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Buffalo City Council focuses on costs for police, fire, other departments amidst budget tax, fee hikes

Buffalo Common Council members on Thursday pressed city police and fire departments on their budgets as they look to cut costs.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Common Council is now feeling the pressure after Mayor Byron Brown's proposal for a 3.8 percent property tax hike and higher garbage fees.

Council members on Thursday pressed city police and fire departments on their budgets as they look to cut costs.

As the State of the City included the need to raise revenue, Thursday morning City Council zeroed in on possible cost-cutting for city police and fire.

Niagara District Councilman David Rivera said: "We're asking each department to let us know exactly what changes are being made in terms of additional manpower, or even vacancies that aren't being filled, because this is a very difficult budget. We have to right-size government."

While it was pointed out the fire department added a battalion chief and two captains, Fire Commissioner William Renaldo stressed the need for full staffing in the face of bad weather events or major fires like fatal Main Street blaze which took a firefighter's life.

"We have to be able to absorb some of these unforeseen or unanticipated events otherwise we may be faced with cutting back services things of that nature which nobody wants to do. We want to have continuous operations," Renaldo said.

University District Councilman Rasheed N.C. Wyatt raised another issue: overtime.

"We've been told that crime is down, that fires are down, all those things," Wyatt said. "But we still have this significant amount of overtime. When we look at the city budget that's the biggest number on the page.

"Now it's really significant when we're asking taxpayers to increase taxes and we're still looking at overtime, so we're really trying to get the thrust of how can we better manage that."

Commissioner Renaldo responded: "The fiscal year prior to my appointment and my command team, overtime was approaching $13 million, and it's gone down steadily since then. And this year's budget or this year's overtime budget is slightly over $7 million, and it's been that way pretty steady since 2018, and that's including all the challenges that we've had that add to that overtime budget."

And police say their preventive deployment policies on known trouble spots last year helped lower the violent crime and actually cut costs in a different way which offsets extra staffing decisions.

"Through manpower we were really able to prevent the vast majority of those issues last summer," Renaldo said. "And you spend the money on that but you save money on overtime, because when you have 105 less people shot, calculate the manpower hours and less overtime for detectives to come and investigate the scene and the follow-up investigations."

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