Buffalo Common Council members on Tuesday put some new rules into the city's budget practices, revolving around the municipal piggy bank. The city is tightening its financial controls during these hard COVID-19 times.
Governments are required to maintain reserves, with Albany saying how much that should be. The state Comptroller's Office monitors those reserves. When the auditors come through, they often note the piggy bank is much larger than it has to be. That means taxes were probably higher than they needed to be.
Buffalo has been different, with its piggy bank eroded to balance budgets without raising taxes. The Common Council on Tuesday approved a new policy to add to reserves.
Councilmember Mitch Nowakowski said COVID shows reserves are necessary.
"Why we need to have a fund balance policy, because if we have cash on hand, we can use the money in our unexpended fund balance without having to go to the bond market, which also makes the timeliness of projects be expedited faster," Nowakowski said. "That's why we really need to make sure that we have funds we can use and utilize in times when we need to have capital projects or emergencies."
The push was led by the Fillmore District's Nowakowski, East Side Councilmember Bryan Bollman and Finance Committee Chair Rasheed Wyatt of the University District. Nowakowski said the change will help the city's credit rating.
"Have even told us that we need to implement this policy and that really is a requirement," he said. "Many of our agencies have even cited the lack of this policy not existing in our ratings report."
There were negotiations with the mayor's office about what the rules would be. Agreed to were a mandatory 45 days of spending in reserves and a 60-day notice if the mayor wants to use the reserves to balance operating budgets.
Masten District Councilmember Ulysees Wingo voted against the measure because negotiations are continuing and there may be changes before next spring when the rule changes are used in the budget process.