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Jill Terreri Ramos
By Jill Terreri Ramos September 24, 2021

Budget fluctuated for some city services, but no evidence of defunding

If Your Time is short

  • Funding for youth and senior services are all higher, even adjusted for inflation, than when Mayor Byron Brown took office. 
  • There were fluctuations over time in these budgets. 
  • The city's outdoor pools were closed over the summer. 

Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton said that under Mayor Byron Brown, the city has closed pools and defunded community centers as well as services for older and younger residents. 

"We’ve been defunding community centers, our pools were closed this summer, we’ve been defunding senior and youth services," Walton said at a debate with Brown on Sept. 9.

We wondered if the city had, in fact, defunded community services since Brown took office in 2006 and closed pools this past summer. 

Walton’s analysis

We approached Walton’s campaign, which said that the city’s spending on critical services in the latest budget had not returned to prior levels. 

The campaign analyzed budgets during Brown’s tenure and based its findings on budget figures that had been adjusted for inflation, according to campaign spokesman Jesse Myerson. In other words, did the funding in each area keep pace with inflation during Brown’s tenure? 

For youth services, the Walton campaign’s analysis shows a 20 percent decrease in funding between 2017-18, the fiscal year when funding was highest - and 2021-22. 

But from Brown’s first budget in 2006-07 to 2021-22, inflation-adjusted funding for youth services increased by 122 percent. The funding did not steadily increase throughout Brown’s tenure. As Walton’s campaign points out, the highest funding year was in 2017-18, and it has decreased by $678,492 since then. 

For senior services, the Walton campaign says that funding decreased by 16 percent between the highest year total and now, when budget figures are adjusted for inflation. 

But using the inflation-adjusted data from the Walton campaign, spending on senior services increased by 21 percent between Brown’s first budget and his 2021-22 budget. Spending in this category fluctuated over time, and the year with the highest appropriations in this category was in 2020-21. 

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For community centers, funding is difficult to discern for various reasons, Myerson said. But Myerson said some funding flows through the city’s parks and recreation facilities and activities budget, and in 2021-22, appropriations in this category are 6 percent less than they were in 2017-18, when funding was highest. 

The parks and recreation budget remains higher in 2021-22 than in 2010-11, after the city took back control of city parks from Erie County. 

City responds

The Brown administration said that since Brown took office, funding for community centers, pools, rinks, splash pads and senior and youth service programming has increased by millions of dollars. 

Funding has not decreased in the city budget for two indoor pools and six youth-focused community centers, said Donna Estrich, commissioner of administration, finance, policy and urban affairs. Covid-19 closed facilities last year - not lack of funding. 

The city did cut funding for outdoor pools, Estrich said, because the city anticipated that regular operations would not be feasible, both because of Covid-19 safety concerns and a national lifeguard shortage. The city reopened its indoor pools at varying capacities beginning in May, but has had trouble staffing them, despite a pay rate of $15 an hour, she said. 

In July, well before their Sept. 9 debate, Brown proposed spending $20 million in American Rescue Plan stimulus funds for the renovation of four community centers. The Common Council approved the stimulus plan Aug. 26. 

Our ruling

Walton said Brown defunded certain city services: community centers, youth and senior programs, and that he shut down pools. Her comments could give the impression that Brown has methodically cut funding in these areas to levels not seen since before he was in office, or that he has cut funding in one area to spend it on another. There have been some budget fluctuations over Brown’s tenure, including years when funding decreased, but even adjusted for inflation, spending in these categories is higher in the 2021-22 budget than when he took office. 

It is true the city's outdoor pools were closed this past summer. 

We rate this claim Mostly False, because while it contains an element of truth, it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. 


Our Sources

YouTube, video, Buffalo mayoral candidate debate, via WGRZ-TV, Sept. 9, 2021. Accessed Sept. 12, 2021. 

Statement, Donna Estrich, City of Buffalo commissioner, administration, finance, policy and urban affairs, Sept. 21, 2021. 

Statement, data, Jesse Myerson, spokesperson, India Walton campaign, Sept. 20, 2021. 

WKBW-TV, story, "Why are so many public pools closed?" June 29. 2021. Accessed Sept. 13, 2021. 

WIVB-TV, story, "Buffalo outdoor pools closed all summer due to lifeguard shortage," July 1, 2021. Accessed Sept. 13, 2021. 

City of Buffalo adopted budget 2021-22. Accessed Sept. 22, 2021. 
WKBW-TV, via YouTube, "Walton addresses stance on "Defund the Police", June 30, 2021. Accessed Sept. 22, 2021.

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Budget fluctuated for some city services, but no evidence of defunding

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