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Brown promises to hold the line on taxes for fifth straight year

Mayor Byron W. Brown’s 10th State of the City address Friday is expected to emphasize a stay-the-course approach, promising to freeze property taxes for a fifth straight year and to push the city’s economic development successes further into Buffalo’s neighborhoods.

“We will continue to focus on being a city of opportunity for all people, and will announce strategic investments that will help to drive job creation and business growth in different parts of the city,” Brown said. “The growth we’ve seen downtown, we will see even more of that type of growth in neighborhoods throughout the city.”

The three-term mayor will be speaking at lunch at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to a crowd expected to be larger than the 1,200 who attended the mayor’s 2015 State of the City speech.

Brown will talk about the city’s tax-cutting strategy, which, the mayor says, has resulted in Buffalo’s commercial tax rate now being lower than that of surrounding communities in the area as well as in other major upstate cities. He is expected to announce that the city’s tax rate will remain frozen along with property tax assessments in the upcoming 2016-2017 fiscal year for the fifth year in a row – marking 11 straight years of the city’s residential as well as commercial property taxes either being cut or frozen, Brown said.

“We are freezing the assessment to make the city even more affordable for residential and commercial investments,” he said.

The mayor also will talk about what he calls the record investment – $6.1 billion – the city has seen in the past four years, as well as how his administration plans to further that growth in the coming year.

Brown declined to discuss any specific projects, saying he’ll do that in his speech. But he did say that investment in neighborhoods – not just downtown – will be discussed.

The city, he said, already has laid the framework to expand downtown’s success to the neighborhoods, He cited residential and commercial development now occurring on Niagara Street, on the city’s West Side; as well as on East Ferry Street on the city’s East Side, where work has started on the Northland commercial and residential corridor.

“Policies that will drive development and investment throughout the city already have begun to be put in place, and will accelerate in other parts of the city,” Brown said. “It’s already there. We will see it spread more quickly.”

“We have a plan,” he added, “a very strategic plan I’ve been working on for years.”

Brown acknowledged that even while Buffalo is in the midst of what many see as a renaissance, the city’s poverty rate went from 30 percent in 2006 – Brown’s first year in office – to 31 percent in 2014, with 48 percent of the city’s children living below the poverty line, according to the most recent U.S. census five-year estimates.

The mayor said his administration’s effort to expand Buffalo’s economic success throughout the city is partly an attempt to address the poverty issue. Those efforts and others aimed at reducing poverty, he said, will also be discussed Friday. They include job creation, job training, increasing summer youth employment and supporting public education and higher education, he said.

“One way to address it,” Brown said, referring to the city’s poverty, “is through creating an environment where businesses are growing and jobs are being created. When people can find jobs, they can lift themselves out of poverty.

“We’re also working on bringing additional training opportunities,” the mayor continued, “so people can get training to get quality, living-wage jobs.”

Brown also is expected to talk about his ongoing effort to encourage equity in the workforce through the city’s Opportunity Pledge. He has met with hundreds of employers through the pledge over the past year, emphasizing the importance of companies and organizations hiring individuals that reflect the city’s diversity.

And the mayor is expected to discuss his support of Say Yes to Education and related programs as a way to encourage Buffalo students to attend college and ultimately get good jobs. Related to that, Brown will likely discuss his planned expansion of the city’s summer youth jobs program, which now targets at-risk youth and is connected to colleges as well as employment and training programs.

Census data shows 20 percent of Buffalo’s white population lives in poverty, compared with 36 percent of blacks, 38 percent of Asians and 56 percent of Hispanics.

Brown speculated that the slight uptick in the city’s poverty rate since 2006 could partly be related to the influx of immigrants during a period when the city’s overall population dropped, although slightly.

The city’s population dropped by an estimated 8 percent, or about 16,000, between 2006 and 2014, according to census estimates. Brown has said he believes the 2020 Census will show an increase in the city’s population for the first time since the 1950s. He attributed that to both the increase in immigrants and people moving in to be part of the city’s renaissance. The city’s foreign-born population is estimated to have doubled to about 24,000 since 2006. While immigrants add to the city’s vitality and economy, some initially live below the poverty line, the mayor noted.