BUFFALO, N.Y. – Like many other cities, crumbling under the weight of job loss and a shrinking manufacturing tax base, Buffalo faces massive budget deficits.

With no federal or state help in sight, Buffalo has been under the thumb of a control board since July 2003. The Buffalo Fiscal Stability authority, a New York State Public Benefit Corporation, was created with the sole purpose of absolute oversight and control of city budget, finance, and services. Which begs the question, in whose interest does it operate?

The control board is comprised of nine appointees, most representing corporate and banking interests. The members include Alair Townsend, publisher of Crain’s New York Business, a weekly business publication; Robert G. Wilmers, president and CEO of M&T Bank; Robert M. Pirtle, president of Delphi Harrison Thermal System and vice president of Delphi Corp.; Thomas Baker, executive director of the John R. Oishei Foundation (closely linked to the Trico Products Corp.); and Joel Giambra, Erie County executive.

Giambra is well known for merging city and county services, privatizing, union busting, and blatant racism. His schemes have faced opposition from city residents, and the city’s Common Council. At the time of the board’s initial formation, representation from organized labor was rebuffed, creating concern early on about the nature of the board.

The budget deficits are enormous, and projected to grow higher in coming years. The combined deficit stands at $24.1 million, and is projected to grow to $96.3 million in 2004-2005, $151.9 million in 2005-2006, and as high as $198.4 million in 2007-2008.

The control board has ultimate decision-making power in all budgetary matters. Its powers include authority over police and fire departments, schools, city contracts and collective bargaining agreements. The board has the power to impose hiring and wage freezes, salary, and benefit caps. This has meant an unprecedented attack on teachers, firefighters, police, city workers, and the services they provide.

The city’s school district has already seen layoffs, school closures, and consolidation of needed services such as academic intervention and special education. According to the control board’s reports, this trend will continue.

This year 218 teachers, 62 aides, 20 clerical workers, and 17 administrative positions will be lost. Four schools will be closed, along with one “partial shut-down.” Layoffs and closures are projected to continue through the next two years, totaling a 28 percent reduction of school workers. Class size will increase and a child’s right to quality public education is further diluted.

In addition to cuts in education, the control board is pushing forward with cuts and consolidations in other vital city services. About 140 city firefighters will face layoffs, and three station houses will be closed by 2006. City firefighters have been without a contract since July 2002. The police department moved to one-person patrol cars; towing and storage will be privatized.

Trash collection fees will be raised by more than 9 percent. Water rates will also see an increase of approximately 10 percent. Other city services will be merged with the county, including assessment, collections, audit, purchasing, and parks and recreation.

President of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 Joe Foley recently helped to answer the question – in whose interest – when he said, “The purpose of the Control Board is very clear: secure the money for the banking industry and the crumbs that are left over can be given to the people.”

The author can be reached at smitgl40@mail.buffalostate.edu.

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