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December 8, 2016 - 12:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

Assuming the County Legislature passes its proposed 2017 budget next week, it will contain the largest property tax increase in recent memory, taking the rate from $9.86 per thousand to $10.07 per thousand of assessed value.

Nobody likes a tax increase, Ways and Means Chairman Bob Bausch noted after Wednesday's committee meeting where the new proposed tax rate was announced, but a 2-percent increase is far more manageable for most people than a 4- or 5- or 6-percent increase, all of which were on the table at one point during the budget talks over the past couple of months.

To get the rate down to $10.07, from a proposed rate of $10.25 a week ago, the Legislature had to come together on a proposal to withdraw another $500,000 from reserve funds -- a total of $1 million out of reserves --to balance the general fund.

The total property tax levy will be $28,969,114, a 2.13-percent increase over last year, which will require the Legislature to override the state's tax cap on levy increases.

It looks like Ray Cianfrini, the chairman of the Legislature, will be the sole dissenting vote on the 2017 budget. He thinks the tax rate can be lower. He thinks the county can afford to withdraw more money from the reserve to help keep the tax rate down.

"The budget being presented is a better budget than we had a week ago, but, again, I'm not going to support it," Cianfrini said.

Over the past dozen years, the county has not calculated into its projected revenue the proceeds of properties sold at the annual tax lien auction.

The count doesn't tally this up as anticipated revenue because it's so unpredictable. One year, the county brought in an extra $400,000 from the auction, but another year it was down to only $7,000 in revenue.

However, Cianfrini said, the average is $142,000. He would like the county to budget for at least some level of revenue from the auction.

Cianfrini is also concerned the county in its budget planning is not giving enough credit for the coming cost savings from the sale of the Genesee County Nursing Home and the boost that will give to the reserve fund balance.

After spending $1 million from the reserve, the county will have a fund balance of $7.7 million. The anticipated net proceeds from the nursing home sale will be more than $6 million, giving the county a fund balance in excess of $14 million.

That's a record amount, Cianfrini said.

"The fund balance is still taxpayer money," Cianfrini said. "It's money we collected from taxpayers and didn't spend. Whenever we have the opportunity, we should give that money back to the taxpayers."

No members of the Ways and Means Committee responded to Cianfrini during the meeting and the resolution to recommend budget approval to the full Legislature passed 4-1.

After the meeting, Bausch said he isn't comfortable counting on any amount of money coming from the sale of Nursing Home until all of the bills related to the sale are paid, which won't happen for another eight or nine months.

"At some point, we will know what those final numbers are," Bausch said. "We have made a significant commitment to our constituents to use that money for roads and bridges. Yes, there is a discussion to be had (about what to do with the money), but we're not anywhere near ready for that discussion."

December 7, 2016 - 6:25pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

A week of wrangling and discussions has helped county legislators come up with a 2017 budget that will increase the property tax rate to $10.07 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

A week ago, it was looking like the rate would be about $10.25 cents.

The rate still represents a jump over the 2016 rate of $9.86 and requires a tax levy override by the County Legislature.

While there were some minor spending adjustments made since last week, much of the change is rate is based on an agreement by the Legislature to take $1 million from reserve funds, rather than $500,000, to balance the budget.

At the Ways and Means Committee meeting tonight, only Legislator Ray Cianfrini voted against sending the budget to the full Legislature for approval. Cianfrini said he didn't think the proposed budget accounted enough for the anticipated sale of the Nursing Home, expected to close before the end of the year, and what that will mean for the county's reserve funds and expenditure savings.

The Batavian will have a more complete county budget story posted sometime tomorrow morning.

November 29, 2016 - 10:22am
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

When the Genesee County Legislature's Ways and Means Committee meets next week, it will be asked to support a county budget that will pull $500,000 from reserves to help balance the budget and raise property taxes to $10.25 per thousand of assessed value.

It won't return a first assistant DA position to the District Attorney's Office, a decision made on an 8-1 vote by the Legislature that prompted Chairman Ray Cianfrini to call his fellow members, "hypocrites."

While other budget matters were discussed during Monday's meeting, the proposal to provide District Attorney Lawrence Friedman with a first assistant -- a position that hasn't been filled in the department for six years -- dominated the conversation.

Friedman tried to make the case for the position, which he intended to fill with Melissa Cianfrini, Ray Cianfrini's daughter-in-law.

Both Friedman and Ray Cianfrini questioned whether the Legislature's reluctance to fill the position, or, more, it's seeming unwillingness to set the salary at what they believe the position is worth, is driven by gender bias.

Friedman exited the meeting quickly after the overwhelming vote against the position and Cianfrini (who cast the one vote in favor of the job) was out the door of the Old Courthouse as soon as the meeting was adjourned.

The position is necessary, Friedman said, because there should be a second-in-command when he's not in the office, there should be somebody else in the office who can handle budget and human resource matters and there should be somebody trained in other aspects of the DA's job because traditionally the first assistant DA becomes the next DA if the position becomes vacant. Friedman was first assistant before he became DA and Robert Noonan was a first assistant before he became DA.

