BUFFALO, N.Y. - Mayor Byron Brown proposed on Monday a 2017-18 budget with no tax increases, additional funding for a police substation and extra assistance for the Buffalo Public Schools, relying on $12 million from a reserve fund to balance the $500 million plan.
Joined by nearly every department head in the city of Buffalo -- along with members of the Common Council and community group leaders -- Brown vowed to freeze the property tax rate, while also proposing to cut commercial property taxes by one percent.
The recommended budget, which must still be approved by the Common Council, proposes to spend $500,000 for the creation of a new police substation at the Broadway Market, where at least 30 personnel would work from starting in January. Other highlights include an extra $500,000 pledged to the Buffalo Public Schools, funding for a "Quality of Life Initiative" to calm traffic in residential areas and money for anti-violence and intervention programs.
"We want to continue to make Buffalo an affordable city for people to invest in homes and businesses," Brown said in an interview after his announcement. "We've held the line on the residential property tax rate in the city of Buffalo, which we've been able to do -- either cutting or holding the line on residential taxes -- for 12 years."
To balance the budget, Brown has proposed using $12 million from the city's "unassigned reserve fund," reducing the fund's total from about $42 million to $30 million. That represents a reduction of about 29 percent from the unassigned reserve fund, although the city also has millions of dollars in other reserve funds, including $36 million in a so-called "rainy day" fund.
Brown defended the use of $12 million in unassigned reserves, which is roughly the same or less than the amount of reserves used in past budgets.
"I am comfortable using it," Brown said. "We have used fund balance in the past. This is not much more than we have used in past years. We can continue to look for efficiencies in city government and ways to partner with other agencies."
However, Brown's proposal to use reserve funds in the 2017-18 budget immediately drew criticism from one of his primary opponents, Mark Schroeder, who also happens to be the Buffalo City Comptroller.
Schroeder's office will review the mayor's budget proposal and release an analysis, which is standard for any comptroller.
But as he gears up for a September primary, Schroeder released a statement to 2 On Your Side, calling the mayor's plan "more of the same."
Schroeder claims the budget relies on "overly-optimistic revenues across the board."
"There has been no progress toward a structurally balanced budget," Schroeder said, "and no end in sight to the practice of using savings to fill budget holes."
Common Council Majority Leader David Rivera, meanwhile, praised the mayor's budget and acknowledged the use of reserves as a necessary fact of budgeting.
"You really prefer not to use much of the reserve fund," Rivera said. "But in order to balance the budget, sometimes we have to do it."
The Common Council will now begin budget hearings to discuss proposals for each city department.