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November 19, 2015 - 6:47am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget.

County government is moving toward passage of a budget for 2016 that holds the line on the tax rate for local propety owners.

Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee recommended approval of a $27,199,344 spending plan that keeps the tax rate $9.86 per thousand of assessed value for 2016, the same as 2015.

With increases in assessed value throughout the county, that rate will still provide the county with an overall growth in the tax levy by $323,051.

County Manager Jay Gsell said the county was able to trim off three cents from the original 2016 proposed rate by keeping the belts tight on government appropriations.

"We basically said to all the departments and agencies of county government, particularly the outside agencies, 'No increase in funding requests, and to the county departments, we want you to hold the line as much as possible,' " Gsell said.

It helps, Gsell said, that the state has capped how much it demands from the county for the local share of Medicaid funding. In each of the past two years, the county hasn't been asked to pay more than $9.3 million. In the past, that number would go up 8 percent or more each year, Gsell said.

The budget includes a full year of anticipated deficit spending to keep the county nursing home operating, though the Legislature anticipates the county will be out of the nursing home business before the close of 2016. There is a purchase offer in place with a private company that will take over operations and ownership of the property.

The spending plan includes appropriating about $2 million from the county's fund balance (or general fund cash reserves). That's a smaller draw on the fund balance than previous years. Primarily, spending fund reserves is a way of smoothing the county's cash flow throughout the year. It helps maintain the nursing home and covers beginning-of-the-year shortfalls while the county waits for property tax payments to roll in. In the previous years of fund-balance spending, the county has still finished the year in the black and at the end of 2014 the reserves stood at $10.5 million.

The budget process has gone well, said Ray Cianfrini, chairman of the Legislature, because the legislators, on the whole, want to be responsible about how they handle taxpayers' money.

"I think it's fair to say the mindset of most all of the legislators is pretty fiscally conservative and we're very conscious of the fact that we're elected by the public and we want to make sure the public is getting the best bang for the buck," Cianfrini said.

It was a priority to hold the line on the tax rate, Cianfrini said.

"Nobody likes to raise taxes unless it's necessary and the first thing we always look for in the budget process is 'Are we able to hold the rate down?' " Cianfrini said. "Last year we had a reduction of 16 cents per thousand, so I think going into this year's budget our mindset was we would prefer not to raise taxes."

Holding the line meant asking department heads to keep down spending, not hire more staff, postpone some projects or equipment purchases. Even so, Cianfrini said, county residents will still get a responsive, functioning county government.

"I personally feel this budget meets all the needs of the smooth operation of the county government," Cianfrini said. "Now, if we talk to the department heads, I'm sure the department heads would love to have more personnel, certainly. Talk to the Sheriff, talk to other people in different departments, would they like more? Yeah, absolutely they'd like more, but it comes with a cost. They all seem to be willing to work within the budget we presented."

November 5, 2015 - 8:09am
posted by Raymond Coniglio in batavia, budget.

The prospect of the town’s first property tax levy in more than three decades accomplished at least one thing Wednesday night. It drew an interested crowd to Town Hall.

About a half-dozen residents spoke during what amounted to two public hearings regarding the proposed 2016 town budget, which calls for a property tax levy of $500,000 and a tax rate $1.42 per $1,000 assessed value.

Speakers shared their concerns about the proposed tax levy, complimented the board for its work and asked questions about the budget — questions Supervisor Greg Post welcomed.

But little was offered to change the town’s dismal budget outlook.

“I am open to anything that would do a better job than what we have done,” Post said. “And I would welcome any opportunities to change the metrics and to try to reduce our exposure and still sustain the community.

“The next 30 years are going to be tougher than the last 30,” he said.

Those “metrics” include more than a decade of relying on cash reserves to balance the town budget, combined with decreasing sales tax revenue, stagnant investment income and rising costs.

The result is a proposed 2016 budget that calls for $4.64 million in general fund spending, a decrease of $300,000 from this year. The budget would use $600,000 from cash reserves, which would leave a projected fund balance of $1.4 million.

The public hearing on the proposed budget was Wednesday night. Also on the agenda, was a public hearing on proposed Local Law No. 5, which would override the state-imposed 2-percent cap on property tax increases.

The board took no action on either issue. A work session is scheduled for Nov. 10, and the board will likely vote on the 2016 budget and tax cap override when it meets on Nov. 18, Post said.

Speakers during Wednesday’s hearing said a new tax would be tough to bear.

“We have a lot of senior citizens in our town, that are not going to get a cost of living raise (next year),” said Cheryl Kowalik, of Alexander Road.

And breaking the property tax cap, she said, means those same residents will not receive a property tax rebate check from Albany next year.

“We’ve been conscious of that for a long, long time,” Post said. “It’s a big part of every budget conversation every single year.”

Post said instituting a tax levy was a decision that could no longer be postponed. It’s been the subject of “heated” discussions since budget talks began this past summer.

The proposed budget, he said, is one of three spending plans he’s compiled this year — and it is essentially a compromise.

The first version included no tax levy but would have slashed reserves to a risky level.

The second plan, set aside a more robust reserve fund. But it included a $1 million levy, with a $2.84 per $1,000 assessed value property tax rate.

Ultimately, the board agreed to spend just $600,000 in cash reserves and impose a $500,000 tax levy.

“With the understanding,” Post said, “that we will continue to whittle away the use of the unexpended fund balance, and reduce our spending to the same degree we reduced it this year.”

Bob Zeagler, of Donahue Road, called for more immediate spending cuts.

“Please don’t add more taxes to us already overburdened taxpayers,” Zeagler told the board. “Go back and start cutting and trimming, everywhere and anywhere, with a very sharp chainsaw — raises included.”

Post said the proposed budget calls for pay increases of 3 percent, on average.

Freezing wages might make good politics, he said. But it would make little practical difference in the budget, and would hurt town services. 

“I knew what my job was when I took office,” Post said. “But the responsibility of all of you in this room, and every resident of this town … is to find someone who can do this job better than me, for less money.”

The Town Board schedules work sessions every week, he said, and the Town Hall doors are always open.

“You want transparency in government? We’ve had 500 meetings — no one attends,” he said. “We still have them; no one shows up.”

Residents need to be “watchdogs,” Post said.

“If there is a concern with the level of service any of you have received from any of our staffers,” he said, “I will listen, and we will investigate. Every staffer here — every person that’s employed — starts from zero every year in July and they have to justify their wage and what they do.

"We do absolutely our best to reduce the costs and still attract and retain and encourage people to do more. It’s a delicate walk.”

No one spoke during two additional public hearings scheduled Wednesday concerning water and sewer rates for May 2016 through February 2017.

The proposed sewer rents are $5.62 per 1,000 gallons in sewer districts Nos. 1 and 2. The proposed base water rate is $4.95 per 1,000 gallons and the proposed agricultural water rate is $3.31 per 1,000 gallons.

October 22, 2015 - 1:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

The county serves the public, and increasingly, the public is online, which is why County Manager Jay Gsell thinks the county needs a stronger and more consistent digital presence.

In his 2016 budget, he's proposing a new position in the county's IT department that would be responsible for the county's Web site and its social media activity, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

"There is also a difference in generations in how they deal with us," Gsell said. "They are different in where they go for their information, where they look for information and how they interact with county government whether they're asking questions, registering complaints or things of that nature."

The county's Web site could be more user-friendly, but more importantly, Gsell said, it could contain more information that is more current and timely and relevant to residents.

"We're the public sector -- if we're not public and media friendly, we suck," Gsell said. "We're also not doing our job. The idea is to put information out and give it out so the public can access it."

Increasingly, people want to find their information and interact with government and businesses in social media, and the county should be where the public is, Gsell said, which means an active presence on Facebook and Twitter, for example.

"If you don't have a more duel-enabled communication, you're missing out on how you connect with people, how people connect with your services, how they issue complaints, how they issue praise in some cases, or even how we deal with some things we change, for instance, taking on credit card payments in the Treasurer's Office," Gsell said.

