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Buffalo mayor proposes budget that again holds line on taxes

Mayor Byron W. Brown’s 2015-16 budget proposal will hold the line on residential property taxes and cut the city’s commercial tax rate, but also increase some fees and create a new one to help deal with vacant properties.

The budget plan being released Friday will include new initiatives aimed at helping to clear snow from the sidewalks of city-owned properties and focus on cutting lawns on thousands of city-owned lots.

The total budget proposal comes in at $493 million – down $11 million, or 2.2 percent, from the current fiscal year.

The budget assumes the city will save money through self-insurance and will see substantial reductions in overtime in the upcoming years because more than 100 new firefighters are being hired to fill vacancies and replace retirees.

The budget maintains aid to city schools at its current level, but, as promised in the mayor’s State of the City address, also includes funding to purchase 500 tablet computers for 500 Buffalo Say Yes scholars who graduate from high school and go on to college.

Also as promised in Brown’s address, the budget includes funding to create a chief diversity officer position. The job is part of a larger initiative to work with other agencies to put greater focus on creating a more diverse workplace throughout Buffalo.

The budget plan also includes funds for new police vehicles and three new fire trucks. The city has replaced virtually its entire Fire Department fleet since 2006, Brown said.

The budget marks the 10th year in a row, Brown said, that his administration will have held the line or reduced the city’s tax rate.

The residential tax rate, the mayor said, has been cut 16 percent since 2006, and the commercial rate 32 percent.

“We are focused on commercial this year,” Brown said, “to drive more development into the City of Buffalo to create more jobs for residents.”

The mayor will formally present his budget to the Common Council at 3 p.m. Friday. The Council then will hold a series of meetings on the plan before voting on the budget document. The new budget then would take effect July 1.

Here are some of the key initiatives:

Vacant property registration fees. “It’s something the community, housing activists, have asked for,” Brown said.

Funds raised from the new fee, he said, will be used to help the city provide more tracking, monitoring and mapping of vacant buildings.

The city also has been reviewing its existing fee structure, and determined many city fees are lower than in surrounding municipalities and upstate cities. That is resulting in higher fees. Details will be released Friday.

Sidewalk snow removal. The city will hire private contractors to help with the sidewalk snow removal on city properties. The focus will be on city-owned property on bus routes and high-pedestrian areas. “We have mapped those areas that get the most pedestrian traffic, where we receive the most calls over the years,” the mayor said.

Lawn cutting on city lots. Brown acknowledged residents have been concerned in recent years that the city has been unable to keep up with grass-cutting demands in a timely way as Buffalo’s vacant lot inventory has increased. While details will be released Friday, the mayor said: “We will focus on cutting a large number of city-owned vacant lots in our inventory. It will give us the ability to address the issue in a proactive way.”