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Garbage fee hikes set, but ticket surcharges still unknown in proposed city budget

Property taxes are not the only things going up in the Brown administration’s proposed 2018-19 budget. So are garbage user fees and the cost of attending events at city-owned facilities –  though the amount of that ticket surcharge has yet to be worked out with the venues.

In addition to increasing taxes on homeowners  and commercial properties, Mayor Byron W. Brown’s spending plan, released  Tuesday, also recommends a hike in garbage user fees, which have never been increased during Brown’s 12 years in office. Instead, the city has put $31 million into the solid waste fund over the last nine years to make it self-sustaining.

Under Brown's proposed budget, the  annual fee for the 35-gallon, small garbage tote would increase by about $17 over the current $145 fee. For the medium-sized, 65-gallon tote, the increase would be about $38 over the current $162 fee; and the increase for the large, 95-gallon tote would be approximately $68 over the current $170 fee.

The increases would make the solid waste fund self-sustaining, according to the mayor.

Brown’s $513.6 million proposed spending plan – which is a $13.9 million increase over the current budget –  also  increases residential property taxes by 3.4 percent and commercial property taxes by 5.5 percent and would implement a new fee on  tickets to events at city-owned facilities.

Brown's proposed budget recommends property tax increases for homeowners, businesses

But South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon and some of the organizations that would be be affected by the fee are  concerned about the impact it would have on event-goers, particularly families.

The Public Facility Maintenance and Security surcharge is expected to generate about $2 million in additional revenue, Brown said, though details about the amount of the fee and how it will be applied still have to be worked out.

The surcharge would help cover the costs of maintenance and public safety for events at city-owned venues – such as  Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Kleinhans Music Hall, Coca-Cola Field, KeyBank Center and Canalside – which are attended not only by city residents, but also by people who live outside of Buffalo. The fee would show up when tickets are purchased for the sports and cultural venues and is expected to alleviate the tax burden on city residents, who are currently solely responsible for covering the costs of these events.

“This surcharge will distribute that financial responsibility in a progressive manner and still provide the protection, security and level of maintenance that attendees enjoy,” Brown said. “We will be working with all of the stakeholders to form a working group to implement this new initiative.”

Dan Hart, executive director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, said that given Buffalo’s “price sensitive market” there is a level of concern about what the impact would mean for the BPO and how the fee would affect attendance at concerts in Kleinhans.

“We’re a little bit worried about it,” Hart said of the proposed surcharge.

The BPO, Kleinhans and the city have been great partners over the years, he said, and the city has been great at maintaining the venue. But anytime there’s a price increase, “it’s worrisome.”

The BPO instituted a price freeze on its subscription renewals this year “because we’re worried about affordability and access,” Hart said. “We’ve been consistently raising prices, and we’re wondering if we’ve gotten to the point where it’s too much for people.”

“We’re looking to learn more about (the fee) and seeing the impact,” he said.

Keeping prices as low as possible is also a “continuing concern” for Shea’s President Michael Murphy. So is being able to keep people coming to the theaters, he said.

“That’s key to people and for me. I want to provide a good, strong, powerful theater experience, and continuing the ongoing restoration and maintenance of Shea’s is of great concern,” said Murphy, adding that producers and promoters set the ticket prices,  not Shea’s.

Still, he’s looking forward to getting more information about how the proposed fee would work.

“There’s a lot to learn, and we need to find out the details,” Murphy said.

Scanlon,  the Council's president pro-tempore, said he understands why such a surcharge would be important, but he wants to make sure that moderately-priced tickets are not hit with “quite a large surcharge” because there are families that already can’t afford to go to higher-ticketed events.

“The more moderately-priced events – whether that’s a Bisons game or other events at the stadium that are $5 tickets – you don’t want to hit them with the surcharge,” he said.

Instituting the fee once a specific threshold is met might be an option, he added.

For example, “say I pay for  $60 to a Sabres game. Am I going to notice a $2 charge? No. But the resident who’s struggling and has a large family and has to go to a lesser-priced event, we don’t want to hit them with that charge,” Scanlon said.

The Council now will begin the process of reviewing Brown’s proposed budget, checking “every single line” to look for any savings and reductions that can be made, said President Darius G. Pridgen, who expects the process will involve some recommended changes and some negotiations with the mayor’s office.

Under the proposed property tax hikes, revealed by The Buffalo News on Tuesday, homeowners would see an increase of $60 on a home assessed at $100,000. For commercial properties, it would be an increase of $146 for properties assessed at $100,000. Brown had kept steady, or trimmed, property taxes every year since 2006.

Scanlon said it is disconcerting to see such increases, but also noted that there have been no such hikes in  more than a decade.

“The mayor has proposed another conservative budget as far as spending, but what I am very glad about is that he did not propose any layoffs, any reduction of our police or fire (personnel) because that’s very important to our constituents,” Pridgen said.

"We know that the costs of goods and services are going up across the nation, and at the end of the day there needs to be an alignment," he continued, alluding to the proposed increases. "Where that alignment will be at the end of the next three weeks, I can’t speak to at this time. I’m sure that there are people who are not excited that property taxes may go up, but at the end of the day we have to talk about that.”

The Council has until May 22 to approve the budget.

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