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Some signs of recovery Control boards are still needed, and governmental cooperation is key

Wall Street has seen fit to increase the bond rating of the City of Buffalo's state-appointed control board. That's a good sign, but not a signal that it is yet time to pull back from this panel. If anything, Wall Street's confidence should prove the point that the control board remains a necessity.

Recently, the city saw its own financial rating increase as well. The increases are coming ever so slowly, but steadily. The control board is what gives Wall Street confidence, as well as the catalyst for long-needed fiscal changes.

The control board also is the "hammer" for city officials, who have the ability -- whether or not they choose to use it -- to pin the responsibility for such changes on the control board. City unions still don't want to hear about financial diets and the continuing need to keep a close watch on expenditures, and the oversight board is the doctor who keeps warning the diet is needed.

City Hall understandably chafes under that warning. Some union officials insist the city is in a position to remove the wage freeze. The city comptroller has indicated that Buffalo's fiscal health is improving and, therefore, moving to regain what he called self-determination.

Progress isn't yet a cure. Recovery still requires that unions must be willing to come to the table with significant cost savings in order for any wage freezes to be lifted. Control boards are not meant to last forever, but they are meant to exercise fiscal control until structural problems are solved and there is confidence that planning for the future is sound and the threat of relapse is slim.

Until that time, the control board acts as the official hammer. The board's recent bond-rating upgrade to a "aa" just acknowledges its effectiveness so far. The city's improved status on Wall Street, although not yet equal to the board's, further proves that point. Both are good, because ratings increases indicate lower borrowing costs and a fiscal path to a healthier future -- whether that borrowing is done through the board, or directly by the city.

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority has been in place long enough that political leaders have developed better working relationships than Erie County's elected officials have forged with the county control board. Confrontation limits the effectiveness of both the boards and the governments they oversee, while cooperation enhances that effectiveness for the ultimate benefit of citizens. Returning to fiscal fitness will take time, and patient cooperation is a key. It shouldn't be about power; for the sake of the folks who live here, it should all be about financial recovery.

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