Buffalo Common Council members won’t have to drive around on their own dime much longer.
Unless – like one Council member – they want to.
The Common Council has approved a $5,000 annual car allowance for any Council member driving at least 120 days a year for work – excluding to and from City Hall – with their own vehicle.
The measure still is subject to signing by Mayor Byron W. Brown, who is expected to approve it.
The policy passed unanimously among the eight Council members present, but Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana introduced an amendment excluding himself from receiving the stipend.
Council President Darius G. Pridgen was absent from the Tuesday meeting.
“I gave this up in 2002 as a budget-saving measure that saved taxpayers money,” said Fontana, referring to the last time the Council had a car allowance.
“I’m not interested at this point or any point anymore,” he said, adding: “I’m not passing judgement on any other elected officials. I don’t want any part of it.”
Others Council members, who spoke in favor of the car allowance, talked about the large amount of travel the Council members – including Fontana – do for work.
Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera said the traveling guzzles gas and puts wear and tear on vehicles.
University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt said Council members run for office aware of the compensation, and join the Council for love of the job, not for money.
Nonetheless, Wyatt said, the job requires a lot of driving around.
“Vehicles do take a toll,” he added.
Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. said he believes his constituents expect him to attend the many meetings and events he drives to in his district, and he believes constituents want Council members compensated for their travel expenses so that those Council members can attend those events and meetings.
Some days, Wingo said, he leaves home at 8 a.m. and doesn’t return until 8 p.m., going from one meeting and event in his district to the next.
“Even the amount we are approving isn’t commensurate with the traveling we are expected to do,” Wingo said.
While Brown and his department heads either have assigned city vehicles or access to city vehicles for work duties, Council members also use their own cars for city business.
For years, the Council had a car allowance, but it was discontinued as a cost-cutting move when the city was in a fiscal crisis, said Fontana, who joined the Council in 1998.
The prior car allowance was more of a per-diem, paid any day when a Council member travelled for work, said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who has been on the Council for much of the past 30 years.
Council members are paid a base salary of $52,000. That base has not increased since 1997.
Council members also receive stipends for leadership positions. Those stipends were increased last month for the first time since 1975.
Most Council members now earn a $6,000 leadership stipend for a committee assignment, while the Council majority leader stipend is now $10,000 and the Council president stipend is now $15,000.
The Council has the authority to raise its leadership stipends and to create a car allowance, but not to raise their base salary.
That would require the mayor, Council president and city comptroller to convene a Salary Review Commission.