The salary for the new position will be about $35,000 and represent a total expenditure with benefits and related expenses of $58,000.

The position is part of a $106,756,416 spending plan being proposed by Gsell.  

On the revenue side, Gsell is proposing a $27,283,304 tax levy with a $9.89 tax rate per thousand of assessed value. That is a 3-cent increase over the 2015 tax rate.

One new position previously proposed that didn't make the budget is an additional Sheriff's deputy with a primary responsibility to keep a sharp eye out for drunken drivers.

The position would have been funded through STOP-DWI money -- fines levied against convicted drunken drivers -- but Gsell said he could tell the idea wasn't going over well with a majority of the Legislature, so he dropped the proposal from the budget. He said the consensus among legislators seemed to be that even if the position was legal and above board, it might engender the perception that there was a level of entrapment in the strategy to catch more drunken drivers. Any case of actual entrapment could open the county up to litigation, something the Legislature would like to avoid.

"It's not like it was, 'Oh, my, this is the best thing since pockets,' so we said, 'You know what, it's not worth the angst and having the legislators have a discomfort as we're trying to present a hundred plus million proposal to let that become the litmus test of what's going on for 2016,' so we pulled it out," Gsell said.

The budget also includes an increase in hours for the County Attorney, making the job a full-time position. The additional 7.5 hours per week means an additional $30,000 in salary and a total increase in expenditure for the position of $37,095, but that cost is offset, Gsell said, by a decrease elsewhere in the budget for contracted fees for outside counsel.  

The budget proposal also includes a new public health sanitarian in the health department and a new case manager in Genesee Justice. Gsell said the case load at Genesee Justice has started to overwhelm the current staff hours in that department.

Ray Cianfrini, chairman of the Legislature, also floated the idea that members of the body should consider whether it's time for a pay raise for legislators. There was no further discussion of the idea after he threw mentioned it.

July 23, 2015 - 8:48am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

The county's department managers are being asked to turn in austere budgets that add no new staff with an eye toward leaving vacant positions unfilled as County Manager Jay Gsell tries to hold the line on spending in the face of continued expense pressure from the state's unfunded mandates.

State and federal spending mandates, including Medicaid, probation, indigent defense and public assistance consume 82 percent of the county's property tax levy, with the county's share of Medicaid expense now topping $10 million, Gsell said in a memo to county leaders.

The escalating cost of unfunded mandates, with no other increase in spending, will likely create a budget deficit.

"A conservative guestimate of a 'status quo' 2016 General Fund Budget of $106,401,244 would create an expense vs. revenue gap of almost $3.5 million vs. the 2015 Adopted General Fund balanced Budget," Gsell wrote. "This could include the last five year annual average of $2.5 million in fund balance use to stave off property tax increases that help the County again stay under the tax cap ceiling imposed by New York State, but the availability is not guaranteed."

The Legislature will be loathed to support a property tax increase that goes over the levy cap, Gsell said. 

"The County Legislature has not done so for the first four years of the tax cap mandate and 2016 being an election year is unlikely to change that reality/sentiment," Gsell wrote. "New York State/Governor Cuomo armed with the 'now' permanent tax cap legislation has set a negative dynamic for local governments, including school districts and the constituents/taxpayers with the promise of the tax rebates and possible State income tax circuit breakers/tax credits, that challenges we at the local government level to exceed said tax cap and thus suffer the 'wrath' of Albany and unilateral, top down recriminations in the media, with our taxpayers and the possibility of negative state aid implications."

The sale of the county nursing home will help, but that deal won't close until the end of the first quarter of 2016, so the money-losing property will continue to drain county resources in the upcoming budget year, Gsell said.

Gsell said the county is a workforce-intensive business and 32 percent of the county's general fund budget goes to wages and benefits. Pension and health care costs for personnel continue to increase, Gsell said, with new collective bargaining agreements pending.

Even new employee positions funded initially by state and federal grants should be scrutinized closely for long-term impacts on spending, Gsell said. 

If managers want to fill current vacancies or anticipated vacancies, they will need to show business necessity that it is essential to operations, or the position is justified as a basic level of service or required by mandates or can be funded through an equal increase in revenue. 

"Your overall operating budget request should be developed from a 'bare bones' perspective," Gsell wrote. "No sacred cows/no guarantees -- including those portions of your staffing, etc., that are attached to 'mandated services' and related operating expenses and options for better/more efficient utilization of existing staff should be presented."

February 10, 2015 - 2:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

Notable during last night's City Council meeting were the words not spoken.

For all the talk in the community the past few weeks about eliminating the Batavia's assistant city manager position, not a single council member raised the issue when given the chance.

The council passed five budget amendments, all recommended by City Manager Jason Molino, eliminating $53,000 from the spending plan. But after those five motions passed and Council President Brooks Hawley asked if members of the council had any other amendments to offer, the panel was silent until Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian piped up.

"What's the use to raise an amendment if you won't compromise over here?" Christian asked.

After the meeting, Christian expressed frustration that she believes residents want more spending cuts but she doesn't feel anybody is listening to her pleas.

"It really bothers me," Christian said. "There are a lot of people out there who are having a difficult time living."

While there has also been a move afoot to eliminate spending for Vibrant Batavia, since that expenditure is not part of the budget, it will be addressed as a separate resolution at a future council meeting.

The assistant city manager position, however, is part of the budget.

Christian said she would certainly support eliminating the position, but she said she didn't make a motion because she believes only three other council members would vote with her, giving such a motion no chance of passing. 

"I didn't bring it up, you're right," Christian said. "What's the use?"

Councilman Eugene Jankowski said after the meeting he didn't bring it up because he's not ready to eliminate the job.

"I made the motion last year not to put it in the budget and it was voted down," Jankowski said. "This year I've seen some of the good work that she's done and I personally feel it's premature to just fire her after only a few months. I'm still keeping an eye on it to see how it's going to pan out."

Jankowski said he doesn't sense a strong sentiment from fellow council members for eliminating the assistant city manager position.

As for Vibrant Batavia, Jankowski said he intends to bring a motion reduce the proposed $45,000 allocation, but not cut it out completely.

He wants a compromise position, he said, because some constituents feel passionately that no more money should be spent on Vibrant Batavia and others are just as passionate in their support of Vibrant Batavia.

He wants to see Vibrant Batavia stand on its own and would like to find a mechanism to make that possible.

He said he doesn't know what the timetable would be to wean Vibrant Batavia off of city support.

"If it's impossible in 12 months, then I want to see what the plan is," Jankowski said. "If it's a reasonable plan and it looks viable and everybody in the community knows what it is and knows when that time is going to end, then it's up to them to decide whether they accept it or not."

He also said that partial funding wouldn't close the door to the council providing more assistance if Vibrant Batavia found it needed more time to stand on its own after making a verifiable and honest effort to be self-sufficient.

February 9, 2015 - 12:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget, Vibrant Batavia.
File photo

A municipal budget is more than the tally of ledger entries. It is a policy statement. It is the tool elected officials use to set the agenda for what kind of community a city is or might become.

As the Batavia City Council nears its deadline for setting the 2015-16 budget, the spending decisions it makes could impact the quality of life for residents and the potential for economic growth and job creation for years to come.

The big decisions facing the council are whether to fund Vibrant Batavia for one more year, whether to retain the assistant city manager position, and whether to continue to invest in economic development.

There are those in the community who advocate for cuts in all these areas and some on council seem inclined to follow those suggestions.

In his latest budget memo, which is on the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting, City Manager Jason Molino doesn't respond to the call for cuts to these initiatives, which he sees as key to Batavia continuing on the strategic plan path it started in 2010.

He does offer proposed spending cuts that would halve the proposed tax increase.

"The budget is about understanding the different issues at hand, and the different liabilities the city faces and recognizing you have different projects and balancing your priorities," Molino said. "It comes down to how committed are you to the strategic plan, to community empowerment and economic growth. These are all policy questions."

