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What's Buffalo's budget deficit to end 2017-18? It depends on whom you ask

WBFO file photo

Buffalo Common Councilmembers say the Mayor's Office and Comptroller's Office have come up with different projections for the budget deficit that will close out the city's fiscal year 2017-2018. With the city's spending relying heavily on cash reserves, lawmakers sitting on the Council's Finance Committee were asked: are they concerned this could raise the possibility of a return to a hard control board?

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, the city's currently soft control board, projects a year-end unfunded deficit of $16.7 million. Councilmembers, during Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting, stated they had been advised from the Mayor's Office that when parking and other revenues were factored in, the projected deficit could be brought closer to $12 million.

But then the Comptroller's Office, according to Council President Darius Pridgen, has projected the gap closer to $30 million. He says city officials are meeting again to figure out how the different sides have come up with such disparate numbers. 

"Right now, with the numbers being so far apart, $30 million from the Comptroller and the Administration saying anywhere between $12 million and $15 million, that's why we need to have the meeting. We need to see what each is seeing, so that we can know some real numbers here." 

The city's next budget raises property taxes for the first time after 12 years. The city has also dipped into cash reserves to close gaps, something the Comptroller has previously opposed. Some are concerned that depleted reserves might encourage the city's soft control board to increase its power and become a hard board.

"Actually, we'd like to hear from them more on certain topics. To be honest, we don't hear much of anything coming from the control board. But if the city's finances are in such a dire strait that a control board is needed, that's not really good for anybody," said Richard Fontana, who chairs the Council's Finance Committee. "It freezes wages, it puts your city back behind the times a bit and it just doesn't look good for business."

Fontana noted that wage freezes from the last time the City of Buffalo was under a hard control board allowed the city to build up case reserves. But those reserves, he added, have been spent over the past several years.

He's also concerned about budget problems that await when fiscal year 2018-2019 begins July 1. Among the money already missing is from Seneca casino payments that stopped since 2017, when the Senecas declared that they were no longer contractually obligated to make payments to Buffalo, where one of its three casinos is located.

"It's $17 million of the budget, which is ahuge number in the next budget," Fontana said. "That's going to be a big concern. The sale of real estate could be a concern. Those are one shots, the sale of real estate. To be honest with you, one shots should not even be in a budget. It's just not a good way to budget for accounting purposes."

WBFO contacted a spokesperson for the mayor's office for comment but our message was not returned.

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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