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The Common Council approved a new contract Tuesday with the Buffalo Police Department. At the same time, the lawmakers made it clear they are concerned about police staffing levels in the neighborhoods.

The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association had approved the pact, which gives city police officers pay increases of up to 8.5 percent over two years, on Jan. 13. The agreement marked the first time in seven years that the union and the city settled a contract without binding arbitration.

The new salary schedules cover 945 employees, from an officer starting at $36,131 to the commissioner, who makes $95,038.

The administration filed the contract and salary schedules late, and tension showed when the Council summoned Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina at the last minute.

Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III questioned the late filings.

"Why are we getting these 20 minutes before the meeting?" he asked.

"Because that is when I received it," replied Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio, who processes late items.

Diina also was not happy about the short notice, noting more than once that he had been called in only 30 minutes before the meeting started.

Council members wanted to check out reports they had heard of changes in staffing in some precincts.

"There are a number of shifts taking place at the precinct level that a number of police officers are concerned about," Council President James W. Pitts said.

Diina said no one had told him of any concerns.

"If any police officer had a concern, the logical thing to do would be to talk to a supervisor," Diina said.

The commissioner said an in-house study of staffing will be conducted.

"Do you anticipate any reductions in manpower in the C District?" asked Masten Council Member Byron Brown. C District includes the Broadway and Genesee stations on the East Side.

"We haven't finished the study yet," Diina replied.

Pitts said no changes should be made without a public hearing or consulting Council members.

William Misztal, an inspector from the East Side district, said it is losing manpower and will have seven police cars circulating per shift instead of eight as in the past.

"I already lost eight people transferred out last week or the week before," he said. "I expressed my concern through the chain of command, through Chief Laurence Ramunno."

The Council backed Pitts in voting to hold a public hearing on staffing at 2 p.m. next Wednesday in Council chambers.

Diina said he would be glad to attend and to bring staff members to answer questions.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Council also approved:

A $144,000 contract with Atlas Steel for lead abatement in the Buffalo Zoo primate house.

Transfer of four acres of reclaimed city-owned land at Main Street and LaSalle Avenue to permit construction to begin on 31 homes.

Relocation of counseling and alcoholism programs operated by Lake Shore Behavioral Health to 951 Niagara St. The agency provided a letter saying it will move no other treatment programs there.

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