When the council convenes at 7 p.m., they'll hold a memo that calls for:

  • Removing $10,500 for replacement of a slide at Austin Park;
  • Shifting a one-time upgrade to the City Clerk's file system from the 2015-16 budget to reserve funds, thereby cutting $4,920 from the spending plan;
  • Adding a $1,950 expenditure to assist the BID in purchasing flowers for Downtown;
  • Slashing management raises from 2.5 percent to 2 percent. This cuts $5,000 from the budget;
  • An alternative to funding the two open police officer positions. Instead of showing those positions as fully funded for 2015-16, fund only one of them for the full year (leaving open the possibility of a transfer into the department), and fund the other position for only eight months, saving $34,490.

This brings the property tax rate down to $9.21 per thousand, a cut of 9 cents off the original proposal. The average assessed home would see an annual tax increase of $6.30 cents.

In an interview Sunday, Molino discussed the need for funding Vibrant Batavia to help improve local neighborhoods, sticking by the strategic plan for economic growth; and the benefits of the assistant city manager position.

The policy issues involving Vibrant Batavia go beyond just the policy commitment the City Council made two years ago to neighborhood revitalization. It also touches on sound budgeting practices and not falling into the poor habits that dug Batavia into a deep financial hole nearly a decade ago.

Stripping out the recommended $45,000 to fund Vibrant Batavia wouldn't necessarily lead to a reduction in taxes, not unless the council wanted to finance the tax cut with reserve funds.

The $45,000 earmarked for Vibrant Batavia doesn't come out of the 2015-16 budget. It is money left over from the 2014-15 contingency fund.

The contingency fund is set aside for unexpected expenses and emergencies. Since there were no big draws on the fund in 2014-15, there is money available to help finance the city pursuing its strategic initiatives.

"If you go back eight years, the city used its fund balance each year to the point that it actually had a negative fund balance," Molino said. "That was the downfall of the city's financial position. It got to where they didn't have a fund balance to balance the budget. The fund balance is not something you can rely on to balance your budget."

Contingency funds, fund balance, reserve funds, are all intended for one-time or short-term expenses, just like a family saving for a vacation or a new car, not for operational expenses, Molino said.

So the first policy question the council needs to answer this budget session is whether it wants to use uncommitted funds to finance a reduction in the proposed tax rate, essentially using one-time funds to finance operational expenses.

If it doesn't, the next policy question to answer is whether the council wants to stick to its own strategic plan.

The strategic priorities of the plan:

  • Financial health
  • Governmental efficiency
  • Economic development and job creation
  • Neighborhood revitalization
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Public safety
  • Healthy and involved community members

"I view it as investing in the community, taking $45,000 a year and putting it toward a project that is intended to increase civic engagement in your community, and civic engagement is what makes your neighborhood a neighborhood," Molino said.

An example of such a neighborhood locally is Redfield Parkway, Molino said. Redfield, with its flags and Christmas trees and its own events and obvious neighborhood pride, might serve as an inspiration for other neighborhoods

"That's not the model that needs to happen on every street in Batavia, but what it does is allow residents to talk with each other on an individual level. That's sounds soft and fluffy, but that's what makes safer streets and it's what makes neighborhoods."

Molino said he understands some of the negative feedback generated by Vibrant Batavia, but it's important to grasp the larger vision.

"It's not like building a street or building a building," Molino said. "It's not tangible in that sense, but there is value to it and it needs to develop over time. It took decades and decades for Batavia to become a vital community. That didn't happen over one or two years. You can't expect to reverse decades of downward spiral in just a year or two."

Molino agrees with Council President Brooks Hawley, who fears all of the money and effort that has gone into getting Vibrant Batavia to only its second year of existence will be wasted if the council fails to fund it in 2015-16.

"If the decision comes to completely discontinue Vibrant Batavia, then we're out all that energy and effort," Molino said. "We haven't given it enough time to blossom and succeed. Ironically, all of the negative attention around Vibrant Batavia is that same negative culture it was intended to address.

"If we could harness all of that negative energy and turn it into positive energy, we would reach our goal twice as fast," Molino added.

The same policy and strategic planning questions apply to economic development (which we didn't discuss specifically) and the assistant city manager position.

The council agreed to create the position a year ago and in June Gretchen DiFante beat out a field of 60 applicants to win the job.

She's been a great choice so far, Molino said, and the work she's done in less than eights on the job has already more than paid for her $75,950 annual salary.

"She's accomplished a lot of work," Molino said. "What Gretchen has done on just one item, flood insurance, is something that has never been done in this city before. We're talking about moving more properties out of the floodplain in six months than had happened in Batavia all the years before."

So far, 12 properties are no longer considered part of the floodplain, Molino said.

"Combine that with the possible accelerated program on flood insurance so that residents can see real reductions in their flood insurance in the next year, that's impacting thousands of property owners predominately on the Southside," Molino said.

A reduction in flood insurance costs will have a real, tangible, economic impact on the city, Molino said.

"We have a great team of people working on that and a great leader working on that, and that's just one item," Molino said.

DiFante has also played a critical role, Molino said, in addressing the police and fire radio communication issue -- which DiFante had said was the biggest liability issue facing the city at one point.

Her overall responsibilities, besides flood insurance, include overseeing administrative services, including finance, the clerk-treasure, personnel, information technology, the youth bureau and assessment, with additional projects such as how to handle a burgeoning population of feral cats, the Redfield gateway and strategic planning.

An assistant city manager also frees up Molino to work on other projects. Not only would he never have had time to handle the flood insurance issue himself, even the attempt would take him away from other projects.

With DiFante on staff, Molino is free, with the help of staff, to pursue another complex, difficult problem facing the city: Abandoned and vacant properties, something he hopes to focus on this year.

"We need to climb some serious mountains and drive some serious growth, not just in the city but in the community as well," Molino said. "Of course, there's a limited amount of resources. If you keep cutting resources, you can't expect the same output."

January 13, 2014 - 5:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

The city's proposed 2014-15 budget holds the line on taxes while helping foster programs City Manager Jason Molino said will help improve the quality of life in Batavia.

The $16.6 million spending plan calls for a 3-cent decrease in city property taxes, lowering the rate from $9.30 per thousand to $9.27 per thousand.

At the same time, city spending will increase 4.4 percent, or $675,000 over 2013-14.

City Council President Brooks Hawley said he doesn't yet have a feel for how the rest of the council will respond to the proposed budget, but he's looking forward to the budget discussions, which begin with a budget presentation by city staff at tonight's meeting.

"We just received this budget on Friday, so I'm very excited to talk with other City Council members and see what they think," Hawley said. "I'm looking forward to the budget meetings and seeing where we go from there. Right now, this is just a starting point. We are excited, just by looking at the first couple of pages, that what council wanted, this budget lays out, such as neighborhood revitalization, addressing quality of life and keeping the tax rate down."

The budget proposal brings back the position of assistant city manager, which was eliminated years ago as a cost-saving measure.

Molino said it's needed now to help the city move forward on several projects that will mean lower costs for both the city and for residents.

One of the primary duties of the new assistant city manager will be to get the city participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Working out of a 600-page book of guidelines, it will be up to the new assistant city manager to implement plans and programs that will mitigate flood issues and help improve the city's flood insurance rating.

The city's rating is currently a Class 10 -- the highest rating because the city doesn't currently participate in NFIP -- and for each point the city can shave off the rating, the cost of flood insurance for property owners in the city will drop 5 percent.

The rating can improve by doing simple things such as ensuring certain kinds of public information be available to complicated matters like moving buildings. There are, in all, 18 different topics the city can study, and possibly address, to improve Batavia's flood insurance rating.

Currently, the average cost of flood insurance in the city is $900 annually, based on the price of the home.

"That's more than your average City of Batavia tax bill -- city property taxes for that property on a home that's assessed at $90,000," Molino said. "How do we combat that? If we can lower those premiums by 5, 10, 15, 20 percent through actions we can take through the community-rated service program, we're going to be able to provide relief to our residents."

Molino believes that high cost is one reason some residents won't invest more in their homes, or buy houses that are worthy of restoration if not for their location in a flood plane.

