Mayor proposes Buffalo budget that would lower tax rates - The Buffalo News

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Mayor proposes Buffalo budget that would lower tax rates

Mayor Byron W. Brown’s proposed budget for 2014-15 would not raise taxes but would increase spending by 2 percent over last year’s spending plan.

The administration’s $504.5 million budget proposal would slightly lower property tax rates for homes and businesses and use $28 million from the city’s surplus to plug holes.

“Our new focus going forward will be to drive more residential investment in the city of Buffalo and to support small business and retail growth,” Brown said. “We think the best way to do that is to make the city even more attractive for residential investment and to be competitive.”

The budget could be changed by the Common Council. The new budget year begins July 1.

No employees would be laid off, though the mayor recommends cutting 10 vacant positions.

New this year would be an Office of New Americans, to serve the city’s immigrant population. The city would spend $63,000 to hire a new employee to staff the office, Brown said.

The proposed budget also includes funding for 50 new firefighters and 25 new police officers.

The city is fiscally stable and has historically high credit ratings, allowing it to borrow money for major projects at lower rates. The city’s surplus at the end of the last fiscal year was $165.8 million, though much of it is reserved for specific uses, such as $35.7 million to cover city expenses for a month in case of an emergency. But the surplus contains $63.9 million in unrestricted funds, available for any purpose, though credit rating agencies take notice when municipalities repeatedly use surpluses to cover recurring expenses.

In his State of the City address, Brown set a goal for 1,300 new housing units downtown by 2018. Brown said today that a slight reduction in the tax rate in his proposed budget – less than half a percent for residences – is part of a strategy to encourage more housing.

Current economic development projects are expected to generate 10,000 new jobs, Brown said.

“Our goal is to try to capture as many of these new job holders as possible,” Brown said in an interview with The Buffalo News.

The residential tax rate has decreased by 15.7 percent over Brown’s tenure.

The commercial tax rate would fall by 1.7 percent under the current budget proposal. That would lower the commercial tax rate 29.6 percent since Brown took office in 2006. Brown said he would like the budget to drive small business and retail growth in the city.

Brown proposed $250,000 in funding for arts, cultural and community programs, including $100,000 for the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor and a $60,000 match for a new public art curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The budget also contains $400,000 for instrumental music programs in city schools, marking the second year the city has set aside funding for music. Say Yes would receive $200,000 as part of a four-year, $800,000 commitment Brown made during his State of the City address in February.

Brown also proposed increasing funding for summer youth employment by $100,000, to keep pace with an increase in the minimum wage. The program employs about 1,400 young people, a number that will remain flat this year.

The budget will be reviewed by the Common Council in hearings beginning Monday.

A public hearing will be held in Council Chambers at 5 p.m. May 8.


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