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COUNCIL OKS BUDGET WITH NO TAX RISE GRIFFIN'S ALLOCATION FOLLOWED FOR SCHOOLS

With no last-minute hitches, the Common Council approved a $580.6 million operating budget Monday that keeps the property-tax levy steady and provides no extra money for the Buffalo school system beyond Mayor Griffin's recommendation.

At the same time, the Council passed a $39.6 million capital budget that includes a range of pet projects as well as funds to renovate Memorial Auditorium and add 1,500 seats to Pilot Field. Each budget was approved in a 12-1 vote, with Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola in the negative.

Both cover the 1989-90 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Griffin has 10 days to make any line-by-line vetoes of Council additions but cannot add to any budget line. His vetoes can be overridden by nine votes in the Council.

The mayor has always found Council budget lines to veto, but his budget director, Thomas F. Keenan, declined to speculate Monday on what the mayor would do this year.

The operating budget keeps water rates unchanged but includes some fee increases and some new fees. The Council budgeted record-high grants to non-profit groups.

Coppola said his chief objection is that the Council's capital budget envisions financing Hurd-case tax refunds by borrowings strung out over three years rather than through total financing in 1989-90, as proposed by Griffin.

Coppola said he is concerned that some taxpayers would receive refunds sooner than others. "It's pick and choose, which is bad business," Coppola said. "There will be a lot of hostility."

He also objected to a $2 million capital-budget listing for the Pilot Field seats. "They can use that money for older buildings," Coppola said.

Otherwise, Council members stayed in line and voted for a budget produced in hearings and informal sessions since Griffin issued his recommendations May 1. The members, including Coppola, were able to get favored projects and expenditures into the budget as their votes were cemented for the full package.

There was bickering along the way, but no great conflict. But last year, it was not until the Council considered overriding vetoes that the big blowup occurred.

Budget details include:

Property tax

The Council followed Griffin's lead in keeping the tax levy at exactly the same amount as this year, $98,658,622.

There are two different tax rates, because of Buffalo's two-tiered system of property classification.

Owners of one-, two- and three-family homes will pay at a rate of $20.56 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation, down 10 cents from this year.

All other owners will pay $27.39 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation, up 62 cents.

Tax bills are sent July 1.

School funding

The Council did not change Griffin's proposed $290.8 million appropriation for the Board of Education to operate Buffalo schools in 1989-90. The amount is $23.6 million higher than this year's school funding, a 9 percent increase.

But school officials insist that they need $17 million more.

Majority Leader James W. Pitts said there was just no interest among Council members to get more money for the board.

"I think the board has been viewed as the whipping boy this year. People feel that changes must be made in the board, managerially, to somehow reduce its need for dollars," Pitts said.

But "I think we were wrong not to at least make an effort to get them extra money."

Capital budget

The capital budget, a listing of construction and renovation projects to be financed by long-term borrowing, is the second-highest in the city's history. It is topped only by a $47.8 million capital program for 1986-87, when major parking ramp construction was included.

Griffin had proposed a $46,925,000 capital budget, including the borrowing of $25 million to make refunds to Buffalo taxpayers in the Hurd overtaxation case. But the Council's decision to string out Hurd borrowing over three years meant that it listed just $8,333,334 for 1989-90.

Lawmakers then proceeded on the theory that they had room for a host of pet neighborhood projects, adding 26 of them at a total of $9,795,000.

Among the Council additions were:

$200,000 for a jogging path inside Delaware Park's ring road.

$1.5 million for a new community center on Republic Street in the Old First Ward.

$600,000 toward the $1 million conversion of the former Autumnwood Manor banquet hall, 1800 Clinton St., into a senior-citizens center.

$1.4 million toward redeveloping the War Memorial Stadium site into an amateur athletic center.

$500,000 for an addition to the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt St.

$125,000 to spruce up city-owned statues, including those of Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, the U.S. presidents from Buffalo, at the north and south sides of City Hall.

$400,000 to buy waterfront lands at the foot of Hertel Avenue and at Niagara and Amherst streets. The four acres at the foot of Hertel would be used for a boat launch and other public facilities. The other parcel would be added to Burd Park.

$600,000 to plan a new elementary school at an undetermined location.

$500,000 to buy property at 100 Bailey Ave., where Cazenovia Creek and the Buffalo River join. A Buffalo River Environmental Education Center for the school system and a public boat launch are planned. The property includes a former soft-drink bottling plant.

