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City Council approves Rochester's budget; says no to RCSD spending plan


Rochester City Council approved its budget in an 8 to 1 vote Tuesday night with Councilmember Mary Lupien voting no. 

The $530 million budget includes a nearly 4 percent cut to the Rochester police department’s $95 million allocation. It also diverted $130,000 in police overtime used for special events into the department of recreation and youth services. Council also cut the number of incoming police academy recruits of 38 in half.

Prior to the vote, numerous residents spoke to City Council sharing their opinions on calls to defund the Rochester police department. Many of them, who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement,  are asking Council to cut the department funding in half.

Some cities, including Minneapolis, have taken steps to do that or even more. Rochester resident Kelly Cheatle wants Rochester to be next.           

“If you don’t invest in what truly keeps the community safer,” said Cheatle. “The next time an officer from the RPD fails to protect and serve and injures or god forbid kills one of us. I’m going to be knocking on your office door to ask what your answer was.”

Other residents including McCoy Douglas who lives on Clifford Avenue asked city council not to cut RPD at all.

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“My first call to 911 should I become a crime victim and I would look to police to protect me,” wrote Douglas.

Councilmember Mary Lupien voted against the budget because she wants a 50% cut,  arguing that the city funds police with more dollars than anything else. 

“Our police  budget is 95 million and adding in their pensions,” said Lupien. “We spend more on police than our schools, libraries and youth services combined. This budget does not reflect a firm commitment to reimage our public safety.” 

Mayor Lovely Warren pushed back on Lupien’s claim.

“I don’t know if it was ignorance or malice,” Warren said. “But the one thing it doesn’t do is bring concrete solutions to the table. Those spreading falsehoods choose to incite, it reminds me of what my community has been facing for generations. "

“One thing our city doesn’t need is any member of this council failing to speak the truth,” Warren continued. “Particularly anyone who stated that the city funds the police more than anyone else. Simply put it is false and you should have known it was false when you said it. That ignorance should be disqualifying.”

Warren read off the names of the 14 homicide victims in Rochester so far this year saying they should be remembered and expressed strong support for the police.

Lupien didn't appreciate being dismissed by Warren.

"It's easy to dismiss my voice as lies and my race as a white savior but I'm echoing the words of people of color in our community who are crying out for change," said Lupien.

Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said making a major cut police would disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic people and the department’s effort to diversify its force over the last few years. In union jobs, the last hired are the first fired. He also objected to the first 4% cut that Council approved.

“Less officers on the road means less officers to take the next call for service, and less time available to spend on each call,” said Singletary. “Additionally, the proposed additional reduction in staffing could have a negative effect on community policing. One of the primary principles of community policing is for officers to develop a relationship in the neighborhoods they serve and to address neighborhood concerns."

Councilmember Mitch Gruber said that those are protesting should be patient as Council tackles this complicated subject. They’re forming a taskforce to address reimaging the department in the coming months.

After approving, the city budget, council promptly rejected the city school district’s spending plan with a 1-7-1 vote. Councilmember LaShay Harris, who works for the district, abstained and Malik Evans voted for the measure. Council’s vote is largely symbolic, since the spending plan approved by the Rochester Board of Education last month will now become next year’s budget.

Evans, who is the former president of Rochester Board of Education, said the decision was about the fiscal health of the city.

“Unfortunately we do have to deal with any consequences with how they handle their finances and for that reason I will be voting in favor of introductory number 238,” said Evans.

Gruber expressed a lack of trust in those who put together the spending plan. 

“There’s no way that I can possibly vote for a budget that was ultimately created by Terry Dade, while he was looking for another job and by Bob Franklin, while he was looking for another job and I don’t believe for a moment that this budget offers the superintendent or the monitor an opportunity to be as successful as we want them to be,” said Gruber.

Superintendent Terry Dade, left the district for a superintendent job downstate in under a year. A month later, Franklin, announced his intentions to rejoin Monroe County as Chief Financial Officer.  He joined the district last fall. 

Councilmember Jackie Ortiz said she voted no because of the district’s cuts in multilingual education.

“I have the the BLL, bilingual education multilingual departments decimated over the last year and a half with still no solid plan for a population that represents 33% of the district and growing and unfortunately at this time it's just unacceptable to me,” said Ortiz.

Councilmember Michael Patterson expressed disappointment that the district couldn’t answer simple questions about the budget.

“A no vote sends a clear message,” said Patterson. “That we are watching. We are not happy. We’re not satisfied with what we’ve been getting. We expect better.”

Council President Loretta Scott cited the comptroller’s report on the budget as the reason for her no vote.

“The budget is imbalanced. They did better but they’re still in bad shape,” said Scott. 

The report said that the district, who asked $10 million in cash capital requirements to be waived in order to balance its budget, would likely have to do that repeatedly in the future unless it restructures. 

Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot, who also voted against last year’s RCSD budget, said he needed to see more evidence of financial improvement.

“To be a fiscally responsible leader in this community,” said Lightfoot. “I can’t say that I’m voting yes on something that is financially unstable.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.