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Buffalo passes fiscal stress test

By Jill Terreri

Buffalo is not susceptible to fiscal stress, according to an analysis by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released today. 

The city scored 16 percent in an analysis of various financial indicators, such as debt, the cost of employee wages and benefits, how much the city has in reserves, expenses, and operating deficits. In order to be classified has being susceptible to financial stress, a local government had to score at least 45 percent.

The stress tests are intended to create an "early warning" system for municipalities and school districts that have financial trouble on the horizon, DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli has done initial scoring for all local govenrments and school districts and found that 142 taxing jurisdictions are in some level of fiscal stress, including 16 counties, 18 towns, five cities, 16 villages and 87 school districts. 

Buffalo's score was consistent with its peers, on average. While Buffalo was at 16 percent, an average of all other cities was also 16 percent. Cities in Western New York scored 13 percent, while large cities scored worse, at 24 percent. 


Look up any local government or district here.  

UPDATED: Budget day in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Mayor Byron Brown is scheduled to release his budget for the year that begins July 1 at 2 p.m. today.

UPDATE: A preview of the budget is here. Brown proposes a slight reduction in taxes and the use of $28 million from city surpluses. The budget calls for no layoffs.  

Brown already pledged in his state of the city address in February that he won't raise taxes or assessments in 2014. (Tax rates for residents and businesses have fallen since he was elected.) 

But some questions about how he will balance the budget, if indeed he does not raise taxes, will come up: 

  • Will there be layoffs?
  • Will he use the city's surpluses to plug holes?
  • Will he sweep from parking or other areas to pay for recurring operating expenses? 
  • How much slot machine revenue from the Buffalo Creek Casino is the city expecting? 

Then there is the question of whether the city will rely on tax increases in the coming years. In addition to the budget, the mayor must also file with the Common Council a four-year plan, which will offer some hints. 

The Common Council begins its budget hearings with department heads at 10 a.m. Monday. 

Buffalo's credit ratings yield savings

By Jill Terreri

The city borrowed $33 million on Wednesday for major capital projects at rates of less than 2 percent. 

The city's strong credit ratings drew 18 bidders for $33 million in short- and long-term bonds the city sold to finance upgrades at Coca-Cola Field, the Buffalo Zoo and Erie Basin Marina, among other items. In prior years, only six firms had bid on city bonds. 

The city borrowed $25.6 million in long-term bonds at an interest rate of 1.88 percent, and sold $7.4 million in short term notes at a rate of .29 percent. Both interest rates were less than what the comptroller's office expected. 

"Buffalo's rising bond ratings, as well as favorable market conditions have resulted in outstanding interest rates for the city," said Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. 

The city has credit ratings of A+ from Standard & Poor's, A1 from Moody's and A+ from Fitch. 

The long-term bonds, which will mature in nine years, were purchased by Guggenheim Securities, one of 13 bidders. The short-term bonds, which are one-year notes, were purchased by Raymond James. 

The borrowing will cover about two years worth of capital projects, those ready to be bid out this year, and projects from prior years that were not ready in the past. 

State money for projectors at movie theaters

By Jill Terreri

While the Buffalo Common Council on Tuesday found out that it wouldn't be able to set aside city capital funds for downtown's only movie theater, New York state taxpayers will pitch in about $860,000 for similiar upgrades in at least 15 theaters all over the state, including North Tonawanda, Rochester, Binghamton, Jamestown, Little Falls, and even New York City.

The Regional Economic Development awards were announced today in Albany. It's not an accident there were so many awards for digital conversion projects. The state has a whole program to assist theaters in upgrading their equipment. 

Continue reading "State money for projectors at movie theaters" »

No city funds for new movie projectors

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council will not add $250,000 for new digital movie projectors for the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre Inc. to the 2014 capital budget when it meets at 2 p.m. today. 

Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said that the city's Law Department informed him that it could not "legally justify" the purchase. 

Smith had inquired as to whether the city could use capital budget funds on the Market Arcade, which is owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., a city-affiliated organization that keeps its books separate from the city. He wanted to add the expense to the capital budget but was waiting on an opinion from city lawyers as to whether the city could borrow for a property that it does not directly own. 

Continue reading "No city funds for new movie projectors" »

Back-and-forth on Brand-On

By Jill Terreri

The disagreement between the city and Brand-On Services over what the company owes under its contract to operate the Erie Basin Marina continues, and a deadline is looming. 

Tomorrow is the deadline for Brand-On to pay its invoice with the city, for $343,245. The company, run by the Wolasz family, has disputed that amount, and said it only owes $27,412. A meeting last week between the parties did not resolve the matter. 

The Common Council has urged that a compromise be reached, but that has not happened yet. Legal action by the city to recover the funds is possible. 

Continue reading "Back-and-forth on Brand-On" »

Rodriguez knocks Brown's 'penchant for secrecy'

By Jill Terreri

Republican Sergio Rodriguez seized on a story today in The Buffalo News about the city's decision to put up license plate readers at intersections around the city without the public's knowledge. 

"The Mayor and his appointed Police Commissioner took the liberty to install these controversial devices without so much as informing the Common Council members whose districts are impacted," Rodriguez said today.  "When the public's privacy is compromised, they have the right to know and the right to weigh in on the issue." 

Continue reading "Rodriguez knocks Brown's 'penchant for secrecy'" »

Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Final preparations are underway for the city's tax foreclosure auction, which starts tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., and lasts for three days, over at the convention center. A new list of 2,829 properties was posted on the city's web site this morning. The list has been cut from nearly 4,400 properties as people settle their tax bills or work out payment plans.  

The Common Council will also hold their pre-meeting caucus at 2 p.m. today, in which they'll discuss hiring DiDonato Associates for work on a second-floor addition to the Hatch Restaurant. They think the work - design, engineering, construction administration and inspection - can be done for $120,000. A request for bids to operate the Hatch is going out this month, and if the expansion is expedited, the city can realize more revenue from a new operator, according to a memo to lawmakers from City Engineer Peter Merlo. 

Continue reading "Today in City Hall" »

Schroeder doesn't want a compromise on marina

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's more generous attitude toward the operators of Brand-On Services, the company that owes the city nearly $350,000 in rent from the Erie Basin Marina, according to a recent audit, is not sitting well with Comptroller Mark Schroeder. 

“I sincerely hope that no members of the Common Council would even consider letting this unscrupulous contractor off the hook, but I certainly will not," Schroeder said in a statement. "Brand-On ripped off the taxpayers of Buffalo, and I will not rest until they pay the city back.”

Continue reading "Schroeder doesn't want a compromise on marina" »

UPDATED: Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning.

UPDATE: This morning, the city Planning Board met, and issued an approval for Uniland's project at the Delaware Court building at 250 Delaware Ave. 

The company is planning a 12-story tower for office space and a hotel, and a five-level parking garage in the back, on the Elmwood Avenue side. 

Uniland already has approval from the Preservation Board to tear down the existing building and build on the site, and will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval, which it expects to get, based on the company's previous appearance before the board.

Pending other approvals, the company expects to begin construction Jan. 1, but Uniland Vice President Michael Montante said that could change. 

The board voted 5-0 to approve the project. 

Continue reading "UPDATED: Today in City Hall" »

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |