Apr 30


Buffalo tax hike coming

Before Mayor Byron Brown's big budget reveal, the Common Council cleared the way for a significant increase in the property tax levy.
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

This column was excerpted from Investigative Post’s weekly “PoliticalPost” newsletter. Subscribe here and get “PoliticalPost” in your inbox every Wednesday morning.

How much more will Buffalo property owners pay in taxes in the coming year?

Much will be revealed when Mayor Byron Brown unveils his budget proposal Wednesday during his State of the City speech at Shea’s 710 Theatre. 

But we know a tax hike will be part of the bargain. The mayor and the Common Council for months have been discussing it as an inevitability, given that federal pandemic aid, which has kept the city’s precarious finances above water for the past three years, will soon disappear.

And Tuesday the Council passed a measure permitting the city to surpass the state-mandated 2 percent cap on property tax increases. The vote was 6-3, with the University District’s Rasheed Wyatt, Niagara’s David Rivera, and North’s Joe Golombek opposed. The three legislators who voted no objected to overriding the tax cap before they’d even seen the mayor’s proposed budget. 

Debate was heated, particularly between Wyatt and Council President Chris Scanlon, who submitted the resolution last Thursday.

Buffalo Common Council President Chris Scanlon.

I’ve been told the Brown administration floated various scenarios with Council leadership over the past month, contemplating tax hikes between 6 and 10 percent. The Council, in turn, hopes to reduce whatever increase Brown proposes to between 5 and 6 percent. 

Raising taxes is never a win for the politicians compelled to do it. (Check out the tax rebellion in Amherst, then ask yourself why Brown has been reluctant to raise taxes in Buffalo, even as the city’s costs and revenues grew ever more out of balance.) Reducing an expected tax increase —  say, from a proposed 10 percent to 5.5 percent — could mitigate the political damage.

Not that most Council members are in immediate need of political cover: All nine won new, four-year terms last year. If they’re going to raise property taxes dramatically, now’s the time.

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Only Scanlon has an election looming. For Scanlon, who wants to run for mayor next year, cutting a proposed tax increase nearly in half is as close to a political win as the city’s dire finances are likely to permit.

The current budget, which runs through June 30, included a 4.7 percent increase in property taxes — just the third time the mayor and the Council raised property taxes since Brown took office in 2006. The current budget also included a hike in garbage pickup fees.

The city comptroller projects the current budget year’s expenses will finish at more than $633 million, which is $10.6 million higher than initially budgeted. The budget is balanced with the use of almost $50 million in American Rescue Plan funds, according to the comptroller’s report, including interest that federal pandemic aid has accrued while the city determined how to spend it.

The Council will meet in special session at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to formally accept Brown’s budget proposal. Budget hearings begin May 2 and a public hearing is scheduled for May 15 at 5 p.m. in Council chambers. The Council has three weeks to accept or amend the mayor’s proposal.  

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