The way Ron Panek sees it, there's no way the city should build a police station at the Salvation Army location on Jackson Street.
Panek is Batavia's certified floodplain manager, trained by FEMA in Washington, D.C., on issues related to floodplains in municipal areas.
The Police Facilities Task Force, which had winnowed possible locations for a new police HQ down to three locations, including Jackson Street, heard from Panek and Assistant City Manager Gretch Difante during a meeting Thursday evening.
"As floodplain manager, I have to strongly discourage (the Jackson Street location)," Panek said. "I can't tell you, you know, you can't do this, but common sense should tell you that in a catastrophic event, we don't want our critical response facility in a floodplain."
Panek said he decided to bring his concerns to the assistant city manager and city manager after he saw Jackson Street was still under consideration by the committee after eliminating several other proposed locations.
The task force considered what Panek and Difante had to say and as a matter of consensus, agreed to drop the Salvation Army location from consideration.
It's not just the obvious problem of the facility becoming potentially unusable during a flood emergency that concerned task force members, it's also what such a building decision could do to the price of flood insurance for city residents.
There are two programs that impact local insurance rates and evaluators for both programs would take a dim view of the city building critical response facility in a floodplain.
Both Difante and Panek hedged on any sort of guarantee that rates would go up, but certainly left the impression that would be the expected outcome.
The issue is important to all residents of the city, Difante said.
"There are 1,050 properties in the special flood-hazard area," Difante said. "Without some kind of relief, these individuals can't sell their homes. Some have had to abandon properties, or they can't afford repairs or they wind up in a short sale for a loss. Do we really believe that if 1,050 properties suffer we don't all suffer? It affects the whole city."
There are residents, City Manager Jason Molino said, paying more than $1,000 a year in flood insurance, which is higher than their city taxes. He said taking two houses, one in a floodplain and one not, and doing a comparison on lot size, building size and year built, a house in the flood zone is assessed at about 15 percent less than a house in a flood area.
The city has been a part of the National Flood Insurance Program since 1977. The current city fire station and Falleti Ice Arena complex was build with federal grants prior to 1977. If the city was seeking similar funding today, there's no way the government would fund that facility in a floodplain.
The location of the fire hall in a floodplain is another reason, Molino said, that the city shouldn't also build a police station in a floodplain, even though a new building would be elevated, use other strategies to mitigate flood damage.
"If you have a catastrophic event, I'm sure the building would be good, but it would be surrounded by water," Molino said. "You wouldn't have access to it. You wouldn't have utilities. You wouldn't be able to use it."
Under the NFIP, FEMA could tack on a $20 surcharge on everybody's flood insurance policy if the city built a new police headquarters in a flood zone.
"We are obligated to follow FEMA's rules and regulations," Panek said. "If we do not follow all of the rules of FEMA, which highly discourages building critical response facilities in flood zones, we could be sanctioned by the NFIP."
One of Difante's tasks since starting her job last year has been to get the city into a federal program that, essentially, helps lower insurance rates for property owners. The city's flood readiness and mitigation efforts are rated, points are assessed; and the higher the point total, the lower the insurance rates.
Difante met with a federal auditor May 14 and that date is a significant demarcation on how the city is scored going forward. In other words, the location of the fire hall doesn't hurt the city's score, because it's pre-existing, but building a new critical response facility in a floodplain could potentially lower the city's score.
"(May 14) was Day 1," Difante said. "That day started the new rules. They're going to look at things differently. It's not a clean mathematical scale. There is so much human decision making that goes into it. It's subjective, so I don't want to say it will hurt our score, but they can take points off for that, yes. Does that mean rates go higher? I don't know if we can say that. There are also other ways we can make up points. It's a very multifacited, multilayered system."
The decision to drop Jackson Street leaves the task force looking at two final locations -- Alva Place and Bank Street, in the heart of Downtown Batavia, and at the former Wiard Plow Factory location on Swan Street. The task force is inviting the public to a 6 p.m. meeting June 23 to hear a presentation on how the task force arrived at the two final locations and to solicit public feedback. The meeting will be in Council Chambers at City Hall.
Near the close of Thursday night's meeting, task force members raised the issue of what happens to the Brisbane Mansion if the police vacate the building for a new facility. A couple of task force members were worried some residents might raise that as a concern. Chairman Marc Staley said there is an easy answer to that question: The task force wasn't charged with deciding the fate of the Brisbane Mansion. That is beyond the purview of what it was asked to study.