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City Council passes budget, mayor dresses down dissenting lawmaker

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The Rochester City Council on Tuesday approved a $530 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1 that reduces funding to police and cuts the recruiting class of police officers in half.

The reductions, which included scaling back funding to the Rochester Police Department Budget by 4 percent, were a modest concession to activists in the Black Lives Matter movement who have been calling for a 50-percent cut to the department.

Council members voted 8-to-1, with member Mary Lupien, a supporter of halving the Police Department budget, voting no.

Her dissenting vote and statements she made during the meeting that the city spends more on the Rochester Police Department than public schools, libraries, and youth services combined, drew a sharp rebuke that cut along racial lines from Mayor Lovely Warren, who called the assertion “absurd.”

“Simply put, it is false,” Warren said. “You should have known it was false when you said it. That ignorance should be disqualifying.”

The city’s operating budget for the RPD is just shy of $96 million. The operating budget for schools, libraries, and youth services is collectively about $134 million. Lupien later issued a statement showing that she factored police pension costs into her calculation.



Warren said Lupien owed the community an apology and further dressed her down in casting Lupien, who is white, as a poseur savior for people of color. “Black and brown people don’t need a savior, we are capable of saving ourselves,” Warren said.

“I will not support the lies and exploitation of the black community,” Warren went on. “I live being black in America every day. My grandparents lived it, my parents lived it, my husband lived it, my daughter lived it. The one thing you will not teach me is how to survive being black.”

In addition to the baseline cut to police, the budget calls for allocating $750,000 the city expects to save by halving the new recruiting class to a taskforce that would reexamine policing in Rochester. The budget also removes student resource officers from city public schools.

“What we’re doing tonight is the beginning and not the end in our work redirecting funds from RPD into community oriented programs,” said Council member Mitch Gruber.

Police Chief La’Ron Singletary argued that the cuts to police will have a detrimental effect. He said the force currently has 16 vacant positions, and expects 38 retirements next year. The budget accounts to fill 19 positions, Singletary said.

“What does this mean for our community?” Singletary said. “Police services provided to this community will not be the same.”

Council members signaled they were serious about changing Rochester policing. Council member Jackie Ortiz called the taskforce a “transition team,” and urged that a new policing plan be drafted swiftly “We are not just speaking about change, we are serious about it,” Ortiz said.

Warren did not speak in favor of defunding the RPD. She pointed to the not-for-profit sector as needing to step up and address historical inequities throughout the city.

“In our community, the not-for-profit sector is a billion dollar industry,” Warren said. “If you have an issue in Rochester, we have a program that is allegedly supposed to fix it...this billion dollar industry is failing in our community.”

While echoing the sentiments of recent protests that changes need to be made, Warren did not specify what should be done in the world of policing, and defended Singletary and RPD.

Rather, she said a focus on initiatives that address housing, education, and other inequities lie at the core of meaningful change.

“I share the anger and frustration at the deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, and the countless others that have been murdered,” Warren said. “But the city of Rochester is an example of how we must respond.”

In other developments, the Council also voted down the budget for the City School District in a symbolic gesture. That budget will still take effect.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.

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