$1.3 million for cafeterias at School 3 at 255 Porter Ave., School 33 at 157 Elk St. and School 74 at 126 Donaldson Road.

Among the projects retained from Griffin's budget were the allocation for Pilot Field, more than $4 million toward Aud renovation and $3 million toward a downtown parking ramp.

Capital projects are often slow to unfold. Within a year, the Council must authorize the borrowing in a specific resolution. Work must be nearly ready to begin before bonds can be issued for financing. In the extreme instance, the University Heights Community Center, first budgeted in 1980-81, still is in the planning stages.

Grants-in-aid

The Council's budget contained 113 grants to non-profit arts and community groups totaling $3,175,985, both record highs. Eleven of the grants went to organizations that had not requested funding on time and, therefore, were not reviewed by two citizen advisory committees.

The Council has been more generous in grant-giving than Griffin in recent years, and this budget is no exception. The mayor had proposed 28 grants totaling $1,294,500.

The lawmakers approved one last-minute addition Monday. The Irving Press Collective, publisher of the Buffalo Arts Review, had been left out originally. But Council members decided on a $1,000 grant.

The grants occupied much Council time last week. Lawmakers used the recommendations of the two citizen committees as their starting point, but, in the end, only 15 of the Council grants matched a committee recommendation dollar-for-dollar.

Many of the grants are in odd sums as a result of the complex way the Council made its decisions. The Council set a preliminary amount for each group, adjusted it up or down, cut 5 percent of all amounts above $100,000 and 10 percent of those below $100,000 and then acted to make sure groups were safe from a reduction from their 1988-89 grant, with some exceptions.

"Chaotic" was the word used by Niagara Council Member Joel A. Giambra to describe the Council decision-making.

Budget changes

In all, the Council chopped slightly more than $3 million out of lines in Griffin's operating budget and put the money into its own priorities, including the grants.

Besides the grants, the Council additions were mostly small neighborhood projects or city jobs.

The Council provided $12,000 to repair entrance pillars at Beverly Road; $7,000 for improvements to Okell Field House in South Buffalo; $23,000 for landscaping and repairs at the Niagara Branch Library; $22,000 for rest rooms and telephones at the LaSalle Park Band Shell; $20,000 for a new ball diamond in McCarthy Park; $10,000 for renovating a basketball court in Delaware Park; $50,000 for improvements at Wende Playground, Broadway and Mortimer Street; $75,000 for rebuilding Black Rock Park at the foot of Peter Street, and $25,000 for street-light modernization along Bidwell Parkway.

At the urging of Coppola, the Council included $50,000 to clean and seal up the abandoned Atlas Steel Casting plant on Elmwood Avenue.

Added to the budget were two jobs to staff the Autumnwood senior center, a recreation aide for summer programs at the Tosh Collins Center in South Buffalo and two junior accountants for the staff of City Comptroller Robert E. Whelan. A vacant fire captaincy and the job of chief fire administrator, cut by Griffin, were restored.

From a Council member's view, getting pet projects into the operating budget beats using the capital budget because money is available more quickly.

Fees

Griffin proposed a host of fee increases and new fees to generate $811,200 in new revenue. The Council voted Monday to implement all of them except two. Dropped were a $10-a-year fee for each newspaper vending box on city sidewalks and a $10-a-linear-foot fee for handicapped access ramps on city rights of way.

One result will be that a set of building-permit fee increases, enacted two years ago, will stay in effect past July 1. Last November, the Council had voted to roll back some of the increases, but that decision was reversed Monday.

Parking meters will be changed so that nickels and dimes will not be accepted for fractions of an hour. Motorists will pay 25 cents for an hour, no matter how short their stay.

A $10 application fee for Civil Service exams was approved, but with provisions exempting poor people.

City employees

Griffin had budgeted enough money for 5 percent pay raises in 1989-90 for city workers and for non-union department heads and other top appointed officials. The Council did not touch those funds.

The Council approved a pay raise from $39,721 to $42,603 for Rosanne Frandina, director of development.

The budget contains no layoffs of city workers.

Also passed was Griffin's recommendation for a $25-a-month increase in the minimum pension for members of the old Buffalo police and fire pension plan.

The Council approved the shifting of 23 building inspectors from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Inspections and Community Revitalization, where other inspectors are assigned.

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