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City lawmakers would like to see more money for schools but don't expect it

Councilman Joel P. Feroleto said he will request money for public art on Hertel Avenue in his Delaware District.

South District Councilman Christopher P. Scanlon wants to make sure there’s enough money for training and proper equipment for police and fire personnel.

And Ulysees O. Wingo, who represents the Masten District, mostly would like more money for city schools.

Many of the nine Common Council members said they expect to see a "conservative" budget when Mayor Byron W. Brown presents his 2017-18 proposed spending plan Monday afternoon to the Common Council.  The largest share probably will go to police and fire departments, they said.

The election-year budget will reflect they mayor’s commitment made in his state of the city address last February for an additional $500,000 earmarked for Buffalo Public Schools and $500,000 to Say Yes Buffalo.

Also, residential and commercial property tax rates will remain frozen for a 12th straight year, which was good news to many of the council members.

"The mayor is expecting the tax rate will not increase.  I am very pleased the tax rate is not going to increase," Feroleto said.

"The mayor’s been rather conservative in his budgets. I expect to see another conservative budget, no different than what we have seen these last few years… with no substantial tax hike," said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. "That’s important. At least with my constituents, that’s one of the most important things is finding other sources of revenue and not simply putting it on the backs of taxpayers."

Providing more money for public schools has gotten a lot of attention lately. Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash and the Buffalo Board of Education have requested an additional $8.5 million this year. And the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization also has petitioned Brown and the Common Council for an increase in the city’s annual allocation to the school system, saying more money is needed to continue education programs that parents strongly support.

The city currently gives $70.3 million to Buffalo Public Schools, which will increase to $70.8 million in the mayor's new budget. The city also has contributed to Say Yes Buffalo - including $500,000 in the upcoming budget.

Brown said he cannot budget more money to the schools and still meet other city needs, such as police, parks and streets.

Providing more money for schools is a priority for Wingo, chairman of the council’s education committee.

"We need to find innovative and creative ways to fund our most valuable and precious assets, which are our children," said Wingo, whose wife is a public schools teacher. "We need to provide them with funding to teach children."

To free up more money, either raising taxes or cutting programs are the most likely options, but both scenarios seem unlikely.

"Personally, if I could appropriate more money for schools, I would absolutely advocate for that. But we are in somewhat of a catch 22. To appropriate more money means you’re going to need more revenue, which could mean more taxes," Pridgen said.

If more money is freed up in the budget, the city would be obligated to give the same amount – or more – each year, explained Fillmore District Councilman David A. Franczyk.

"If you give a half million to the Board of Education this year, it’s gotta stay there forever.. So that’s why he’s conservative," he said.  "He’s a very conservative budgeter to his credit. No question about that. I like the idea of being conservative on a budget."

Lovejoy District Council member Richard A. Fontana is not inclined either to give the school district additional money, especially since city lawmakers "don’t have say in school matters."

"They could be wasting money," said Fontana, whose wife is a teacher assistant at Bennett Park Montessori. "It’s hard to ask us for more money when we cant make the cuts we think should be made."

Public works, infrastructure and public safety also top the list of priorities for many of the lawmakers.

"Public safety, sidewalks, streets, rebuilding neighborhood structure – that’s where the money should go," Franczyk said.

"Not surprising, police and fire take the lion’s share. That’s no surprise," said Franczyk, referring to the current budget to make his point. "Public works is very big because you can’t have a city that’s breaking down. Pipes, sidewalks, paving streets… that’s where a lot of the money should go. It should go in rebuilding neighborhood structure."

Scanlon also cited public safety and public works as priorities.

"I want to make sure the city services – DPW, police, fire – are provided for. I want to make sure there’s money for training and proper equipment for police and fire," Scanlon said.

 

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