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Government

A divided Rochester City Council passes $561 million budget

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File photo/CITY
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Rochester City Hall

A divided Rochester City Council voted Tuesday by a margin of 5 to 4 to adopt a $561 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The spending plan, which would take effect July 1, reallocates funding from the Rochester Police Department, grants $5 million to Police Accountability Board, expands the city’s new Person in Crisis (PIC) team, and earmarks $1 million for implementing recommendations from the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), among other things.

Councilmembers Mary Lupien, Mitch Gruber, Jose Peo, and Malik Evans, who is challenging Mayor Lovely Warren for her seat, voted against the spending plan.

During the Council meeting, members found themselves torn. Lupien and Gruber said they believed the budget did not go far enough in reinvesting funds from the Police Department into other critical city resources.

“We continue to ask critical services to do more with less, and get less from those that have more to give,” Gruber said.

Gruber argued that the budget failed to implement meaningful police reforms, such as those spelled out in a plan the city prepared in response to a state-wide executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He also said that it did not provide adequate funding for libraries and youth services. The budget, for example, chops $100,600 from the Central Library and cuts one librarian job.

Gruber lamented the budget does not go “far enough or fast enough.”

“Our rec centers and libraries are hubs of the community, and provided stability in a time when school doors were closed,” Gruber said. “I want to fund them accordingly.”

Lupien attempted to submit an amendment to the budget during the meeting that would have cut the budget of the Police Department by an additional $5 million. The approved budget calls for providing the department with $90.4 million, a decrease of about 4.7 percent from the previous year. The cut was achieved primarily by shifting oversight of animal services to the Department of Recreation and Human Services.

“Now is the time to create a vision of public safety that works for all of us,” Lupien said. “Our goal in Rochester should be to create a system that keeps every single person in our community safe.”

She also proposed cutting the Police Department's recruiting class by 30 people and reducing the patrol division by attrition, then directing those funds into other areas, including $1.2 million to the city's new Person in Crisis Team and $1.6 million toward the created Office of Neighborhood Safety.

Under the budget, the PIC Team would increase to 40 staffers from 14.

The idea of pulling funding from the Police Department at a time when violence in the city is on the rise outraged Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot. This year to date, there have been 26 homicides, according to the Police Department.

“Do I think we should be cutting the recruit class now, when crime is up more than ever before?” Lightfoot said. “That is ridiculous, that is absolutely ridiculous.”

Evans expressed dismay over the budgetary process, saying that his colleagues proposed too much too late in the budget dance to ensure a fruitful dialogue.

“I’m not happy that those conversations did not happen this year, I think we could have made some of those changes,” Evans said. “Councilmember Gruber brought up some points, and I only first heard those yesterday. Councilmember Lupien brought up some points, and I only heard those recently.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.