The new assistant city manager will also handle risk management for the city, which can help reduce the city's annual $2 million expenditure on various insurance policies.

The new position will pay in the range of $63,000 to $77,000 and whomever is hired will be required to move to the city if not already a city resident.

"When the position was eliminated several years ago it was because the city was in a finanical position that warranted making cuts, scaling back on services, which it did," Molino said. "I think that now when we're on more stable footing, we're in a position now where the council is looking to take on initiatives that are going to help progress the community forward. We're talking about quality-of-life initiatives, neighborhood initiatives. In order to provide these services, you've got to have staff to do it."

A big part of the city's focus the past couple of years has been the implementation of a strategic plan, which calls for neighborhood improvements, revitalizing commercial areas, converting brownfield locations into once-again useful and productive properties and addressing quality-of-life issues, such as abandoned homes and high-crime neighborhoods.

One of the biggest initiatives planned by the city for the spring and summer are what Molino calls "neighborhood sweeps."

The sweeps will involve closing down a neighborhood for two or three hours so nobody gets in or out and the police, parole and probation officers, along with code enforcement officers, will endeavor to contact every person in the neighborhood. Individuals who cause problems might be identified and dealt with appropriately under the law and residential units that don't meet code standards will receive notices and have deficiencies documented.

There will be no prior notice to neighborhoods subject to a sweep.

"It's a way of trying to do several things," Molino said. "One, working with the residents who might be able to provide information about what's going on in their neighborhood; combating some of the issues that we're seeing, some of the increased activity; addressing property maintenence and criminal activity, all in one shot. It's taking our resources and focusing on the areas that need that assistance."

City leaders from Buffalo met with local officials a month ago to discuss how that city has implemented a similar program.

"It's taking what they're doing (in Buffalo) and applying it in a way that's a better fit for our community," Molino said. "It's taking these nuisance areas and addressing quality-of-life complaints and trying to combat them, either working with the landlords to get these problem tenants out of the neighborhoods, or working with the residents to identify the problems in the neighborhood."

Over time, perhaps, those residents who are generally content to do more harm than good will find Batavia inhospitable enough that they will leave the city, if not Genesee County, Molino said.

"It's not a hostile position," Molino said. "I would say it's a position of being a nuisance to nuisance individuals. If it's people who are engaging in criminal activity, if it's people doing things they shouldn't be, we're going to be addressing those.

"Keep in mind, when you're addressing little issues like nuisance and quality-of-life issues, minor issues, if you address those with a hard-line approach, it's going to be a deterrent to undesirables who are in those neighborhoods," Molino added. "They're not going to want to be bothered with that and it's going to have them disperse elsewhere."

The program is designed to empower people to take their neighborhoods back so they're once again a safe place for children to play outside, Hawley said.

Chief Shawn Heubusch said he's hopeful the program will help the community address some of the kinds of criminal activity we've seen recently in the city, such as shots fired on State Street, shots fired on Jackson, and the recent armed robbery on Jackson.

"This will hopefully get us to a point where we can address some of those issues before they occur," Heubusch said. "It allows us to get into the neighborhoods and get a more personal look at things and get the neighbors comfortable with us and being more willing to contact us. Do I think it's going to solve everything? Absolutely not."

The proposed 2014-15 budget also takes a couple of small, but potentially significant steps, in the technology region.

Working with National Grid, the city is planning a recharging station for electric cars located somewhere Downtown. The recharging station will handle two cars at a time that can plug into the power grid for free.

The hope is the station will attract electric car drivers from the Thruway into Downtown for shopping and dining.

The annual cost to the city, even if the stations are used to capacity every day, would be no more than a few hundred dollars.

"It's a marginal cost to the municipality, but it's an attraction to get visitors Downtown," Molino said.

The budget also calls for a few Wi-Fi hotspots to be installed at Downtown locations, such as Jackson Square. The pilot project will help the city evaluate the need and benefits of providing wireless Internet connectivity to smartphone and tablet users.

One of the biggest expenditure hits the city has taken over the past several years is the skyrocketing cost of funding pensions through the state's retirement plan. Each year, the state sets what the city will have to pay into the fund. For the first time in five years, the city is being told to contribute less than the previous year.

Another important component of the city's plan for neighborhood improvement is trying to obtain title to vacant and abandoned homes, and working with nonprofit agencies to renovate the houses and turn them over to responsible owners who will reside in the homes they acquire.

There are currently as many of 50 such abandoned houses in the city.

The city will use $229,000 from equipment reserve funds for police, fire and DPW vehicles and machines.

On the reserve fund front, $50,000 is being set aside for an anticipated renovation, or replacement, of the police headquarters building. A consultant is currently evaluating the current station and the needs of the department.

The police budget is up 4.1 percent, or $158,505 for additional personnel costs.

The city plans on spending $7,500 on "a neighborhood video surveillance camera," but no word on where the camera might be installed.

Union contracts dictate raises for CSEA members of 2 percent and for police of 2.75 percent. Management employees will receive a 2.5-percent pay increase. The fire personnel contract is currently under negotiation.

The city's part-time parking enforcement/recycling officer and the part-time ordinance enforcement officer will be combined into a single, full-time job.

There is a proposed 9-cent increase in the city's water and sewer rate to $4.71 per thousand gallons. There is also a proposed $12 annual fee to fund capital projects to replace aging infrastructure.

The city will replace 1,950 feet of sewer line on Trumbull Parkway. The project includes sidewalk replacement, road restoration, and upgrades on water service and fire hydrants.

A grant request to reconstruct Summit Street was rejected by the state, so in the meantime, the city will resurface the street.

In all, more than $1 million will be spent on sidewalk and street repairs and replacements.

Photo: Jodie Freese prepares copies of the 2014-15 proposed city budget for distribution to members of council and other members of the community.

December 12, 2013 - 9:27pm
posted by Alecia Kaus in budget, Congressman Collins, statement.

Press release

Statement from Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) on the Congressional Budget Agreement:

"Tonight I voted in favor of the congressional budget compromise that passed the House with strong bipartisan support. This agreement is far from perfect, but it does reduce our deficit by $23 billon and locks in discretionary spending at levels below what the House GOP budget called for. In addition, the agreement cuts spending in a smart, targeted away and avoids the pain caused by the President’s sequester, especially for our brave men and women in the military.

"This agreement, however, falls painfully short in its total lack of entitlement program reform. It is my hope that as we move into a new year, the President and Congress can find the political courage to address this critical issue to ensure that Social Security and Medicare are strong for both current beneficiaries and future generations."

October 18, 2013 - 9:27am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

In effort to keep pace with increased expense demands, the County Legislature may need to pass a budget resolution overriding the state's cap of a 2-percent increase on the tax levy, according to County Manager Jay Gsell.

Gsell is recommending an increase to $10.11 per thousand of assessed value, up from the current $9.89 and increasing the total levy by $527,000.

A property tax increase that keeps levy below the cap level would add only $353,000 in revenue.

The total county spending plan, including local and mandated expenses is $149,100,167.

Even though all county departments turned in discretionary budgets that hold the line on local spending, state mandates expenses continue to test the county's ability to generate sufficient revenue to balance the budget.

The big budget issues are the Genesee County Jail, with a state-mandated increase in corrections officers, and the County Nursing Home, with $18.5 million in "heavily mandated" expenses that continue to drain the county's general fund.

Since the state refuses to provide mandate relief or pay the expense of its mandates, a full 71 percent of the county's tax levy goes to these mandated programs.

One of the largest expenses is the $9.96 million in local share of Medicaid.

The county's revenue projections for 2014 includes an anticipated 9-percent increase in sales tax revenue.

To read the full budget message, click here.

February 2, 2013 - 4:49pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

Press release:

Please be advised that Batavia City Council will hold a budget work session on Monday, Feb. 4. It will begin at 6 p.m. in the Council Board Room on the second floor of the Batavia City Centre.

