Mayor Byron W. Brown is so confident that the Common Council will approve his $21 million capital budget that he held news conferences extolling at least one of the projects contained in the document months before Council members ever saw it.
While the Council must vote on the budget, some members bristle at the close relationship between Council leadership and the Brown administration. Others counter that the cooperation makes for good government.
It will all get hashed out when the Council takes up the mayor’s proposed capital budget, beginning Tuesday.
Lawmakers have input into the capital budget – which funds repairs to Buffalo’s streets, sidewalks and other city properties – before it is submitted to them by attending meetings of the Citizens Planning Council. The CPC, however, is dominated by mayoral appointees, and its meetings are not advertised to the public.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk said the CPC isn’t independent because the mayor gets the most appointments to the advisory group, as stipulated in the City Charter.
“They’re going to do what they’re told, at the end of the day,” Franczyk said. The mayor retains much of the control over the capital budget, Franczyk said, because in the recent past, the Council has not made major changes to it.
The result this year will likely be a final budget that the Council may tinker with but leave largely intact, said Council President Richard A. Fontana of the Lovejoy District.
The mayor’s recommended budget calls for $6 million in street and sidewalk improvements and $3.3 million for demolition work and building code compliance, as well as a $1.4 million investment in the Hatch restaurant at Erie Basin Marina. The budget is nearly what was recommended by the CPC.
Eight members of the CPC are appointed by the mayor, five by the Council and two by the Board of Education. The group hears from city department heads, Council members and nonprofit organizations in meetings that are open to the public. The time and place of CPC meetings are not posted on the city website, however, and news organizations are not notified in advance.
“Certainly there’s not any effort to hide it,” said CPC Chairman Adam W. Perry, a Brown appointee.
Despite Franczyk’s concerns about the capital budget process, Brown has not left the Fillmore District out of the proposed capital budget. In September, for instance, the mayor announced plans for a makeover of the Hatch. Improvements to Allen Street are also included, and much of the money set aside for demolition work will likely be spent in the Fillmore District, because of the prevalence of distressed housing stock there.
In August, Brown stood with Fontana to announce streetscape improvements to Clinton and East Lovejoy streets.
All of the funding for that project hasn’t been approved yet, but it is expected to be.
“It’s a good, cooperative process with the Council,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Peter J. Savage III.
Fontana agreed. “There’s been a lot of cooperation between both branches of government, which is good for the city,” he said.
In years past, the budget was $50 million or $60 million, but the days of “pet projects” in each district are over, as the size of the budget has decreased, Franczyk said.
South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon said he is waiting for specifics on which streets will be improved but is happy that medians in his district are on the list for rehabilitation, as well as streetscape improvements along Abbott Road.
Some Council members were reluctant to criticize the process because negotiations are continuing, and they are still trying to get projects in their district funded.
Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto said he requested new lighting for the S-curves on Delaware Avenue and didn’t get them, but there are other projects in his district that he supports, such as $550,000 for the Buffalo Zoo’s polar bear exhibit.
Franczyk said he would like to propose a preservation fund, noting that the city uses capital funds to demolish problem structures.
Brown’s capital budget proposal also includes:
• $1.8 million for parks.
• $1.6 million for improvements to firehouses, police stations and other city buildings.
• $1.4 million for equipment to fight fires and remove snow.
• $802,500 for Ellicott Street improvements around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
• $757,560 for arts and cultural groups, including $171,200 for Kleinhans Music Hall.
• $750,000 for Coca-Cola Field improvements.
• $642,000 for tree removal and planting.
• $500,000 for street lighting.
• $250,000 to improve Johnnie B. Wiley Sports Pavilion.
• $250,000 for streetscape improvements on Allen leading to the Medical Campus.
• $214,000 for new restrooms and exterior renovation and design at the Martin Luther King Park Casino.
Council members had been scheduled to discuss the capital budget Thursday, but the meeting was rescheduled to Tuesday, immediately after the Finance Committee’s 10 a.m. meeting.
The budget requires a simple majority vote of the Council by Dec. 15; otherwise, the mayor’s plan takes effect. A measure to borrow to fund the projects will be submitted next year, requiring a two-thirds vote.