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The control board is prodding the Common Council to support a plan to sell the city's water system to the Erie County Water Authority.

The oversight panel voted unanimously Wednesday to urge Council members to meet a looming deadline for authorizing a referendum on the long-debated consolidation.

The vote was among several actions the board took in a 3 1/2 -hour meeting. The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority also:

Warned that more than 200 job cuts would have to be made if the fire union wins an arbitration battle for pay parity with police officers. If the courts also lift a city wage freeze, the board said, the layoff tally would rise to 313.

Extended a city hiring freeze that has been in place since last December and hinted it might expand the freeze to include the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.

Raised questions about a new audit released by the city comptroller indicating that Buffalo ended the fiscal year June 30 with a $10.2 million accumulated surplus. Some members, including Robert G. Wilmers, chief executive officer of M&T Bank, called the report "confusing."

Auditors acknowledged that the bottom line also includes some noncash assets that would not be easily liquidated to meet fiscal needs.

Approved a $345 million borrowing to proceed with the second phase of a citywide school modernization. At least 93 percent of the cost will be reimbursed by the state.

The control board expressed concern about Council delays in moving forward with the water system sale. Advocates insist the deal will likely unravel unless the Council takes a vote by mid-December. They warned any further delays would jeopardize state financing that is essential to the sale.

Council President David A. Franczyk told the control board some lawmakers have concerns, including the county Water Authority's plan to eliminate more than half of the existing 125 city jobs.

Others don't think the sale makes fiscal sense, worry that senior citizen discounts will be abolished and are skeptical of claims that rate increases will be smaller under the takeover.

"I hope these are questions that are answerable in a relatively short period of time, so that we don't miss this window," control board Chairman Thomas E. Baker told Franczyk. "It would be a shame."

Supporters insist the sale will improve operations, cut costs and speed up repairs of the aging water system. The county authority would assume about $125 million in debt, give the city $31.5 million over six years and commit to making $15 million in annual repairs.

But the president of the blue-collar union that represents most city water employees left Wednesday's meeting critical of the control board's stand. William C. Travis insisted the sale is a bad deal, saying the water system currently puts more than $4 million a year into the city's general fund. Travis also accused the oversight panel of being callous.

"This was just another notch in their gun belt," he said. "They think nothing of the 66 people who would lose their jobs."

Six of nine Council members would have to support the deal, because it involves selling an asset. Franczyk said the only solid supporter on the Council is James D. Griffin of the South District. Griffin called the sale "a good plan" that should be put before city voters in a referendum.


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