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Buffalo lawmakers debate budget, as city faces shortfall

Buffalo faces a $15 million shortfall due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But instead of trying to find savings, the city is relying on federal funding to come.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The City of Buffalo says it is facing a projected $15 million budget shortfall, because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Instead of raising taxes or cutting services, Mayor Byron Brown in his proposed budget wants to add to the budget from last year, and that has some lawmakers concerned.

The City of Buffalo is banking on $65 million coming from the federal government in disaster aid. The city is also expecting millions to come in casino revenue from the Seneca Nation. 

All this raises questions like, "What if all that money doesn't come?"

Buffalo Common Council held its first budget hearing since Mayor Brown unveiled his recommended budget late last week. 

Lawmakers heard from various departments – from the police, to fire, to public works. 

None of those major departments are proposing any significant cuts.

2 On Your Side asked if including casino revenue and federal funding in the budget was a prudent idea.

Buffalo Common Council Member Rasheed Wyatt said, "I can't speak for the administration. From my perspective, being a finance person, it didn't make sense to me, but from what I'm hearing they have a game plan."

The City of Buffalo says they are prepared to come up with contingency budgets if needed.

"We were able to reduce a couple of million dollars out of our budget, in order to abide by what we anticipate in terms of the city's finances at this time this is kind of where the budget sits but we are prepared if necessary to go back to the drawing board," said Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo. 

Michael Finn, the Commissioner for the Department of Public Works, says if the city doesn't get enough federal disaster funding, swimming pools will likely not open on time this summer, or they may not be open for the entire year. 

Finn also warned about the city's 48-hour pothole guarantee service being cut and cuts to residential plowing service. 

Buffalo Fire Commissioner, William Renaldo, says in order to reduce overtime costs, the department is trying to get to appropriate staffing. 

Last week, when Mayor Brown released his budget, 2 On Your Side asked why he wasn't making any cuts, he called this budget a "recovery budget" and that once the city would get federal funding, it would be able to continue on its growth prior to the coronavirus hitting Buffalo. 

The mayor's office says if that funding does not come through as expected, it would then go out and borrow money. 

Councilmember David Rivera says the city relying so heavily on federal funds is like relying on an IOU. 

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