I've still had no luck catching the city manager or police lieutenant — both very busy men, it would seem. Must be tough business running a city and keeping it safe. I wouldn't doubt it. Fortunately, City Councilman Bob Bialkowski got back to me. We had a chat this morning about his thoughts on what's going on in the city these days.
Bob's a former crop-dusting pilot, "semi-retired" now, he says. That means he has "only one" airplane, from which he does aerial photography — his current business. He's been flying since he was a kid.
On his Web site bio, Bob mentions "community improvement" under his special interests. So I thought I'd ask him about that. So I ask him, quite simply: what needs to be improved, and how do we improve it?
"We've got some pockets of decline," he says. "We have to change some of our zoning laws, change code enforcement. We need to try to improve these areas."
That means public education on how to properly dispose of yard waste, for example. Get the word out to people, whether it's through the newspaper, through our site, in pamphlets included with the water bill — people need to be more aware, says Bob.
He says that "entire neighborhoods are a problem — trash all over, abandoned cars in the back yard." Head over to the southside of the city, to Jackson Street, over near Watson and Thorpe streets, State Street, and you'll see what he's talking about.
"But you can pick any street," he says.
Meanwhile, he goes on, the city has a tough time keeping up with all the violators. The code enforcement staff is minimal. Absentee landlords know how to work the system to "avoid" making the necessary improvements for "four or five months" at a stretch. Add to that the increasing crime rate — Bialkowski says the city department is 300 calls above their total for this time last year, which set records itself — and you've got a situation that could get out of control fast.
Nor is that all. Bob also takes issue with the taxes. They're too high, he says.
"Every year, more property in the city gets taken off the tax roll because of non-profits and tax exempts," he says. "And they use city services. They put their trash out by the street for pickup, but they don't pay for it."
In many ways, that's a valid claim, says City Assessor Michael Cleveland, who estimates the tax exempt properties in the city to total about 30 percent, without looking at the tax rolls. You have to understand, however, that Batavia is a county seat, he says. As the hub of Genesee County it's going to get the churches, the county offices, the organizations, all those who are tax exempt.
Could that just be the price of convenience then?