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Welcome to the Buffalo City Comptroller’s webpage. This site is a valuable resource for a wealth of information on the financial affairs of the City. The Comptroller is the City’s top fiscal watchdog, responsible for ensuring that your tax dollars are spent wisely, efficiently, and in ways that make your neighborhood a better place to live. This Department is responsible for all accounting services for the city, in addition to conducting audits to eliminate waste, fraud, and mismanagement in city government. It also is responsible for managing the city's investments and selling its municpal bonds.
Thanks for visiting the “digital” Comptroller’s office. If there is any financial information about the city that you can’t find on this webpage, please feel free to contact me. I am honored to serve the citizens of Buffalo, and privileged for the opportunity to protect their tax dollars as City Comptroller.
Arbitration panel awards Buffalo $200,000 as a result
of Schroeder's audit of the Erie Basin Marina
Arbitrators confirm city ownership of floating docks
An arbitration panel has awarded the City of Buffalo $198,144, plus nine percent interest, as a result of Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder's audit that found that the former operator of the Erie Basin Marina had been underpaying its rent.
"This unscrupulous vendor thought they could get away with shortchanging taxpayers," said Schroeder whose audits exposed underpayments in every year from 2005-2013. "Not on my watch."
The interest on the arbitration award began accruing on January 30 at the daily rate of $48.85, bringing the total owed to the city to more than $204,500. The panel also confirmed the city's full ownership of the floating docks, despite Brand-On's claims of ownership.
"These docks would have cost $455,00 to replace, and generate annual revenue of $115,000," said Schroeder. "That is a significant victory for the city."
The other $44,014 was a result of underpayment of base sales, which includes sales from the Hatch restaurant and the ship store.
Schroeder's audit recommended that the city split up the Hatch and marina operations, and find new operators for both. The city followed the recommendations and two new vendors, Mollyworld for the Hatch and Smith Boys for the marina, began in 2014.
"Our audit of the 2014 season found that the city received 77 percent more revenue from the Hatch under the new vendor," said Schroeder.
Schroeder puts financials in user-friendly format
Comptroller issues Popular Annual Financial Report
In an effort to share Buffalo’s financial information in a user-friendly format, Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder has issued the city’s 2014 Popular Annual Financial Report.
“Every year we issue our audited financial statements in a 168-page report known as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,” said Schroeder. “Without an accounting or financial background, it can be daunting for the average citizen to interpret the vast amounts of data in that report. So we took the most important information and presented it in a clear, concise way.”
In addition to financial data, the Popular Annual Financial Report contains information on the city’s demographics, economic development, business climate, and higher education system.
Last year’s Popular Annual Financial Report, the City’s first ever, received an Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Annual Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) of the United States and Canada. Schroeder said he has submitted 2014 Popular Annual Financial Report to the GFOA for consideration for the same award.
“The report gives a total picture, not just for residents, but also outsiders who may be looking to relocate or invest in Buffalo,” said Schroeder. “We sell millions of dollars’ worth of bonds every year. This document will help us show the bond market that it is a great time to invest in Buffalo.”
CPA firm gives Schroeder high marks on audit process
Peer review audit says Schroeder’s department consists of “
experienced, competent, and qualified professionals”
Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder hired a firm of certified public accountants to review his audit team, known as a peer review, which found that Schroeder’s staff is made up of “experienced, competent, and qualified professionals,” who are “operating effectively.”
“It is always a good idea to bring in someone from the outside to take an independent and objective look at the audit process,” said Schroeder. “It is actually required by the charter, but to my knowledge, it has never been done before.”
Section 7-10 of the Buffalo City Charter requires that the comptroller have his department “reviewed by a professional, non-partisan objective organization utilizing nationally recognized guidelines.” After a competitive bidding process, Schroeder selected Amato Fox & Company Certified Public Accountants to conduct the peer review audit, which found that the department is “operating effectively.”
Schroeder credited the leadership of City Auditor Kevin Kaufman, who is also a certified public accountant. The audit report from Amato Fox & Company found that Kaufman’s “knowledge, drive, and energy level are a positive compliment to the department.”
“I have always known we had a great staff in Department of Audit and Control, but it is reassuring to have a team of professionals validate their excellent work,” said Schroeder.
Standard & Poor’s upgrades Buffalo to “A+”
“A+” rating by Fitch and “A1” by Moody’s are maintained
Citing recent economic development and “strong financial management,” Standard & Poor’s has upgraded the City of Buffalo’s bond rating to “A+” in its rating report released today.
“We are pleased that Standard & Poor’s has recognized the progress the City of Buffalo has made, both financially and economically,” said Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. “This is an exciting time for Buffalo, and Wall Street has taken notice.”
Schroeder took analysts from Standard & Poor’s on a tour of Buffalo last May – with stops at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the waterfront, and Larkinville – in an effort to showcase the city’s economic development projects.
“I wanted the analysts to see first-hand the momentum our economy is experiencing,” said Schroeder, who enlisted Congressman Brian Higgins, Howard Zemsky, and Patrick Whalen, chief operating officer of the medical campus, as tour guides. “I believe they left here impressed with the direction the city is headed.”
In addition to noting the city’s “very strong reserve position,” Standard & Poor’s pointed out that “a number of development projects centering on health care and high-tech manufacturing are currently in progress…and could add to the city’s employment, tax base, and income levels in the long term.”
Schroeder also took Moody’s on a similar tour last year, and that rating agency affirmed its “A1” rating in its report released earlier this week. The city also maintained its “A+” rating with Fitch in its latest report.
The comptroller said the Buffalo’s ratings will work to the taxpayers’ advantage when he goes to the bond market next month to finance the city’s capital projects.
“We sell our bonds in a competitive bidding process,” said Schroeder. “Better ratings mean lower interest costs for taxpayers.”
The “A+” rating from Standard & Poor's is one notch higher than the “A” the city has received the previous three years.
“This upgrade represents the respect we have for city residents and sends a clear signal to the business community, the financial markets, and our many other partners that Buffalo is strong and getting even stronger,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown, noting his administration’s continued commitment to prudent and conservative budgeting.
“We are creating investor confidence in Buffalo with strategic investments and I’m pleased that Standard & Poor’s has recognized our diligent efforts,” Brown added. “The upgrade reinforces the message of positive change in our city that includes $4.3 billion in new economic development activity. Buffalo is ready for the next wave of investment, job creation and growth.”
Schroeder selects firm to assist in street light audit
Buffalo-based Troy & Banks is national leader in utility audits
With roughly 32,000 street lights, electric bills totaling more than $16 million per year, and a complex set of laws and regulations governing utilities, Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder knew that an audit of the city’s electricity costs would require some outside help.
“With the manpower and expertise required for this type of audit, we knew we needed a firm with extensive experience a solid track record for getting refunds for its clients,” said Schroeder.
After a competitive bidding process that resulted in proposals from across the nation, Schroeder found the winning bid in his own backyard. Buffalo-based Troy & Banks, a national leader in utility audits, has performed more than 10,000 utility audits in all 50 states. Its client list includes the United States Postal Service, M&T Bank, the University at Buffalo, Amtrak, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Proctor & Gamble, the New York State Department of Transportation, New York Stock Exchange, General Electric, and Calspan.
But it was the company’s experience in Buffalo that really impressed Schroeder.
“Troy & Banks efforts in the 1990s led to a $1.5 million settlement with the city’s electricity provider,” said Schroeder. “This company knows the city’s electrical infrastructure and the laws governing it.”
Equally impressive as its experience was Troy & Banks price.
“We don’t pay a dime unless we get money back from National Grid,” said Schroeder. “The city only pays for these services if a refund is recouped or a reduction on future billing is achieved.”
According to the agreement, the city will pay 33 percent of refunds up to $100,000 and 25 percent of refunds from $100,001 and above. For any reductions in future costs resulting from Troy & Banks, Inc. analysis, the fee is 25 percent of the amount saved each month for 18 months.
“Troy & Banks usually charges its clients 50 percent of refunds, but our competitive bidding process resulted in the company offering an even better deal for the taxpayers,” said Schroeder.
The comptroller said that he will ensure these types of audits are performed periodically in the future, as there is six-year statute of limitations on overbillings.
“We don’t want to miss out on refunds down the road, so we will make sure this type of audit is done at least every six years,” said Schroeder.
Schroeder credited Common Council members Richard Fontana and Christopher Scanlon for initiating the audit by sponsoring a resolution earlier this year. He also thanked public works commissioner Steve Stepniak for his assistance throughout the process.
“This is a team effort, and we are all committed to making sure the city gets a fair shake on its utility bills,” said Schroeder.
Schroeder uses innovative approach to reduce
interest costs on capital borrowing
Short term notes, reduced borrowing will yield savings for city
“I found that the city borrowed more money for capital projects than it was prepared to spend,” said Schroeder. “This resulted in unnecessary interest costs and millions of dollars in unspent funds that increase our debt burden without providing any benefit to our citizens.”
So Schroeder reduced the city’s maximum borrowing amount by 15 percent – from $22 million to $19 million – and made it clear if a project is not ready to begin, then the debt for that project should not be sold until it is.
“In past years, a limit was set, and the city borrowed to that limit,” said Schroeder. “Not only did I reduce the limit, but I made the starting point zero dollars, and would only increase that amount if I was comfortable that each project was ready to begin.”
So when it came time to go to the market to borrow for the city’s $21.3 million capital plan, Schroeder had determined that he would borrow only $17.8 million this year.
“The other $3.5 million in projects are not going away,” said Schroeder. “We just aren’t going to borrow for them and incur interest until we are certain that they are ready to go. It could be next year, or the year after. It will be when we are confident that the money is ready to be spent.”
Schroeder, however, wasn’t done changing the city’s approach to capital borrowing.
“We decided that doing short term borrowing – known as Bond Anticipation Notes – could save the city even more money on interest costs,” said Schroeder.
Bond Anticipation Notes, known as BANs, are issued in advance of a normal bond sale and are paid back within a year of being issued.
“The BANs make the $17.8 million in capital funds available immediately, at a lower interest rate than a conventional bond sale,” said Schroeder.
The rate Schroeder ended up getting on the BAN sale, 0.337 percent, was even lower than he was expecting.
“We had eight investors bidding, and the lowest bidder, TD Securities, offered an interest rate at roughly a third of a percent,” said Schroeder, pointing out that Moody’s rated the BAN sale at MIG1, the highest possible rating for short-term borrowing. “Needless to say, the taxpayers of Buffalo got the best deal possible.”
Schroeder saves $11 million in latest debt refinancing
In less than a year, Schroeder has saved $62 million by refinancing old debt
Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder’s refinancing of school reconstruction debt will save more than $11 million in interest costs, the latest of six refinancing deals since last April, totaling more than $62 million in savings.
“Over the past year, we have been able to take advantage of market conditions and the city’s improved bond rating to save taxpayers a great deal of money,” said Schroeder. “The less money we spend on interest costs, the more we can spend on providing services to our citizens and making capital improvements to our city.”
The refinancing of 2009 debt from the Buffalo Schools Reconstruction Project reduced interest rates by more than two percentage points, from 5.61 percent to 3.32 percent. Schroeder was expecting to save $9.8 million on the refinancing, but by the time the deal was finalized, the total savings jumped to more than $11.1 million.
Last week, Schroeder sold a bond that saves taxpayers $807,394 by refinancing debt from 2004, dropping interest rates from 5.46 percent to 2.96 percent. A refinancing of the school reconstruction debt last April resulted in savings of $27.9 million, while three other refinancing deals in 2012 yielded more than $22.2 million in savings.
Schroeder unveils Watchdog Hotline
Citizens encouraged to report waste, fraud, and mismanagement in city government
Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder unveiled the Watchdog Hotline, a phone number and website dedicated to exposing waste, fraud, and mismanagement in city government.
“Citizens and city employees who see their tax dollars being wasted or stolen can use the Watchdog Hotline to alert our office,” said Schroeder, who heads the department responsible for rooting out wrongdoing in City Hall. “They don’t have to give their name, but they should provide as many details as possible to help our auditors begin an investigation.”
Citizens can call 851-8779 or use the watchdog website to anonymously report wrongdoing.
“Whether it is quarters from a parking meter, or a sophisticated embezzlement scheme, it’s taxpayer money and we need to know about it,” said the comptroller.
“Once we get the information, our auditors will step in to restore the public trust.”
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Phone: (716) 851-5255
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Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios