The notion of selling advertising on city-owned vehicles, including snowplows and garbage trucks, is getting a chilly reception in some circles and might face legal hurdles in Albany.
But North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. wants to explore a revenue-generating option that is gaining popularity in other cities. He also raised the possibility of selling ad space -- even printing coupons -- on city pay stubs. Golombek conceded that such strategies won't solve Buffalo's budget woes, but he said they could play a small role.
"A million dollars here and a million dollars there eventually adds up to some real money," he said at a Legislation Committee meeting Tuesday.
But some criticized any plan that would turn hundreds of city vehicles into rolling billboards. Buffalo resident Maria Nordman branded it a "corporate form of graffiti" and urged the Council to go no further with the idea. "This is a quality-of-life issue. Do not sell us," she said. "What goes in Las Vegas does not go in Buffalo, New York."
University Council Member Betty Jean Grant wondered where the city would draw the line. She quipped that the next step might involve installing billboards on the seats of Council members in the City Hall chambers.
Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis urged city officials to stop eyeing "fancy methods" for solving the fiscal crisis and to start dealing with "true fiscal reform." He said too many departments are inefficient, and he criticized administration hiring policies.
"There is a lot of waste going on in the city," he said. "There is too much waste. We need to get to the meat and potatoes."
Golombek recently filed with the city clerk information involving a growing number of cities that have turned to advertising as a money-making venture. This year alone, more than 20 cities have signed contracts for police cruisers that bear advertising. In return, the municipalities receive each vehicle for $1. Other cities have approved advertising on garbage trucks and on other municipally owned assets.
Golombek said he's leery about putting promotional messages on police cars or fire trucks, a sentiment that was repeatedly echoed Tuesday by other Council members. But he thinks the city should at least study its options for generating advertising revenue.
There could be a snag. City attorneys told Golombek that state law bars municipalities from selling space on their vehicles. The state attorney general's office will be asked for a legal opinion.
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said if a change in state law is needed, he would consider sponsoring legislation. But Hoyt stressed that his support would hinge on stringent controls ensuring that any future marketing program "doesn't go too far."
Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio noted that the city considered similar proposals in the past. In 1995, for example, the Masiello administration raised the notion of selling naming rights to various city assets, including some buildings and vehicles.
Also speaking at Tuesday's meeting was Dennis Ryan, executive vice president of TransAd Outdoor Media. He encouraged the Council to review advertising options, noting that his company met years ago with city officials to talk about putting ads on recycling totes. The idea never went beyond the discussion stage.
Ryan said the Town of Tonawanda will earn about $3 million over the next 15 years through naming rights deals and other advertising at its golf dome, billboards and other marketing tools.
"We would like to see if we can put together an overall package (for Buffalo) without being too commercial," Ryan told the Council.