The lack of a first assistant puts the DA's office at a disadvantage, Friedman suggested, against the Public Defender's Office, which only recently acquired its first top assistant, and also has an investigator and a case worker that the DA's office doesn't have and Friedman has never sought.

The county attorney also has a top assistant, and 60 of the 62 district attorneys in the state, including all of the smaller counties, have first assistants, and those offices often also have investigators.

The first assistant also traditionally covered a couple of specialty law areas, such as civil forfeitures, which can generate revenue for the county, and cybercrime and child pornography -- specialties that have gone uncovered by the Genesee County DA's office since Dave Gann retired six years ago.

Legislator Bob Bausch, one of the Legislators who initially questioned the need for a first assistant in the DA's office, said he wondered if it was necessary in an office where all the ADAs are professionals and in the day and age of digital communications.

"Yes, in this day and age, I am accessible, even on vacation, by email and text messages and I’m not complaining about that, but I believe there should be somebody who is trained and has the experience necessary to serve in my absence," Friedman said.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg questioned why after five years it was suddenly an urgent need in the DA's office to have a first assistant.

Friedman made the point that after Gann left, he was asked to cut spending in 2011 and again in 2012, so he didn't think it was appropriate then to ask to backfill the position.

"I waited five years and I realize it’s never going to be restored unless I push it," Freidman said to explain why he's asking for the position now.

Other members questioned whether the position was really necessary since the office was able to operate six years without it.

"I guess I wonder why we would be penalized because I’ve tried to comply and not pushed and not asked for more money all the time and I’ve waited and I’ve waited and I just feel it’s time," Friedman said. "You know, you could make us wait forever obviously, but I don’t think we ever should have gone without that position, but we did. In a sense, I feel, we were not forced to, but it was the right thing to do at the time. I hate to see us penalized for doing the right thing back then."

Included in Monday's discussion was the potential salary of the reconstituted position. In his initial request, Friedman asked for an increase in his salary budget of $30,000. County Manager Jay Gsell knocked that down to about $9,000, to bring the salary in line with recommendations of a management salary study completed four years ago.

Friedman argued that Melissa Cianfrini is underpaid relative to her 17 years experience as a litigator and that her salary is only where it should be now because of a grant received through the Department of Social Services to pay for prosecution of welfare fraud cases.

Traditionally, the county has paid a new top assistant what that person's predecessor made, which is how Friedman arrived at the $30,000 above Melissa Cianfrini's current salary.

That seemed to be the pay range Ray Cianfrini was pushing for because the next undersheriff, Greg Walker, will be paid the same $89,000 salary outgoing undersheriff William Sheron made. That is a salary that is about $3,000 more than recommended by the four-year-old management salary report.

Ray Cianfrini said it seemed only fair that if Walker was paid according to what the previous undersheriff made, which will represent a pay cut for Walker, then the new first assistant in the DA's office should be paid what the previous first assistant made. Or they should both be paid according to the recommended salary structure.

At a previous meeting, Cianfrini first raised the concern that the Legislature's potential unwillingness to raise the salary for the position was driven by gender bias.

Friedman brought that subject up again Monday evening.

"All I can say is I hope the potential of different treatment of our office is not based on the gender of the person who is going to be receiving the position," Friedman said.

Bausch was the first to speak up and reject that suggestion, noting that he has three daughters, one who is an attorney, and a wife who worked professionally until she retired.

"With members of the press here, I just want to make this point, because I don’t want to be hassled when I go home," Bausch said. "Don’t accuse me of saying this was an issue based on the sex of the employee, because I’ve got four women who are going to kill me.”

With the 8-1 vote against creating the position, the salary question was moot, and Cianfrini wasn't happy.

"Amazing, absolutely amazing," the chairman said. "It makes me think about whether there are other agendas involved here. Ok, let’s go on to the next … you’re all a bunch of hypocrites as far as I’m concerned.”

Some legislators took the barb in good humor, with Legislator Shelly Stein piping up to ask a question, "Hypocrite Stein, here."

Another topic covered Monday was what if any personnel cuts should be made in the planning department, or how the department might generate revenue to cover its expenses. Director Felipe Oltramari said when he first took over the department, it was short staffed and over the past year, with better staffing, they have been able to catch up on a lot of work.

A cut in staffing might mean the department would need to eliminate some of the technical assistance it provides to towns and villages, which helps ensure consistency and conformity in the application of zoning and code enforcement on projects.  

Stein, among others, suggested that down the road, municipalities might be charged a fee for such support.

It's either that or reduce the amount of sales tax revenue shared with the municipalities.

Bausch and Legislator Andrew Young continued their push for a five-year plan for county government. 

Revenue and expense woes are only going to get worse, so a plan is needed.

Young is worried about a treasurer's report that suggests the county will fall into insolvency within five years unless it stops dipping into its reserve funds to balance the budget.

Bausch believes the county will be forced to build a new jail within five years and the expert advice given to the county is that they will need $18 million in reserves when that project goes out to bond. Currently, the county is about $11 million short and Bausch doesn't see how the county closes that gap on its current course.

