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Rochester City Council narrowly passes $675 million budget

The Rochester City Council approved the city's 2024 budget on Tuesday, June 20.
Gino Fanelli
The Rochester City Council approved the city's 2024 budget on Tuesday, June 20.

The Rochester City Council on Tuesday narrowly passed a $675 million budget package that increases funding for parks, calls for opening key new city positions, and allocates more money for police than ever.

The budget, which takes effect in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, is the second of Mayor Malik Evans’s term as mayor and continues some investments his administration made last year. For example, while there are no new increases to the Crisis Intervention Services Unit, anti-violence initiatives, and code enforcement, those programs all maintained their funding boosts from last year.

Additionally, the spending plan adds two new key positions: a director of emergency management with a salary of $123,300, and a manager of emerging initiatives salaried at $109,000. The former would help coordinate city disaster responses, while the latter would help steward projects like homeless outreach and the city’s cannabis infrastructure.

The budget also raises the Rochester Police Department coffers to $109 million, accounting for a collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Rochester Police Locust Club earlier this year.

The budget passed by a vote of 5-4, with Councilmembers Stanley Martin, Kim Smith, Jose Peo, and Mary Lupien voting no. In voting no, Lupien said she was disappointed that the budget had remained mostly intact from what the mayor had proposed.

“I don’t think it should be a personal affront if Council has its own priorities, because we hear from the community all the time,” Lupien said.

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One amendment was brought to the floor by Councilmember Stanley Martin, who proposed steering funds unspent by Council to bring the Police Accountability Board’s budget back up to $5 million. The PAB saw a $1.7 million cut, based on a budget proposal made by its interim Executive Director Sherry Cowart-Walker. The PAB budget is the only area of the city budget which saw a significant reduction.

The $5 million budget was originally proposed by former Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds and approved by former Mayor Lovely Warren in 2021 and again by Evans in 2022, but the organization has never spent more than half of its funding. The motion failed by a vote of 3-6, with Martin, Smith, and Lupien voting yes.

The budget adoption denoted a clear divide in a City Council that has been marked for the past year by infighting and rivalry between more progressive and conservative factions in the all-Democrat body.

Councilmember Michael Patterson, in voting yes, noted that City Council is fractured, but said he believed the body was working for the best interest of the community.

“It seems we fight a lot more than we used to, and we do, because we disagree greatly,” Patterson said. “...But overall, the process, the work that we do, the commitment we all have to this city, is not to be questioned.”

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.