The proposed 2018–19 budget for the City of Buffalo recommends increases in residential property taxes by 3.4 percent and commercial property taxes by 5.5 percent.
The $513.6 million spending plan introduces new licenses and fees and increases other fees, like the garbage user fee. The spending plan maintains funding for programs primarily aimed at youth, while increasing funding for the Buffalo Public Schools.
There’s also money set aside to enhance the city’s information systems network – and modernize the city’s tracking system for utilization of minority- and women-owned businesses on city projects.
The proposed tax rate in the budget is $18.49 per $1,000 of assessed value for residential properties and $28.22 per $1,000 for commercial properties, said Mayor Byron W. Brown, who will release the recommended budget at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
For homeowners, that would be an increase of $60 on a home assessed at $100,000. For commercial properties, it would be an increase of $146 for commercial properties assessed at $100,000.
Currently, the residential property tax rate in Buffalo is $17.88 per $1,000, and the commercial property tax rate is $26.76.
The hikes are expected to generate about a $5.7 million increase in the tax levy – the amount collected by the city in taxes.
“We are proposing to increase property taxes residentially and commercially that will be done in a way that is allowable under the state’s tax cap law,” Brown said.
Under the state’s property tax cap, the most the city can increase the tax levy in the upcoming budget would be about $6 million. Brown had kept steady, or trimmed, property taxes every year since 2006.
The total proposed budget amount is $513.6 million – an increase of $13.9 million over the current budget, which represents a “modest growth” of 2.8 percent, Brown said.
Budget increases stem from rising healthcare costs, rising pension costs, contractual raises and higher costs associated with a growing demand for more city services, he said.
The recommended budget uses $3.9 million in reserves, a decrease from the current 2017-2018 allocation of $12.2 million in reserves.
“This is a time for realignment of revenues to promote further economic development and increase our capacity to continue to make critical investments in city services,” Brown said.
There will be increases in some existing fees – like garbage user fees – as well as implementation of new fees like the public facility maintenance and security surcharge, said Brown, who will announce the specific fee amounts Tuesday afternoon when he releases the budget.
The public facility maintenance and security surcharge will show up when tickets are purchased for sports and cultural venues in the city – such as Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Kleinhans Music Hall, Coca-Cola Field, KeyBank Center and Canalside – to help cover the costs of training for emergency responders and overtime needed to ensure the safety of ticketholders, according to Brown.
“This surcharge recognizes these venues are regional assets that draw people from Western New York and beyond. This fee is expected to alleviate the disproportionate burden on city taxpayers and spread the cost in a more equitable manner,” Brown said. “The reason for this particular fee in the post 9/11 age we live in, we have seem mass casualty events too numerous to mention. We need to have police and other first responders that are trained to respond to such events, prevent such events and protect the users of these facilities.”
The surcharge also would cover the costs of police patrol, traffic control, emergency response, infrastructure in the surrounding area and capital maintenance of city-owned buildings, Brown said.
He pointed out that Buffalo’s fees and taxes are still lower, or on par, with those in surrounding municipalities and other upstate cities.
“In most cases, we’re lower,” he said.
The city plans to offer amnesty for parking tickets and quality-of-life tickets for things like high, uncut grass, garbage in yards, discarded furniture – like couches – in yards, and for not shoveling snow.
The amnesty will give people who have unpaid tickets and fines older than two years the opportunity to pay the base fine without an additional penalty.
“This is a one-time deal within a defined amount of time beginning the new budget year,” Brown said.
Also proposed in the budget are:
- $500,000 for the Buffalo Police Department's body camera program.
- $150,000 for Buffalo Peacemakers and $100,000 for youth activities through the Police Athletic League (PAL) of Buffalo. Both represent current funding levels.
- $200,000 for the Buffalo Public Schools, an amount that will be “in addition to the $70.8 million in aid the school district already receives from the City of Buffalo,” Brown said.
- $500,000 in continued funding to Buffalo's Say Yes to Education Program.
- Increased funding of $1.8 million, up from $1.6 million, for the Summer Youth Employment and Internship Program, “allowing the city to hire more young people than last summer even though the minimum wage has increased,” Brown said.
- $150,000 to the city’s Department of Management Information Systems to enhance the city’s network.
- $43,000 for one year of a multi-year contract with LCP tracker, a labor compliance software company that provides data that allows the city to track contractor utilization of minority- and women-owned businesses on city projects.
The mayor's recommended budget still must be approved by the Common Council.