issues have been with us
for a long time now. Bankruptcy. Fading population. Enormous spending
wastes. High taxes. Bureaucratic red tape. In fact, they’ve been in
our faces for so long, writing about them at this point is nauseating.
Every day, we awake to a decrepit bear of a city, miles and miles of
asphalt and crumbling buildings; vast boulevards of problems, inefficiency,
all of the human faces behind windshields and a ton of steel. We watch
the twilight of our city estranged, the fading of brilliance and beauty
that unkempt, has produced a labyrinth of issues that raise a lot of
complaint, bafflement, and bitter anger.
a lowdown on our upcoming financial situation: Taxes are getting higher,
we’re losing the parks system to the county, and health care costs for
the city are still skyrocketing, $5.5 million dollars from last year
alone. Property taxes are being levied at over $146 million this year.
According to the Mayor’s executive budget announcement, state aid has
not changed in 5 years, and no aid has been received based on the city’s
know this. This situation hasn’t changed yet, and the current plans
of change and reform will take years to make the situation “better.”
Incessant are the talks of regional plans for stability, new money making
schemes, and government funded business proposals with lots of spin.
As the years march past, there will be less people here, less tax money,
and even more problems cropping up.
are tough issues, and they will continue to be. We can expect, by the
time Giambra and Masiello are running for their tired old offices again,
exactly no change. They have a plan, though, for these tough times;
a 4-year plan to get us out of the proverbial hole.
Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority. That’s the real name of that “control
board” you’ve heard so much, and yet so little about. The Authority
was created in Albany, due to our economic woes, which had become a
real threat to the state’s bankroll. Legislated hurriedly in July 2003,
the BFSA Act created this “public benefit corporation,” and gave it
the power to lift Buffalo from its economic plague. The BFSA controls
a great deal of borrowing power; CEO and President of M&T Robert
Wilmers sits on the board. This borrowing power can benefit the city
tremendously, helping to establish a way out of our current debts, albeit
by creating new ones, without carving the city’s services and essential
needs—too much. In order to access the majority of these great loans
that will keep the city afloat some time, Buffalo has to make budgetary
concessions as they see fit.
plan has been devised by the BFSA to allow Buffalo to become economically
stable within 4 years. This plan was drafted hastily, given strictures
within the legislation itself, and was only given public review for
a few days before the first public forum allowed residents to voice
their opinions of the plan. Some might remember the hurried affair at
the forum, though only 129 comments were submitted by residents. Back
then, with little knowledge of the situation, Buffalonians expressed
to the mysterious “Control Board” their thoughts and feelings about
the crises they face. The overwhelming response of even those few was
strong opposition to the details of the plan, and media outlets in the
city hounded its shortcomings as well. This budgetary plan was met with
resistance and, much more deadly, ignorance. This plan remained largely
unchanged by the next year, when Mayor Masiello’s official 2004-2005
fiscal budget was due. On May 8, another forum was convened, with only
33 citizens submitting comments this time. The discussion was opened
to the new budget, as well as “The Great Plan,” and those few comments
were still mostly criticisms of the new financial groundwork being built.
Apparently nobody seemed too concerned at the time, and a good part
of the May 8 comments had to do with the Buffalo Animal Shelter.
opposition to these plans seemed to have a decent basis when I first
heard of them, but I decided to take a closer look, as the new fiscal
year starts rolling around, and check out why, exactly, this plan seemed
to suck so much. It wasn’t long before I felt the familiar sensation
of bewildered disbelief I get whenever I read anything the knuckleheads
who seem drawn to lead our area have drawn out. It doesn’t bode well,
and here’s how it’s planned:
Plan: The City and the School District need a lot of money. By 2008,
the combined gap would be around $163 million. The City and the schools
have to cut minimum amounts of that debt every year. The BFSA will fork
over the rest of the cash and cover the bills. This theory is based
on some major assumptions, including Buffalo continuing to accrue the
same amount of revenue, with no increase, while cutting their costs
until they break even. After that, the city continues on its own, without
the former infrastructure it once had, hoping to stay afloat.
blows during the four years will include: increasing property taxes
and garbage fees, while laying off uniformed police and firefighters.
10 school closings are also included in the plan, with the school district
forcing students into maximum class sizes to save costs. Meanwhile,
2 new charter schools have been commissioned in Buffalo, creating a
new drain on funds from the state and the local district, but I suppose
having at least some decent schools is an adventurous swing in city
planning. The fiscal plan also assumes huge new streams of revenue,
specifically from sales taxes given by Erie County, as well as loads
of state aid, which simply has been missing, apparently, for some time.
Merging county and city fire and police dispatches has also been planned
for the future.
sadly enough, pretty much it for the fabulous new plan. There are no
provisions for actual capital building, no moneymaking strategies, no
actual attempts to fix the underlying issues. They seem to be missing
the reason why there’s so much debt here: there is no money! Sure, they
can bottom out the city’s services, cut out the needs and protections
that municipalities are supposed to provide for their citizens, but
when this is all over, and a new set of bills accrues, where will the
dollars come from? Certainly not the fleeing residents, vans and cars
loaded and packed for greener pastures.
year in particular managed to stand out in this mess….
Budget: Elections are hot this year, and Buffalo is not out of the
heat. This year is important for Big Tony’s public image. The budget
he submitted was historic for several reasons, as he was keen to point
out in his executive address. It was the first to be produced under
supervision—obviously, we haven’t needed to have our city’s budget written
by other people before. Also, it’s the first to include giving over
the parks system to the county—again, obviously, Buffalo hasn’t ever
done that before. In fact, he didn’t really write or conceive this budget,
as it was already dictated by the BFSA plan. Just a formality, really,
to have the city budget done up to those specifications, instead of
trying to jerk around the law to let a corporation do it themselves.
Luckily, Masiello doesn’t have to skirt around the very serious school
issues during this all important election time. The BFSA is using aid
from the state to cover all those gaps this years, so only after Tony
has another term will his yearly budgets have to include the ugly details
of closing schools, firing teachers, and telling parents and students
to suck it. In fact, while they and the police department and fire brigades
just have to deal with the cuts, not a single other staff section at
City Hall is being touched.
is shameful. This is the best they could come up with? Sure, it’s probably
going to effectively seal up the problems for a few years, but then
what? The Mayor off-handedly remarked in his comments on his budget
that the $7 million dollars being offered up by Erie County may not
be available due to the monetary strain currently being produced by
Medicaid and that, should Giambra not be able to squeeze it from his
comfy new computer chair and desk, a complete merger of governments
will be necessary. These forgotten words may illuminate the real motives
behind a listless and uninspired financial plan. It seems we’ve reached
the end of the road, or at least the city has, and our leadership, too.
We’re all locked into this for the next four years, new Mayor or not.
Our residents, “edumacated” in our atrophying school system and on increasingly
lawless streets, will determine the future after that. A fatalistic
picture, perhaps, but I’m feeling pretty grim after looking at the situation.