Amber Slichta, a city homeowner, suggested that Buffalo follow the example of Cleveland, with a "smart growth" initiative. Cleveland bought houses from people at more than market value "to encourage them to move to less-desirable neighborhoods and fix houses up." She said that this could help to increase the city's tax base. "I love living in the city. I want to help see it work." Loretta Renford of the Commission on Citizens' Rights said that students are failing because "something is desperately wrong" and that city schools are not providing their students with a quality education.
Eva Doyle, a teacher, said that "Buffalo does not need more cuts to education." She said that she has spent hundreds of dollars out of her own pocket for supplies, such as microscopes, compasses, and magnifying glasses, so that her students could experience hands-on learning. "We cannot afford to lose programs and teachers. The children are the wealth of a nation."
Lawrence Brose, executive director of the CEPA Gallery, talked about the "importance of culturals and the arts to the fiscal recovery of this city." He criticized the city government's sudden de-funding of cultural programs in mid-year as "morally reprehensible." He said that budget cuts forced him to reduce his staff from nine to three and that the laid-off staff members have since relocated to other cities. Buffalo is suffering from an "incredible brain drain," he said, adding, "I'm looking at my options, too." Marlies Wesolowski of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY focused on block grant distribution. "We know first hand the problems that the city is facing," she said, but added, "The city needs to come up with a fair and equitable process for distributing block grant funds, with a credible evaluation process. Right now, it's not."
Charles Hendler, interim executive director of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, said that Western New York "needs an aggressive approach to sprawl." And, on the topic of building inspections, he said, "Building inspecting shifted from trained inspectors to part-time firefighters. Don't do 'pennywise cuts.'" Joe Foley, president of the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Union criticized the city for failing to negotiate a new contract. "We understand the economic situation of the city. We do care. We are part of the city and we risk our lives daily." He said that the city's plan "does not address safety and will not work without union involvement... If the city would negotiate, an agreement could be reached in 24 hours and that it would 'guarantee great savings.'" Retired engineer R. H. Cutter said that many cities and towns in New York State face problems similar to Buffalo's. He said that he is "encouraged by the outspokenness of people," but added that the way that city government is run "hasn't changed much since the days of King Arthur and the Knights."
At the September 10 BFSA meeting, Sheffer offered a report on the forum. He said that 250 persons attended the forum, and that 54 spoke, while another 75 submitted written comments, either as a hard copy or via the internet. He said that the comments revealed several common themes. Among them were suggestions for revenue enhancement, such as a commuter tax, an income transfer tax, and a bottle fee. It was also suggested that property tax exemptions be decreased. He said that questions were raised as to whether having firefighters check for building code violations violated the Taylor law. And, he said that many people talked about education, saying that "the answer to budget dilemmas should not be on the backs of city students." BFSA President Thomas Baker said, "You and your team did a professional job on Saturday. We will take this under advisement." In the near future, the videotapes of the forum will be aired on public access television, Sheffer said.
The next BFSA meeting will be on September 15. At that time, the authority will be required to either approve or deny the city's four-year plan. by Alice E. Gerard
On September 6, I went to the Erie Community College's City Campus to listen to local residents comment on the four-year plan that the city was required to submit to the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority on September 2. The forum, planned and organized by the UB Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth, was required under provisions of the state legislation that had created the authority in July.
According to John B. Scheffer, the institute's executive director, the purpose of this day-long forum was to collect the views of city residents, which would then be recorded and summarized for the BFSA in time for its September 10 meeting.