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Public, Common Council want input from 'many voices' on how Buffalo spends $350M stimulus

A view of Buffalo City Hall, Niagara Square and surrounding buildings
File Photo
Buffalo lawmakers and residents on Thursday expressed the need to have "many voices" decide how to use the city's $350 million in federal stimulus aid.

Who should decide how Buffalo spends $350 million coming in from the federal American Rescue Plan? During a special meeting of the Common Council Finance Committee Thursday, councilmembers and residents on the call said it should be more voices than just Mayor Byron Brown.

The mayor has already decided how millions of federal stimulus aid will be spent. Committee Chair Rasheed Wyatt said more voices would bring more ideas on how to spend this flow of dollars.

Wyatt said in the past, there hasn't been enough thought about how to improve a city that is becoming poorer.

"People want to hear that you have a plan for the East Side and developing it," he said, "and these are the types of things that we should have had years ago and that we should have brought forth because then when this opportunity came forth, we would have been ready. We're really kind of flatfooted right now and, again, I think, because we are flatfooted, having the conversations with the public are critical because we don't know it all."

After a Democratic mayoral primary win by India Walton, Wyatt may have been positioning for new leadership, but he said there also needs to be changes in the way Buffalo budgets and perhaps in the way city government is structured.

"For this type of conversation, it shouldn't just be for this money, but for a lot of money," Wyatt said. "I mean people talk about the participatory budgeting process and I know the administration has been reluctant to do that and I don't know why. I think it's really creative and it's good for people. It's good for their psyche to see that they are part of running government, as they should be."

He said stimulus decision process is going to be complicated because there are elaborate federal rules for spending the money and it has to be spent in three years. Across many governments, there is a reluctance to use the federal dollars to hire people because when the federal dollars run out, regular budget dollars would have to be found to keep them employed.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.