January 28, 2013 - 11:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

At the end of a more than three-hour council session, just as members were shuffling paper to prepare to leave, Council President Tim Buckley had a request for City Manager Jason Molino:

"We have a request," Buckley said. "Do you think you could find a way to reduce the budget by another 1 or 2 percent?"

Another council member said, "2 percent," followed by another council member who said, "3 percent."

Buckley said they didn't want to go over the budget line by line, but maybe Molino could squeeze out some more savings.

"If it's possible or doable, we would like to do it," Buckley said.

Molino said he would take a look at the budget, which already calls for a 14.5-percent reduction in property taxes if a plan is approved to move the city to a tote-based, "pay as you throw," trash collection system.

Earlier in the evening the council voted to set a public hearing on the budget for Feb. 11.

Tonight, the council covered several topics:

  • More than a dozen people spoke out on the proposed changes to garbage collection in Batavia, mostly in support of Genesee ARC retaining the contract;
  • Heard a presentation on progress in 2012 by the Batavia Development Corp. from Economic Development Coordinator Julie Pacatte;
  • Heard a presentation from Brian Kemp and Marty McDonald on a proposal from Vibrant Batavia;
  • Discussed Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian's request for council members to support an assault weapons ban;
  • And discussed snow removal from residential sidewalks.

That will be a lot to write about in the morning, but I'll get to each story as soon as possible.

January 23, 2013 - 12:11am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

Given the backdrop of a proposed city budget that reduces local property taxes by 14.58 percent, various department heads sat before the Batavia City Council tonight and explained some of their funding needs.

The annual budget work session gives council members a chance to understand how taxpayer money will be spent and to ask questions, and even challenge, some of the budgeting decisions.

The discussion comes a week after City Manager Jason Molino presented the council with a proposed budget that reduces spending from a 2012 total of $15.8 million to $15.2 million for 2013.

Most of the savings comes from a proposal to change the way garbage is collected in the city.

For the past three decades, Genesee ARC has picked up residential garbage and recycling, with residents leaving their household waste by the curb in bags, cans and boxes.

The proposed new system would give each city residential property -- and some businesses -- at least two totes for refuse and recycling that could be collected by trucks fitted to dump the cans automatically.

According to Molino's budget, this would save -- especially if Allied/Republic is selected over Genesee ARC as the vendor for the new service -- some $218,000 in the first year.

That's a 21-percent reduction in expenses over what it would take to keep things as they are.

The city's tax rate would go down from $10.71 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.15.

The tax rate could conceivably go down even more, but the city is faced with a nearly $300,000 increase -- mandated, non-negotiable -- in pension costs.

For the third year in a row, the assessed value of city property has not increased.

With that backdrop, here are some key points from tonight's discussion:

  • The city could receive $250,000 in revenue from Batavia Downs from video lottery terminals. The VTL revenue is never a sure thing because Albany sometimes decides not to release the funds. But if it comes through, half of the money would go to the revolving loan fund of the Batavia Development Corp. If that happens, the redevelopment coordinator job currently held by Julie Pacatte could be retained for another two years. Economic growth and new jobs are critical to growing Batavia's tax base, Molino said. About $30,000 would be used to recapitalize the revolving loan fund. The city would also continue its $10,000 annual contribution to fund the position. If the city doesn't receive the funds, the city council will need to make a decision about what do to with the economic development coordinator position. In response to questions from council members, Molino said the position is necessary because the Genesee County Economic Development Center is not focused on redevelopment, or "brown field" development -- the kind of economic development a built-out city needs. Rather, GCEDC is focused on "green field" projects such as the agri-business park and STAMP. That lack of focus on the city means if that the city is going to pursue business develoment, Molino said, it needs a person dedicated to that task.
  • This spring and summer, look for a community garden at the youth center near Batavia High School. Nearby residents will be able to have plots to grow vegetibles for $15 to $35 per plot.
  • In response to questions from council members: The city expects to pay $28 million on debt currently accured, including principle and interest, from 2008 to 2043. Molina said he will need to look up what the actual principle owed is on the city's debt.
  • Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian raised the issue again of privatizing Falleti Ice Arena. "When are we going to get serious about letting somebody else take it over," Christian said. Molino said that while it's not certain, city staff believes if the city were to sell the arena, the proceeds would need to be spent on building a similar facility, under terms of a grant secured 30 years ago by then-Rep. Barber Conable.
  • The Department of Public Works needs to spend $377,000 from its equipment reserve fund to replace aging trucks, including a loader, a single-axel dump truck and plow and two one-ton dump trucks.
  • The city will spend $75,000 from the sidewalk reserve to replace some 12,000 feet of sidewalk, including walkways on Hutchins Street, Cedar Street, Tracy Avenue and Richmond Avenue.
  • Council members asked why residents don't help pay for sidewalk replacement. Molino said sidewalks are legally the resident's responsibility. Councilman Jim Russell pointed out that at one time the city had a program whereby residents would share the cost of replacing sidewalks. Molino said city staff could research alternative programs. Such a program, Russell pointed out, could mean twice the amount of sidewalks could be replaced each year. Christian said she remembers when the city did that and it was no big deal to have the cost of a new sidewalk in front of your house tacked onto your tax bill. Molino said such an approach is popular across the country.
  • Matt Worth, superintendent of water and sewer, said the city will need to hire a consultant this year to come up with a plan and a budget for removing sediment from one of the wastewater facility's treatment ponds. The actual clean-up work won't occur until 2014. The last time this was done the bill was $600,000, but the pond in rotation for clean up now doesn't have the filtration devices that the previous pond did, so the cost should be less. There is a build up of phosphorus in the pond. Phosphorus must be removed before the wastewater is introduced into the Tonawanda Creek, because it causes algae to grow, which isn't good for aquatic life.  Worth said he remembers when he was a child how Lake Ontario would have a lot of foam on it. That was from phosphorous being dumped into the water stream (such as from laundry detergent).  Worth said if the city doesn't clean the pond, the Department of Environmental Conservation will come down hard on the city. The clean up is mandated by the Clean Water Act. This is a once-every-22-years requirement for this pond.
  • The city fire department is currently down five firefighters and by the middle of summer it will be short eight firefighters due to retirement. New firefighters won't graduate from the academy until August. By the end of 2013, city fire should be fully staffed.
  • The department is hiring an already-trained firefighter, in his first year on the job, from Canandaigua. The Canandaigua department is reducing staffing. The new firefighter will be required to move to Genesee County, though not necessarily into the city. Questioned by Christian, Fire Chief Jim Maxwell, who started his job more than a year ago, said he has relocated his family to Genesee County.  (After the meeting Molino said that reducing the number of firefighters in the city fire department will be a topic of negotiation with the union during upcoming contract talks.)
  • Because of the shortage of firefighters following a spate of retirements, the city is expected to incure $220,000 in overtime expense in the department in 2013.
  • Batavia PD faces a similar personnel shortage early in the year with the anticipated retirement (due to a forced restructuring of the department) of three lieutenants. A sergeant is also expected to retire. The city plans to replace the lieutenant positions with two new patrol officers and a sergeant. The department will also create a deputy chief position that will oversee road patrol. There are currently two vacant positions in the department and new officers aren't expected to start arriving until late summer.
  • Staff shortages will mean an anticipated $220,000 in overtime expense for the police department.
  • The city will also acquire a new patrol vehicle and a new supervisor's SUV at a cost of $55,000.
  • Council President Tim Buckley questioned the need for five new Tasers at an expense of $5,200. Molino and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch explained that all new officers will be Taser-certified, which isn't necessarily the case with veteran officers. The use of Tasers and other non-lethal means to subdue suspects helps reduce the city's liability costs, Molino said.
  • Heubusch said his former department, in Warsaw, had officers wear body cameras -- these attach to an officer's uniform and are activated when they are out of a patrol car and dealing with an incident. He said prosecutors love them because they record everything that an officer sees and everything that is said by the officer and a suspect. The city will purchase three such devices as a trial for using them in Batavia. Cost: $1,500.
  • Batavia PD will try bicycle patrols for the first time in 2013. Cost: $1,500. This covers the bicycles, safety equipment and training. Heubusch said bicycle patrols will help the city enhance its community policing program.
  • A public hearing on the budget, as well as a slight water rate increase and the new proposed refuse program will be Feb. 11.

