Common Council members engaged in a rare public argument Tuesday, minutes before they were to begin a special session on the budget.
In the end, lawmakers cast unanimous votes in favor of the $504.5 million spending plan that begins July 1 and offered compliments all around, but there was about an hour of acrimony and closed-door negotiations, including a lengthy meeting in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s office, before the agreement was reached.
“I knew that we had enough votes to pass the budget. However, I thought it was more important to go back, hear those Council members’ concerns, see if there was room in the budget for some of the issues they thought were important,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. “I thought that was an important thing to do, have all nine Council members agree on this budget.”
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk and Majority Leader Demone A. Smith argued on the Council floor before the meeting began about last-minute changes to the budget.
Franczyk was upset about not getting any money for King Urban Life Center, which recently lost its prime tenant. King Center Charter School is moving to a vacant school building in the Lovejoy District, which it purchased from the city for $330,000, but the center, the former St. Mary of Sorrow’s Church, has maintenance costs.
The Council had passed a measure to give the center proceeds from the sale, but Franczyk said Tuesday that without further action in the Council, the center won’t get the money, which is why he was asking for $50,000.
Pridgen, sensing that the argument was not going to end quickly, began the meeting as scheduled, and abruptly entered into a recess so that select Council members could meet behind closed doors and hash it out. That meeting, which included just four of the nine members – to prevent the public and reporters from listening in – lasted just a few minutes, and then Pridgen and Smith paid a visit to the second floor to meet with Brown.
An hour later, Pridgen and Smith emerged with these budget amendments, which comprise less than half of one percent of the total budget:
• $50,000 for the King Urban Life Center.
• $50,000 for a consultant to help community groups access federal funds.
• $50,000 for programs to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return cats.
• $25,000 to study parking needs on large sections of Elmwood and Hertel avenues.
• An additional $10,000 for the Police Athletic League basketball program for use in the inner city, for a total allocation of $2.54 million.
• $15,000 for lighting to deter crime at Kingsley Street firehouse, near Masten Park.
After the vote, Smith thanked Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, calling him “the peacekeeper,” and Franczyk thanked Pridgen and Smith for being flexible.
The budget, which lowers commercial taxes by 1.7 percent and residential taxes by half a percent, also spared Brown’s Office of New Immigrants, which consists of a new lawyer position that will be tasked with helping the city’s immigrant population, which a few lawmakers opposed.