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Council grudgingly approves $250,000 subsidy for BMHA

By a 6-3 vote, the Common Council on Tuesday approved a $250,000 subsidy to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, despite the fact that the authority owes the city more than $3 million in unpaid water bills and charges for police protection and other services.

South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon said he was not comfortable giving money to the housing authority under the circumstances. He was joined by North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. and Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk in voting against the appropriation. However, other lawmakers noted that the city continues to provide subsidies to other local entities that owe the city money for services.

“I promise you, gentlemen, that there are some (other) people who are to receive money from this city that owe the city, but we have to give them money,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen during Tuesday’s special Council session.

Pridgen said the city first must establish a uniform system of policies and procedures for denying a subsidy request before singling out the BMHA.

“We need to move forward to ensure that we have a procedure in place, even if we’re going to wait (to pay BMHA), because the fact of the matter is most of our community centers would be shut down” for outstanding bills owed to the city, he added.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera agreed.

“Rural/Metro did not pay their bill. We didn’t cancel anything. When community centers didn’t pay their gas bills, we didn’t close their doors. The Buffalo Zoo did not pay their bill. We didn’t close the Buffalo Zoo ... We have to give ourselves some flexibility. We can’t be so restricted,” Rivera said.

In a March 10 memo to the Council, Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder outlined $3.1 million in unpaid bills that he said BMHA owed the city. On Tuesday, Patrick J. Curry, Schroeder’s executive assistant, said the Comptroller’s Office uncovered an additional $1.7 million in unpaid water bills the housing authority owed from 2005 to 2008. Curry said about $1.5 million of that figure was for water consumed at Marine Drive Towers while it was under the management of Hutchens-Kissling.

At a meeting of the Council Finance Committee on Monday, BMHA officials blamed Hutchens-Kissling for not paying the city $1.9 million for natural gas to heat Marine Drive. Officials said $650,000 of a $1.1 million bill for city police services provided at BMHA developments between 2013 and 2015 already has been paid. However, $433,334 owed from 2013 was not billed according to the standards required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, BMHA officials said, so the bill cannot be processed until it conforms to HUD standards.

Housing officials said the $250,000 subsidy is to cover operational expenses at the former Frederick Douglass Towers, still owned by the authority but managed by a private partnership. Prior to 2011, the city provided the BMHA with a $550,000 annual subsidy for that development.

Modesto Candelario, BMHA deputy executive director, said the authority would provide lawmakers with an itemized statement that details exactly how the $250,000 is spent.