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Mayor's $508.6M budget shaves residential taxes, raises commercial rate

Residential property owners will see a slight decrease in their taxes, but commercial property taxes will increase slightly in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s proposed 2019-20 budget.

City funding for the school system remains flat in Brown's proposal.

Meanwhile, Brown includes raises for all of the city's elected officials, as recently recommended by a citizens panel that he and other city leaders appointed.

And in a cost-saving measure, he proposes that the city purchase the street lighting system from National Grid and convert all the bulbs to LED over a three-year period.

Brown’s proposed spending plan is $508.6 million, which is $4.9 million less than the current budget and represents a 1 percent decrease.

“This reflects cost-efficiencies we achieved and the growth of our regional economy,” Brown said. “Since Day One, my administration has focused on making Buffalo a city of opportunity for all people that promotes our diversity as a strategy for building an economically vibrant and inclusive city where every resident has a path to success.”

The residential property tax rate in Brown’s spending plan for 2019-20 is $18.47 per $1,000 of assessed value. On a home assessed at $100,000, the tax would be $1,847. The current property tax rate is $18.49 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Brown pointed out that when he took office in 2006, the property tax rate was $20.95 per $1,000.

“The tax rate for the 2019-20 budget is less than it was in 2005 by $2.48 per $1,000 assessed value, which means a homeowner with an assessed value of $1,000 is paying $248 less today than when I took office 14 years ago,” Brown said.

Commercial taxes are slightly up the 2019-20 budget proposal, at $29.48 per $1,000 of assessed value. In the current budget, the figure is $28.22.  Brown said the new rate is still a “drastic reduction” from the $37.41 per $1,000 in effect when he took office.

The city's ongoing revaluation process will not affect the 2019-20 budget, he said.

Brown includes casino revenue in his proposed budget, but the amount was reduced from the estimated revenue included in the current budget. Some Council members had cited that revenue projection as an area of concern, given that the Seneca Nation has asked the federal government to review arbitrators' decision that the nation owes the state $225 million in casino revenue that the state then shares with localities.

Before Brown's budget was released, Fillmore Council Member David M. Franczyk said he would be keeping an eye on some of the warning flags that the City Comptroller's Office has raised in the past year about revenue projections, including the casino money.

"Is the Seneca money coming or not? We won arbitration. How long can they drag this out? .... Can they not give the money until the (federal government) responds, and when will it respond?" Franczyk said. "But we won't get that money until that's resolved, so you can't think of it as money in the bank."

When he released the budget Wednesday, Brown said, "Last year, we were estimating two and a half years of revenue, and this year we are just taking one year, which is $11 million."

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera had wanted to see more money for the Buffalo Public Schools, but Brown is recommending the district get the same $70.8 million it is getting this year. He also allocates another $500,000 to Buffalo's Say Yes to Education, bringing the administration's total investment in the program to $2.8 million. New is $125,000 to the schools and Say Yes for a summer enrichment program to stem learning loss during summer vacation.

[RELATED: Council members want budget to help kids, schools and avoid 'iffy' revenue]

There will be $1.26 million for full implementation of the Buffalo Police Department's Body Cam program, as well as for Tasers and more vehicles. There is also money for two new police classes, totaling 75 officers, to cut overtime and enhance community policing. There is also money for a new class of firefighters to cut overtime in that department.

The budget increases funds for the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment and Internship program to $1.9 million – up from $1.8 million – to help cover increases in the minimum wage and additional employment opportunities for youth. That is another area of concern for some Council members.

The administration is also proposing that the city purchase the street lighting system from National Grid. There are 32,000 lights in streets, parks and other outdoor areas, Brown said. The overall construction and acquisition costs are estimated at around $80 million.

The plan would result in at least $1 million a year in savings once the acquisition and conversion of the bulbs are complete, but there will be more immediate savings after the acquisition is completed because the city will not be charged a monthly facility charge by National Grid, Brown said.

The city currently pays $10 million annually for a monthly facility charge and for the energy. The city will still have to pay National Grid for energy, but it will be about half of what it’s paying now, Brown said.

The plan will be energy efficient and environmentally beneficial, city officials said.

"When all is said and done, there will be 16.5 million in kilowatt hours in savings, and that reduces carbon emissions by 11 tons annually," said Michael J. Finn, acting commissioner of the city's Department of Public Works.

City officials are expecting to complete the acquisition in 2020. The conversion of the 32,000 light bulbs will be completed over a three-year period, Brown said.

The New York State Power Authority is helping with its resources to get the city through the process.

The Council will now begin its review of Brown's proposal. It has until May 22 to approve a budget.

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