January 15, 2013 - 12:28am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

Information courtesy WBTA:

A big change in garbage pick up, a shake up of the police department and a pay raise for council members are the main features of the proposed city budget.

City Manager Jason Molino told council members about the proposed changes in garbage collection, dubbed PAYT for "pay as you throw," which will remove garbage collection from property owners' tax bills and have users of the service foot the bill.

The user fee will extend to nonprofit agencies and churches.

"You pay for what you throw away," Monlino said. "So, if you want a smaller tote or larger tote, you are going to pay respectively. If you throw away more, you are going to pay more. You throw away less, you are going to pay less. Another aspect of the program is unlimited recycling, and that also has the ability to help control your costs of what you throw away."

The automated system -- one-driver trucks will use a mechanical arm to pick up the totes -- will also help reduce costs, Molino said.

The apparent lower bidder for the program is Allied/Republic, a national waste management company headquartered in Phoenix. The company operates in 39 states and has 30,000 employees according to its Web site.

Allied/Republic submitted the lowest of four bids at $4.34-million dollars over the next five years.

Genesee ARC, which had been providing the service to the city for nearly 30 years, bid 4.99-million dollars. It appears ARC's bid was the highest.

ARC Executive Director Donna Saskowski said the loss of the city contract hurts the human services agency:

"I will have to lay off between 8 and 10 people," Saskowski said. "The agency will loose $800,000 in revenue, and we will have to find different jobs for the people with disabilities."

Saskowski said half of the people expected to lose jobs have some form of developmental disability.

The 2013-2014 proposed budget technically calls for a reduction in the city tax rate from $10.71 to $9.15. However, when the average cost of the garbage fee is factored in, Molino said the impact on the average homeowner will be a “wash.”

A big change in police department operations will save about $10,000, according to Molino.

Currently, the supervisory structure of the department includes three lieutenants. The lieutenant position will be eliminated, replaced by two police officers, a sergeant and a deputy chief.

The deputy chief position will be non-union.

The current lieutenants, Eugene Jankowski, Jim Henning and Greg Steele, have elected to retire rather than accept a demotion to sergeant, Molino told council members.

As for council members, a raise for the elected officials approved 6-3 in February, will be instituted, increasing compensation from $2,000 per year to $3,500 per year, beginning April 1.

The only way pay raises could be prevented, Molino said, was for the council to vote down the entire budget proposal or opt to pull the pay raise allocation from the budget plan and vote on it separately.

Council members Patti Pacino and Pier Cipollone said on Monday night they would not support a pay raise. Both had supported the pay raise measure in the February vote.

UPDATE: The city has posted all available documents about the changes to garbage collection.

November 29, 2012 - 8:31am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, GCEDC, County.

New version of what was originally posted at 9:45 p.m., Wednesday, to include more information.

On a 6-3 vote Wednesday, the Genesee County Legislature passed a 2013 budget that holds the line on property taxes, raises the pay for management and includes a $213,000 subsidy for GC Economic Development Center.

The three no votes came from legislators Ray Cianfrini, Frank Ferrando and Marianne Clattenburg, who all objected to the subsidy.

It's rare for members of the public to speak at regular meetings of the Genesee County Legislature. In fact, there is never a regular agenda slot for public comment, but last night one resident did show up and was permitted to speak.

Kyle Couchman (photo at right) was at the meeting to suggest the majority of the legislature is out of touch with the wishes of their constituents.

He pointed to a poll that ran on The Batavian that he said indicated 70 percent of county residents oppose continued funding for GCEDC.

"I find it a bit ridiculous that people would glaze it over," Couchman said.

Cianfrini (top photo) said he agreed with Couchman's assessment of voters' wishes.

"The public is overwhelmingly opposed to we as a legislature funding GCEDC while they continue to insist upon paying bonuses to their employees," Cianfrini said. "As a result of last week’s vote, it appears a majority of our legislators are not sensitive to the public’s mood on this matter."

Over the past few years, Cianfrini said, the legislature has made budget cuts that have cost county employees their jobs. Those job losses have meant hardships for individuals and families as former employees struggled to make ends meet, he said.

"Yet we continue to fund the Genesee County Economic Development agency with taxpayer dollars so that a few privileged employees can share in the astronomical bonuses the board of GCEDC continues to award," Cianfrini said.

Incoming GCEDC Board Chairman Charlie Cook has said previously that while employees will be paid bonuses based on 2012 performance measurements, as the board is contractually obligated to do, there will be no performance bonuses for 2013.

Ferrando (bottom inset photo) said the legislature should not give GCEDC a blank check. There should be some method for ensuring the funds from the county are being used appropriately.

"I do my best to listen to the constituents who put me here," Ferrando said. "Everything I hear, they object to funding GCEDC, at least without some strings attached."

For Clattenburg, who also opposes taxpayer money going to bonuses, the big issue is that while GCEDC has done a great job of driving business development in the county, none of GCEDC's efforts seems to be focused on the City of Batavia, which Clattenburg represents (along with Ferrando and Ed DeJaneiro).

"I don't think the focus on the city hasn't gone where it needs to go and that's where my constituents are," Clattenburg said. "I would hope that next year when this comes around I'll be able to support the GCEDC, but I can't do it this year."

None of the other legislators spoke up to defend their votes on the budget, though Esther Leadley did say, for the benefit of the first-year legislators, that if the budget didn't pass, the responsibility would fall to the county's budget officer (County Manager Jay Gsell).

"That means considerably more in terms of tax levy," Leadley said.

For 2013, the county's property tax rate will remain the same at $9.89 per thousand of assessed value.

The $144,980,450 spending plan represents a 2.2-percent increase over 2012, with much of the increase in spending driven by state mandates, especially in pensions and Medicaid.

The tax levy for 2013 will be $26,303,725, an increase of about 2 percent over 2012.

Pay raises for management were approved unanimously in a separate resolution vote.

The following positions will receive a 1.5 percent pay increase:

The following are elected officials and department heads in line for a salary increase of 1.5 percent next year:

  • County Manager Jay Gsell -- $1,551 raise for 2013 salary of $104,935;
  • Sheriff Gary Maha -- $1,374 raise for a salary of $94,957;
  • County Treasurer Scott German -- $1,282 raise for a salary of $87,377;
  • County Clerk Don Read -- $1,207 raise for a salary of $82,702;
  • County Attorney Charles Zambito -- $1,338 for a salary of $91,338.


November 9, 2012 - 8:07am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, GCEDC.

At a hearing giving the public a chance to weigh in on the proposed 2013 Genesee County budget, five people showed up to speak.

Three of the speakers addressed funding for Genesee County Economic Development Council, one spoke on veterans issues and the fifth told legislators they need to find a way to balance the budget without raising taxes.

Kyle Couchman and John Roach both spoke out against spending more than $200,000 to underwrite the EDC's economic development efforts.

Couchman said he liked the idea of holding the funding in reserve until GCEDC came forward during the year with specific justifications for its expenditure.

"I came here tonight because I wanted to be a voice for the community, for the people who don’t always get to the meetings but have a strong feeling on this issue," Couchman said.

Roach (top photo), who also addressed veterans issues, said there are other things some $200,000 could be spent on, from reducing the county's debt to holding it a reserve fund for a new jail.

GCEDC doesn't need the money, Roach said. The county does.

Charlie Cook, the incoming chairman of the board for GCEDC, spoke up for continued funding from the county.

Cook, who is owner and CEO of Liberty Pumps in Bergen, used his own company as an example of how GCEDC aids business growth.

He said 13 years ago, Liberty Pumps had a 33,000-square-foot building and employed 50 people. Today, after two expansion projects, Liberty Pumps employs 130 people.

