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Wyatt backs comptroller's proposal to replenish Buffalo's shrinking reserves

Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams' proposal to replenish Buffalo's depleted fund balance hasn't gained any traction since she introduced it last month.

But that is likely to change now that University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt is the Council's new Finance Committee chairman.

Wyatt, who was among several Council members who voiced support for initiating the conversation after Miller-Williams introduced her proposal, said he hopes to "push that agenda" in his new role.

"I spoke about it, but now that I'm finance chair, I can do a little more. I think it's important regarding our credit rating, so I am going to push working with the administration on how we can do it. I don't want it to be a fight," Wyatt said, but he wants discussions with the Council, the Brown administration and the Comptroller's Office "to be something that we absolutely do."

Wyatt was appointed to his new post during the Council's reorganizational meeting Thursday following November elections that saw all nine Council seats on the ballot. Miller-Williams, who was appointed interim comptroller last April by the Council, also was elected to a four-year term in November and was sworn in Thursday. She was not immediately available for comment after the ceremony.

Her proposal would replenish Buffalo's fund balance – also called reserves – by requiring the city to maintain 60 days of operating expenses, which represents 30 days more than is already maintained in the "rainy day" fund, which currently has about $39 million. Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Council would have to agree to adopt such a proposal.

Last month, mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge pointed to the 30 days of operating costs in the rainy day fund and said "anything in addition to that would arbitrarily impact the level of investment in services provided to taxpayers."

The mayor is always open to suggestions from his colleagues in government that they think would be beneficial, "but the executive and administrative powers of the city are very clearly vested in the mayor's office by the City Charter and Code," DeGeorge said at the time.

By using millions in fund balance to balance budgets, Brown had frozen or cut property taxes every year since taking office in 2006, until the 2018-19 budget increased property taxes and user fees for the first time during his tenure.

A policy to rebuild the city's reserves could restore confidence among the city's Wall Street credit rating agencies, like Fitch Ratings, which lowered the city's credit rating from AA- to A+. The downgrade was in line with the A1 rating from Moody's and the A+ from Standard and Poor's, both of which cited Buffalo's structurally imbalanced budgets and repeated reliance on reserves when they lowered the city's fiscal outlook from "positive" to "stable" in April 2018.

Such moves impact on the interest rate the city gets – and thus how much taxpayers must pay – when the city borrows money.

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority has also weighed in, warning the city under reserve levels recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association and should consider a fund balance replenishment program.

Other appointments to committee chairmanships announced Thursday include:

  • Lovejoy Council Member Bryan J. Bollman, education
  • Fillmore Council Member Mitchell P. Nowakowski, claims
  • Delaware Council Member Joel P. Feroleto, legislation
  • Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo Sr., civil service
  • North Council Member Joseph Golombek, community development

Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera and South Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon were re-elected president, majority leader and president pro tem, respectively.

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