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Council members to consider giving themselves $5,000 car allowance

Just weeks after increasing their leadership stipends, members of the Buffalo Common Council are looking to give themselves a car allowance.

Under a plan unveiled Monday, Council members who use their personal cars at least 120 days a year for work – excluding driving from their homes to City Hall – would qualify for a $5,000 annual car allowance stipend.

While Mayor Byron W. Brown and his department heads either have assigned city vehicles or access to city vehicles for work duties, Council members say they use their own cars when on city business.

City business, Council members said, takes them all over Buffalo, and sometimes outside of Buffalo, whether it is to meet with residents, investigate a complaint or attend a block club or other meeting.

All that driving, they said, racks up a lot of mileage that can translate into big gasoline bills as well as wear and tear on their cars.

Given that, the Council discussed a car allowance during recent city budget talks.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera drafted a resolution that is expected to be introduced at Tuesday’s Council meeting, then referred to a Council committee for review.

“It’s not just in our own district, but there are citywide issues as well, and regional things we travel to, putting on a lot of miles,” said Rivera, who is also the Council majority leader.

For years the Council had a car allowance, but it was discontinued in the late 1990s as a cost-cutting move, recalled Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who has been on the Council for 30 years.

Franczyk didn’t recall the dollar value of the prior car allowance, but said it was more of a per-diem, paid for any day when a Council member traveled for work.

In contrast, under the proposed system, a Council member must certify that their personal vehicle is being used at least 120 days in a year for city business.

Those Council members then would qualify for the $5,000 stipend, which would be paid throughout the year, in monthly installments.

The Council checked with other cities when developing the Buffalo model, Rivera said.

The stipend would begin after the resolution is approved by the Council and signed by Brown.

Last month, the Council voted to increase its leadership stipends, also adding an extra $5,000 to members’ paychecks. It was the first increase in those stipends since 1975.

Leadership stipends are paid for chairing Council committees or holding such posts as Council president or majority leader.

With that increase, which took effect July 1, stipends for committee chairmanships are now $6,000 while the Council president stipend is now $15,000, the Council majority leader stipend is $10,000 and the Council pro tem stipend is $6,000.

The leadership stipend and car allowance are on top of the Council members’ base salary of $52,000.

Each Council member has a leadership position. With the car allowance and leadership stipend, each of the city’s nine Council members would be paid at least $62,000 annually.

The Council has the authority under the City Charter to raise its own stipends but cannot raise its base salaries. That would require convening a Salary Review Commission to research the issue, then make any recommendations on a proposed salary increase.

Elected officials in Buffalo have not had a salary increase since 1997.

Brown currently earns $105,000 annually, while Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder earns $88,412.


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