"Our people pay taxes and support the local economy," Cook said. "It’s impossible to put a price tag on the impact of growing employment and the ripple effect of those incomes in the community. More employment creates other jobs, enhances the tax base, supports the residential real estate market and retail economy and provides much needed resources to local communities and schools."

The county's support of GCEDC sends an important message about the community being united behind economic growth, Cook said.

"It’s deeply disappointing and discouraging to me as a volunteer that the GCEDC -- an organization whose sole purpose is to benefit the community and its residents -- is threatened with abandonment by that community," Cook said.

More than a dozen veterans showed up to the meeting. There had been concern recently in the veterans community about the Veterans Services office being located inside the Department of Social Services.

County Manager Jay Gsell is now working on a plan to move the office, and make it its own department again, either at the Job Development office on East Main Street or the VA hospital.

Jim Neider, speaking for many of the veterans present, said either proposal helped relieve much of the concern in the veterans community.

Roach said he favored the job development location because of better parking and, he noted, the VA center serves veterans from all over the region. If they see a veterans services office there, they may not realize it's there only to serve Genesee County residents.

Former Legislator John Sackett also spoke. He knocked the legislature for blaming other agencies for mandated spending as an excuse for a tax increase when there are still cuts in the budget that can be made.

He complained that employees and elected officials are not being asked to give back some of their benefits, especially in the area of health care. He questioned any deficit spending on the county nursing home. And he said the county shouldn't be creating two new staff positions.

The meeting opened with remarks by Legislative Chair Mary Pat Hancock followed by a budget overview from Gsell.

The headline out of Gsell's talk was that the county is exploring options for selling or transferring the nursing home to another entity.

The county cannot afford, year after year, Gsell said, ongoing operating losses from the nursing home.

The nursing home will not be closed, he said. It will not be abandoned. Employees won't lose their jobs. Patients will not be put out on the street.

Gsell said state and federal mandates continue to eat up most of the revenue generated for the county from property taxes and the top nine mandates consume 78 percent of the tax levy.

Counties in 48 of the 50 states don't have these mandates, Gsell said.

"Recent comments by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and I quote, 'For many years, they (local governments), just put their hands deeper into the pockets of the taxpayers and the taxpayers have left' would give you the impression that county governments in New York State volunteered to get into the funding of benefits programs such as Medicaid, EI/pre-K services, indigent defense, Safety Net, etc.  Governor -- we did not!

"The state dictated to county governments to pony up and help the state shoulder the burden," Gsell added. "Hence, the New York State imposed property tax."

The county's $145 million spending plan includes a .08 cents per thousand property tax increase, making the rate $9.97 per thousand. The rate increase is four cents below would could be raised under the property tax cap. To help balance the budget, the county will spend $2.5 million from reserves.

The budget is up nearly $4 million over last year. All of the increased spending is driving by mandates expenses, particularly in Medicaid and employee pensions.

The budget is scheduled for adoption Nov. 28.

October 18, 2012 - 10:03am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

Your opportunity to sound off about the proposed 2013 Genesee County Budget will be 7 p.m., Nov. 8, at the Office of the Aging, 2 Bank St., Batavia.

The proposed $100.9 million spending plan will be supported in part by a 10-cents per $1,000 property tax rate increase, making the rate $9.99.

The total levy is $26,428,478.

While the budget may include cuts to nursing home staff, no other significant changes in county government are planned, though legislators have warned that in the near future drastic cuts may be necessary if Albany doesn't deliver on mandate relief.

October 4, 2012 - 10:03am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

There are no sacred cows in county spending any more said Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the Genesee County Legislature, during a budget session on Wednesday.

After first-term Legislator Shelly Stein questioned with trepidation why the county finances the Holland Land Office Museum, Hancock said the legislature should consider every discretionary line item as a possible cost savings.

Legislature Robert Bausch added county parks, GoArt! and the libraries into the mix.

Marianne Clattenberg and Ray Cianfrini had already suggested Genesee County Economic Development Center for the chopping block.

Of course, it's not going to go over well if the legislature cuts both the county's economic engine and its tourism engine, Hancock said.

Clattenberg said that, at least with her constituents, she won't be able to explain a cut to something like HOLM if there aren't also cuts to GCEDC.

Legislators believe the county is facing a fiscal crisis of massive proportions, driven by Albany's cap on tax increases and the inability of state officials to curb spending -- specifically the so-called "unfunded mandates" that counties must fund with no control over how much the expenditures will be or how the money is spent.

During the meeting, there were no votes taken, no decisions made, no real proposals put forward. The budget conference was just a chance for each member of the legislature to sound off about their budget thoughts and concerns.

Frank Ferrando, participating in his first round of budget talks as a legislator, suggested his colleagues stop calling the Albany-driven spending spree "mandates." He said what the mandates really are is a tax on counties levied by Albany politicians.

During the meeting a lot of anger and frustration was directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo for earlier in the day proclaiming that the tax cap enacted nearly two years ago by the State Legislature is working.

"It frustrates me that the governor can take credit and the Assembly and the Senate can take credit for the tax cap," Ferrando said. "They're killing us and we're too soft on them. It's time to face off. The counties are going broke. They're taxing the heck out of us. The rank-and-file don't get it. You call it a mandate. They don't know what a mandate is. Tell them it's a tax. Everybody gets what a tax is. Our taxes are going up."

Earlier in the meeting, Hancock made a lengthy statement about Cuomo taking credit for the tax cut, but never addressing the need for mandate relief. And she pointed out that the county legislature will need to make big cuts --  if not this year, then next -- to what small part of the budget it does control.

"He says they curbed out-of-control spending by the counties," Hancock said. "That's the message he's put out there, making us all the bad boys and bad girls of local taxes, but he's not talking about mandate relief or a true takeover of Medicaid.

"He said the tax cap worked and to some extent, that is true," Hancock added. "It's not going to change until the people see their services are not the same. They can't be the same. You cannot do what you did for less money.

"They feel if we were just a little more clever, if we pinched here and we did this little bit more wisely, then we would have plenty to spend on local services, but we don't have any control over a lot of these expenses," Hancock continued.

"You heard about the impact on all of the constituents we serve," Hancock said. "You heard from our veterans. You heard from Genesee Justice. You heard from probation. You heard from DSS. These people serve your constituents and we're the ones cutting their budgets. We're the ones sitting here at this table and the pie is getting smaller."

Stein opened the discussion Wednesday evening by asking why the county has both a probation department and Genesee Justice.

"Why they can’t be one, or is that taboo and we can’t talk about?" Stein said.

Her initial remarks were met by a long silence.

County Manager Jay Gsell pointed to a bottle of hand sanitizer in the middle of the conference table and said, "Pretend that's the grenade. You notice nobody's pulled the pin yet."

Gsell then explained that there really are some key differences between the two departments. Probation deals primarily people who have been convicted of a crime and Genesee Justice supervises people going through the court system. One agency is more enforcement-oriented, the other more about monitoring activity and behavior. Probation gets state funding. But release under supervision gets almost no funding support although it helps keep the county's jail costs down, Gsell said.

The other sacred cow several legislators expressed a willingness to gore is the Genesee County Nursing Home.

It simply costs the county too much money, they said, and is a problem that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

"We need to get some direction as a legislature or we're just going to keep shoveling money into that place," Annie Lawrence said. "I just see no end to it if we continue to be owner/operators of such a place. The state and federal government are just going to shift more and more of the cost onto local taxpayers."

A looming crisis for the county are roads and bridges. Lawrence and Ferrando wondered if the county shouldn't finance repairs and reconstruction through bonds. But Gsell said one of the problems the county faces is some existing debt (which will be paid off in two years) and the failure of the state and feds to reimburse the county for social service expenses, most of it tied to the nursing home.

"That $6 million in rolling debt from the state and feds affects our bond rates," Gsell said.

When it came Cianfrini's turn to share his budget thoughts he opened with, "I know I'm going to make some enemies with this, but ..." and then he raised the issue of cutting spending for GCEDC.

