Police are often described as the front line of the mental health system, but few are trained for that role.

Others wanted more money for cultural organizations and public transit, as well as more shelters and snow removal to make riding easier.

"Being able to have the bus routes or looking at an additional lane or widening lanes in order to allow for public transportation and pedestrians to have easier access to that," said speaker Dianne Brittain.

Brittain pointed out most responsibility is with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, but not all.

Council President Darius Pridgen told those participating in the virtual public hearing that they have to start persuading the mayor's budget people to make the changes they want early, rather than waiting until it's prepared and submitted to lawmakers.

"We go through this every single year for the time that I've been on, encouraging people to contact the administration from the beginning of the process and begin having meetings with them," Pridgen said, "because by the time the Council gets it, as Councilmember Franczyk says, 'The mayor proposes. The Council disposes.'"

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