Mayor Byron W. Brown’s proposed budget is a continuation of the fiscal stewardship he has shown throughout his administration.
The City of Buffalo’s credit rating remains at its historical height and the state comptroller has just declared that the city is not susceptible to fiscal stress. That’s high praise when so many municipalities are struggling to make ends meet.
The Brown administration has demonstrated conservative financial policies. Settling a labor contract with firefighters last year represented a high point, and the infusion of cash revenues at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino helped to increase the city’s surplus funds.
The police contract remains outstanding and that, along with the normal cautionary fiscal storm clouds most municipalities contend with, quells enthusiasm. But again, few cities, towns or villages would be able to put on party hats during these fiscally tough times.
The latest $504.5 million proposed budget increases spending by 2 percent over last year’s plan, but calls for use of surplus and other revenues. Brown does not plan on raising taxes. Just the opposite. Again. He has proposed a slight property tax reduction on the residential and commercial side.
Now in his third term, the mayor has consistently lowered the residential tax rate – by 15.7 percent – and by 29.6 percent for the commercial tax rate. The city does not plan to increase assessments in the coming year.
He also has a couple of mechanisms designed to attract more residents and businesses and, hopefully, new revenue.
For example, this budget would increase construction permit fees. City officials figure that they grossly undercharge on major projects, at 10 times less than other cities. The mayor said the estimated loss is hundreds of thousands of dollars. If that is the case, then the city should charge more. Much more, while also being careful not to stall the construction boom that is reverberating around the city.
He has also set a goal for 1,300 new housing units downtown by 2018, in an effort to continue the forward momentum the city has seen in waterfront development and at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus with an expected surge of professionals. Between the slight reduction in the tax rate in his proposed budget, which is less than half a percent for residences, Brown is casting a net to capture the expected new jobholders.
That seems like a reasonable assumption. Lower taxes make it more attractive for professionals who want to set down stakes in the city. Of course, a top-quality education is what really makes the decision for many families but, for now at least, Brown does not have authority over the city’s failing schools, although he has started using his bully pulpit to push for change.
The mayor has rolled out the welcome mat to anyone who might give the City of Buffalo a chance and made a welcome offer to those already residing in the city to stay.