"I know, it's a job well done and they've done a great job, but I don't see how we can continue to fund them at the current level when they show profits into the millions of dollars," Cianfrini said. "We're at the point, and I made this comment earlier, where we should only provide essential county services. If it's not an essential county service, we should look at cuts there."

Cianfrini also expressed concern that not everybody in the county has tightened their belts as much as they should. He cited specifically a case of members of the Public Defender's Office all going to a conference at a cost of $4,000 or $5,000.

"Was that necessary?" Cianfrini said. "No. How much of that is going on in the county. I don't know. I think we have to really start looking at where all this money is being spent and (ask) is it really necessary.

Cianfrini also suggested the county look at the services it offers and decide which ones the county should start charging a fee to provide. If the county can't raise taxes sufficiently to cover increased expenses, maybe the county should take a page from Albany's way of operating and start tacking on fees.

"It's always tough to find new sources of revenue," Cianfrini said.

May 14, 2012 - 9:50pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, mandate relief.

Genesee County officials took dead aim at Medicaid on Monday afternoon -- not at the idea that the neediest among us receive free medical care, but that the state and federally mandated program is forced on local governments with no cost controls.

About 40 percent of the tax bill of each property owner in Genesee County -- a total of $9.8 million -- goes to help fund Medicaid.

Each week, the county wires $185,572 to the state to pay for Medicaid.

"As a county, we have waited to present our case -- that change needs to happen and fast before the ship sinks," said Legislator Annie Lawrence (pictured). "I ask you now Albany electeds, don't come home without real mandate relief for all counties in the state."

Lawrence was among several county officials who spoke at a "May Day" rally for mandate relief for local governments.

County officials also took aim at health care premiums that can't be reduced by law, and the spiraling cost of employee pensions.

All told, the nearly $2.2 million in anticipated new costs from these mandated expenses exceed the ceiling of the property tax cap by more than $1 million.

Officials are calling on Albany to enact meaningful mandate relief so that local taxes can go to local programs, such as law enforcement and highways.

The rally is being duplicated this week in counties across the state.

January 15, 2012 - 2:20pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, budget.

In an effort to grapple with ever increasing retirement and healthcare costs, along with maintaining the city's contingency funds, Batavia City Manager Jason Molino is recommending a property tax increase for fiscal year 2012-13.

The proposed budget increases the tax levy by 4.32 percent, or $241,221, to cover anticipated expenses of $15,758,611.

The increase is about $4,000 less than allowed under the state's tax cap law, according to Molino's budget message.

The rate would become $10.94 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $37 per year, or $3 per month, on a home assessed at $80,000.

Near the end of his budget message, Molino, a huge hockey fan, writes, "Put in perspective, Time Warner Cable increased the standard cable rate December 1, 2011 by $4.55/month or $54.60/year, and now you can’t watch the Sabre’s games."

Molino writes:

However, as stated in this message the City is faced with challenging decisions due to detrimental increases in state mandated costs. Use of reserve funds have been tapped to larger extents this year as fixed costs in retirement and healthcare surge, and needed equipment replacements and sidewalk repairs are required. In addition, for the first year in the last five, it is proposed that the City utilize unappropriated/unreserved fund balance to assist with balancing the budget.

State aid for municipalities will likely be reduced again, Molino said.

Retirement contributions are expected to increase 15 percent over the previous fiscal year, or by $182,000.

Healthcare is expected to go up 16 percent, or $256,000 over the prior year.

Much of the healthcare increase is being driven by an increase in health insurance for retirees.

Even with the increase in taxes, the city will need to tap $100,000 from its undesignated reserves to help balance the budget.

The budget also includes setting aside funds for future, potentially larger, increases in retirement and healthcare costs. Those reserves built up in previous years will be tapped in this budget for $65,000 apiece.

"The State’s woes cannot be an obstacle to the City’s success, and this budget continues to put our best foot forward by building our great City to its fullest potential," Molino said.

Designated reserves for equipment replacement ($210,000) and sidewalk repair ($75,000) are also expected to be used in 2012-13.

The undesignated fund balance as of March 31, 2011 was  $493,273, which Molino said is far below the NYS Comptroller’s recommended levels of 5 to 10 percent of general fund operations, which would mean a healthy reserve would be $750,000 to $1.5 million.

The city will need to spend $36,000 on a new phone system, according to the budget message. The current system was scheduled for replacement in 2009 but wasn't. Its manufacturer will discontinue support for the system this year, making repairs more expensive and less reliable.

Water rates will go up 3 percent, if the proposed budget is approved, to $4.44 per 1,000 gallons. Water customers will also pay $8-per-year for anticipated infrastructure repairs and improvements. The fee increases 50 cents year-over-year.

There are no anticipated adjustments to the sewer rate.

In the conclusion of the budget message, Molino writes:

It is strongly encouraged that the City Council considers the proposed tax increase in order to safeguard against significant increases in retirement, healthcare or other costs. While it is understood that a property tax increase is not a popular decision, approving a modest property tax increase complemented with an increase in the contingency account may avoid the need for a more drastic tax increase in following years, which may require overriding the tax cap.

To read the budget message, click here (pdf).

Photo: City Hall photo, file photo.

November 11, 2011 - 1:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget.

More than a dozen veterans made sure their voices were heard Thursday at the public hearing on the proposed 2012 Genesee County budget.

Repeatedly, veterans stepped to the podium and pleaded with the legislature to ensure the next veterans services officer is properly trained.

"Besides the force reduction through attrition, thousands and thousands of servicemen are about to become veterans," said Ernie Luskey, noting the plans to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afganistan in the next couple of years.

Those veterans will have their benefits jeopardized if there isn't a properly trained, credentialed and accredited veterans service officer working for the county, each speaker said.

"There are just too many laws, rules and regulations for a veterans services officer to pick up on the fly," Luskey said. "He has to be trained."

After the meeting, County Manager Jay Gsell said the new veterans services officer will be trained.

Hal Kreter retires from the job in August (he and his wife plan to move to Twentynine Palms in California). Gsell said his replacement will be hired in July or earlier and there are training classes available in August and September.

There is money in the social services budget to accomodate the training, Gsell said.

Gsell said there are other changes coming in the proposed budget, most significantly, the tax rate is going to be reduced.

Adjustments have already been made to reduce the rate from the originally proposed rate of $9.95 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.92.

Gsell said the direction he is getting from the legislature is to reduce it further -- to $9.85 per thousand. The current rate is $9.82.

The county is struggling with cuts to local programs while seeing state-mandated costs -- particularly pension contributions and Medicaid expenses -- skyrocket.

Taken together, the increases in those two programs push the expenditure beyond what the county could generate in property tax revenue, if the legislature raised taxes as much as it could under the recently enacted 2-percent property tax levy cap.

Medicaid alone costs the county more than 42 percent of county's tax levy, or $10 million.

Gsell said New York is one of only three states in the union that makes local taxpayers shoulder any part of Medicaid expenses, all while also providing recipients with a "Maserati" level of numerous services, and with less oversight.

"Medicaid is the entitlement with no ceiling and minimal controls as far as case management and disease management and health-living metrics are concerned," Gsell said. 

If the state took over Medicaid costs, property taxes in the county could be reduced by about $3 per thousand.

"Contrary to what Gov. Cuomo has alleged himself or through his stalking horse, Lt. Gov. Duffy, we counties are not whining or asking to be 'subsidized,'" Gsell said.

"The state put counties in this unprecedented and unenviable position 30 or 40 years ago, with no local control or discretion to fund a benefit that the state and federal governments totally orchestrate. The state alone has the power to gradually and strategically extricate the counties from this fiscal morass."

Total proposed appropriations for 2012 are $142,098,429. That's up 1.10 percent from 2011.

Anticipated revenue for the fiscal year is $112,015,617. The deficit will need to be made up either through more cuts in spending or an increase in the property tax rate.

Gsell said cuts will be made and the rate increase will be lessened when the revised budget is brought forward on Nov. 21.

Top photo: County Manager Jay Gsell; inset, veteran Paul Gaylord; bottom, legislators Esther Leadley, Robert Radley and Hollis Upson.




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