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Mayor seeks $1 million for City Hall security

ALBANY – Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown appealed to state lawmakers Tuesday for money to address a City Hall that is “vulnerable to a breach of security.”

The mayor asked legislators for $1 million so City Hall can acquire X-ray equipment to screen visitors, install new steel bollards to surround the building and hire additional security staff. The city is also looking into closing some entrances.

“We remain transparent. We just want to become more secure,” Brown said in an interview before presenting the plan – and a request to have the state fund it – to a joint budget panel of the State Senate and Assembly.

He said the security measures around the building are being proposed following an assessment last year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The funding request was among three other matters Brown asked state lawmakers to help with this year:

• Some level of state assistance for the $30 million in costs to consolidate six existing Department of Public Works facilities scattered across the city into one new, centralized “campus” that will house everything from snowplowing and garbage operations to the animal shelter and auto impound lot. The mayor did not identify the several locations under consideration.

• $30 million for a new round of funding for the project that is reopening Main Street downtown to vehicular traffic. He asked lawmakers to fund construction expenses for the 400 block of Main and the Seneca One Tower block.

• Permission for several cities, including Buffalo, to tax wireless telecommunication providers at the same level now charged to utility companies, a plan that could raise several million additional dollars a year for Buffalo. Brown said the city has been losing $2 million in the last several years as more residents move from taxable landline phones to cellphones.

Two weeks after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled his 2016 state budget proposal, Brown was among the mayors who came to Albany on Tuesday to make their individual funding pleas to lawmakers.

The mayors of upstate’s large cities, expecting to testify early in the afternoon before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, were left to cool their heels as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went through friendly and not-so-friendly rounds of lawmakers’ questioning that lasted more than four hours.

On the City Hall security matter, Brown said the state’s help is needed following the 2011 loss of some federal aid that also hit Albany, Syracuse and Rochester. “Even though the funding ended, security risks and vulnerabilities remain,” Brown told lawmakers.

The mayor’s testimony came after Buffalo police officials Tuesday told a Common Council committee that the city had received $50,000 from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to install X-ray screening at the front entrance of the building. Police said they expect the scanning machines to be in place by March. Police officials also said there are plans to eventually place cameras on every floor of City Hall, as well as stairwells, elevators and other heavily used areas.

The Buffalo News last fall reported increasing levels of security at public facilities in Western New York, including at City Hall, where police are now stationed in the lobby and have 24-hour access to the building. At the time, Brown said the city distributed name tags to city workers and cut after-hours and weekend access to the building.

Brown said Tuesday that Buffalo’s iconic City Hall, opened in 1932, is the nation’s tallest City Hall, has 1,700 people employed on its floors and attracts more than 125,000 visitors annually. “Ensuring that our critical infrastructure and first responders are ready to meet any potential emergency or disaster is vital,” he said.

The mayor, in an interview, said the proposal has already been shared with Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan Jr., R-Huntington, and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx.

“In this post-9/11 environment,” Brown said, “… it is a very open building.”

The idea received no opposition from state lawmakers Tuesday. “It must be the only City Hall left in America where you can just walk in the door. … I can’t even imagine being in that condition in 2016,” Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, told Brown during the budget hearing.

Brown said City Hall, which a Buffalo security advisory committee characterized as “unregulated” following a site inspection by federal homeland security officials, would use the $1 million in state funding to buy security cameras, construct bollards, add scanning machines to inspect bags and packages, make changes to entrances and exits, purchase scanning wands and magnetometers and hire staff to operate the screening devices.

Last year, the city asked the state to help pay for a $40 million public works campus as a way to consolidate existing facilities into one site at some undisclosed “more industrialized” area of Buffalo.

“Last year, it was more conceptual,” Brown said in an interview, adding that the city has since completed a financial analysis of the idea. “Now, this is a ready-to-go project,” Brown said, although he was not able to immediately pinpoint the location for the centralized campus concept. He did not put a price tag on the projected maintenance and staff savings that this could generate but said the new cost estimate is about $30 million. He added that the existing six public works sites are in “prime areas for reinvestment” after they would be shuttered.

News Staff Reporter Susan Schulman contributed to this report. email: tprecious@buffnews.com