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COMMON COUNCIL, HOUSING AUTHORITY CLASH OVER BUDGET

Some Common Council members Wednesday accused the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority of being wasteful and unresponsive.

A meeting that was supposed to discuss the future of the Marine Drive Apartments evolved into a scathing critique of authority policies and spending. Council members, frustrated that they have no say in shaping the authority's $30 million budget, complained that it operates as its own "mini-government."

Perhaps the time has come to push for abolishing the authority, said Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. His voice cracked with anger as he recalled reviewing the authority's budget and seeing a long list of high-paid administrators. Bonifacio, who is the chairman of the Common Council's Budget Committee, claimed the authority's administrative staff rivals that in the mayor's office.

"There is waste in the BMHA, and it has to be dealt with," shouted Bonifacio, who rarely raises his voice on the Council floor. "It's outrageous."

Council members are still fuming over the authority's decision to abolish its police force and lay off all 26 officers by July 1 in order to balance its budget. The authority has lost millions of dollars in federal aid over the past five years, and housing officials said they've made cuts in all areas, including administration.

Gillian D. Brown, the authority's acting executive director, claimed Bonifacio apparently formed his views without having "enough information," noting that the payroll will have shrunk from 440 a decade ago to 290 employees effective July 1.

"There is no excessive waste that (Bonifacio) talks about," Brown said. "We've done everything we can to cut excessive waste."

Brown later met with Mayor Anthony M. Masiello to discuss the Council's stormy Community Development Committee meeting. Masiello said a report will be submitted to lawmakers that documents staff levels at the authority. He said he disagrees with Council members who have branded the authority as being "top-heavy."

The authority owns or operates 27 developments that house about 8,000 tenants in approximately 4,000 units. One such development is Marine Drive Apartments on the waterfront.

Some Council members Wednesday continued to prod the authority to consider turning the seven-building complex into privately owned condominiums. Brown said putting the 616-unit complex back on the tax rolls is "significantly more complicated than it sounds." Masiello administration officials said talk of selling Marine Drive is premature.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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