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City comptroller calls on mayor, Council to resolve bond deadlock

The latest budget brawl between Buffalo lawmakers and Mayor Byron W. Brown could end up wasting tax dollars if it delays the sale of bonds for projects, the city comptroller is warning.

A noisy dispute over the proposed Nevilly Court athletic complex in South Buffalo has threatened to scuttle $22.4 million in city projects that are part of this year's capital budget.

Brown vetoed the $450,000 appropriation for Nevilly Court, arguing that the city already has problems maintaining current facilities.

When the Council narrowly overrode the veto, the mayor announced that he will not authorize bonds that would be needed to pay for the project.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns then warned that if the mayor failed to submit bonds for all the projects -- including Nevilly Court -- lawmakers might delay action on the entire capital budget.

Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo is prodding both sides to find a compromise.

"I would encourage the mayor and the Council to resolve their differences," SanFilippo told The Buffalo News. "There could be serious consequences if we see significant delays in the sale of these bonds. The [credit] market is very volatile right now."

SanFilippo was referring to constantly changing costs of borrowing. Interest rates have inched upward in recent weeks.

"We're not crystal-ball readers, but we're concerned about the impact that an elongated process could have on our bond sales," the comptroller said.

The timing worry, Deputy Comptroller Darby R. Fishkin said, involves the fast-approaching construction season. Laws require waiting periods of at least 50 days for bond resolutions. This means that unless all bond-related documents are finalized soon, money might not be available in time for the start of the construction season.

Projects in the capital budget range from streetscape improvements in the Lovejoy and Masten Council districts, to new streetlights in the Niagara and North districts, and infrastructure upgrades near the Genesee Gateway project downtown. The budget also includes funds to repair and upgrade city parks, and to demolish decaying buildings throughout the city.

Council Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana was tight-lipped about his ongoing efforts to try to forge a compromise, saying only, "We're talking."

The mayor has offered to use the $450,000 proposed for Nevilly Court to repair or improve other facilities in South Buffalo.

Kearns, meanwhile, has insisted that Nevilly Court will not become a fiscal albatross for the city. He claims he is in the final stages of lining up funding from private entities and foundations to help finance construction. Kearns said a new nonprofit entity that would oversee the facility would commit to absorb maintenance costs.