With only one dissenting vote, the Batavia City Council last night agreed to take up the issue at its next meeting of providing $4,000 to GO ART! to help fund the July 4 Picnic in the Park.
The GO ART! Board almost didn't approve hosting the annual event in Centennial Park because of financial concerns.
There was a time when the city provided GO ART! with $5,000 in annual funding. That assistance has been cut back to $2,500. This year, the county cut its funding to the arts council by 10 percent. Local donations continue to be hard to generate.
"We have a small number of businesses that support everything in our community and we tap them a lot," GO ART! Director Jennifer Gray told the council last night during a short presentation about the need for the assistance.
GO ART! was all set to drop the event when Michelle Crier came forward and offered to chair the event committee in an effort to keep it going at least one more year.
Gray said Picnic in the Park has never been a moneymaker, but it's at least broken even some years.
It costs $12,000 to host.
Council members had some questions about where the money was going to come from, with Al McGinnis raising a question about funds being transferred from the former Vibrant Batavia account. He said he thought that account was rolled back into the general fund.
City Manager Jason Molino said that money remained earmarked, with approval of the council, for neighborhood projects and Picnic in the Park fit that criteria.
Gray, Crier and council members all mentioned how the community has lost some significant events in recent years, such as Summer in the City, the St. Joe's Lawn Fete, the Elba Onion Festival, and the Stafford Carnival.
Councilman John Canale noted that without Summer in the City and the Lawn Fete to support, the city was saving some money on those events.
"If we can look at some savings where events have been canceled, we can also apply some of those dollars towards the arts council," Canale said.
The council will vote on a resolution to approve the funding at its next business meeting, April 10. Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian voted no on the motion to consider the resolution at the business meeting.
Canale said he was a supporter of the arts -- he's a musician himself -- but in looking out for his constituents, he had to ask why the arts council was running into difficulty funding Picnic in the Park this year.
Gray said it's always been a struggle. The event was saved last year by a donation from the Red Osier restaurant in Stafford.
Councilwoman Patti Pacino said another way of looking at it is that Gray is bringing more fiscal discipline to the arts council.
"A lot of the difference is we now have Jennifer Gray running this and she’s a businesswoman and she’s saying, ‘wait a minute, we can’t go in the drain every single year over Picnic in the Park,' " Pacino said.
Crier said she stepped up and volunteered to chair the picnic committee because she thinks it's an important community event, especially in light of other traditional events coming to an end.
"My husband and I moved here in 2000 from Buffalo," she said. "We raised our child in this community and I can’t image raising them anywhere else. Being in Batavia with the activities and the sense of community, you don't find that anywhere, especially on the west side of Buffalo. It’s a safe and beautiful community and it’s because of these events, because that’s where we see our neighbors, see our community."
Also at Monday's meeting:
- Council considered an application from a group planning a rally at 8:15 a.m., April 8, on East Main Street, on the north side of the street near Clinton Street. The rally will protest Congressman Chris Collins. Councilman Bob Bialkowski raised concerns about whether the group would be trespassing on private property -- the Aldi's parking lot -- and City Manager Jason Molino said that was between the property owner and the rally organizers. He also said that technically, the organizers didn't need to apply for a permit. So long as the sidewalk or traffic isn't blocked, it's a permissible activity.
- Three people spoke against a proposed 80-unit apartment complex proposed for East Main Street that DePaul Community Services would like to build. The apartments would target veterans and their families as residents. A zoning change would be required and the property would become nonprofit owned. Councilman Al McGinnis shared the speakers' concerns about the project and objected to his conception that DePaul was looking to profit off of veterans, and that as a veteran he believed veterans wanted to live in houses and be part of the community. Apartments, he said, change the nature of the community. "This is a city of families," McGinnis told WBTA after the meeting. "Families are close-knit. Families live in houses. They become neighborhoods. I honestly think that too many apartments make for too many transients."
- The City Council agreed to vote on a resolution at its business meeting to declare four submachine guns in the Police Department as surplus so they can be traded for rifles that Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said better meet the department's strategic needs.
- The council also agreed to vote on a resolution at its next meeting to authorize spending $5,000 on a property appraisal on the former Wiard Plow Factory site on Swan Street. A city-appointed committee had recommended the site last fall as the best location for a new police headquarters, but property owner Tom Mancuso initially said he had other plans for the property. Just before the end of the year, he agreed to discuss a sale of the property to the city. The first step is getting an appraisal to determine fair market value, Molino said. If the owner was willing to sell at that price, the city would then need to complete an environmental review and title search before entering into a cost-analysis phase. With those details completed, the council then could consider whether to move foward with the project and complete the land purchase.