November 22, 2016 - 10:25am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Here's something you don't hear often in the chambers of the Old County Courthouse: Members of the Genesee County Legislature raising their voices and talking over each other during a policy discussion.

Members of the normally decorous body got a little testy with each other at times Monday night during negotiations over the 2017 county budget that has no easy answers as state and federal mandates continue to drive up expenses, eating up more of what local taxpayers contribute to the county budget, leaving precious little left for essential local services.

A substantial property tax increase looks inevitable, bringing it up to a rate as high as $10.30 per thousand. That's a 5-percent increase in the levy. That would mean the Legislature would need to override the state-mandated tax levy increase, which the full body approved earlier in the evening.

As members chattered near the end of the discussion about what level of increase they could accept, Legislator Shelly Stein said, "We know we’re going over. We absolutely know we’re going over."

It's just a question of if they can find a way to cut expenses enough to shrink the size of the increase, and with each member of the Legislature having a good reason to protect this or that expenditure, reaching a consensus on what to cut is proving difficult. They agreed not to eliminate the request for two new corrections officers in the Sheriff's Office, nor to eliminate a road patrol position next year. They also won't eliminate a case worker position in the Public Defender's Office after PD Jerry Ader explained that the position legislators thought was grant funded really isn't. They couldn't agree on whether to make cuts in the planning department or the District Attorney's Office -- and County Manager Jay Gsell explained why a hiring freeze would be a bad idea.

Cuts to the highway department would leave an already depleted staff with fewer people to get road work done. You would have, Gsell said, all flagmen and no workers on road projects, for example. In social services, there has been a significant increase in case load post-Obamacare with no increase in staffing. Any cuts to the Department of Motor Vehicles would reduce county revenue. 

“We are a service business," Gsell said. "Even in this day and age with all the technology, the bottom line is, we deal with people, and most people on a face-to-face basis, and if we don’t, they still end up coming in our offices to get their problems resolved. If we were retail, we could do that kind of stuff, just stop hiring people, but then of course our shelves wouldn't get stocked."

Over the course of his tenure as county manager, Gsell said, the county has eliminated nearly 100 jobs, leaving all departments operating at a bare-minimum staffing level.

When Chairman Ray Cianfrini did a straw poll asking members what percentage of tax increase would members be willing to support, there was no support for a 7-percent or a 6-percent increase, but a passing majority was willing to go along with a 5-percent or 4-percent increase.

Cianfrini joked that he knew Legislator Andrew Young wants to hold it at zero percent, but Young said he raised his hand for 5 percent.

"I understand we’ve got to increase taxes," Young said. "We can’t help it and we should increase it less by cutting more is my opinion, but can’t allow ourselves to become insolvent either. "

The potential of insolvency is a real concern for Young, who has raised it several times during budget discussion. The concern is a big reason legislators are unwilling to take more than $500,000 from reserves to help balance the budget and don't want to transfer nearly $1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from the road and bridge fund and use it to balance the 2017 budget.

Young, Robert Bausch and Marianne Clattenburg are all arguing that the county needs to come up with a five-year plan that will guide budgeting decisions, with more data and some anticipation of the variables the county might face on revenue and spending in the coming years.

"I've never been part of an organization that didn't have a plan for the future, and we don't have a plan," Young said.

If the budget process doesn't start sooner next year, Bausch said, and there's no budget discussion prior to an October meeting, then that meeting might as well be canceled right now because it will be a waste of time.

The Legislature will meet at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the budget again.  

November 16, 2016 - 10:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

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There seems to be no path county legislators can go down with the 2017 county budget that doesn't hurt taxpayers.

Nobody wants to see a tax increase, especially one that is higher than the state-mandated tax cap, but that's exactly what is under consideration by the nine-member body.

Legislators must also decide whether to spend tomorrow's money today or make drastic cuts in personnel that will leave taxpayers with curtailed essential services.

The hard choices discussed at a meeting Wednesday night left everybody a bit frustrated, Chairman Ray Cianfrini most of all, who said if the legislators can't reach a consensus and pass a budget by Dec. 14, the county will be left, by law, with the budget proposal originally drafted by County Manager Jay Gsell.

"If we're not careful, the budget we get will be Jay's budget, which is the budget we all like the least," Cianfrini said.

That budget doesn't raise taxes -- though it does increase the tax levy above the state-mandated level -- but it grabs two big buckets of money the county will need in future years and spends it in 2017.

Gsell's budget is balanced because it takes $1 million in sales tax revenue that would normally be rolled over into funding for future capital projects, such as roads and bridges, and it draws down the county's reserve funds by yet another $1 million.

The tax rate for local property owners would be $$9.76 per thousand of assessed value, which is slightly lower than 2016 rate, but because of an increase in assessed value for county properties, would actually raise more money.

Because of the state's tax-cap formula, which adjusts the cap based on changes to assessed value, the county can't approve a rate above $9.86 without overriding the tax cap.

That's something the legislators seem willing to do under the circumstances.

None of them like the idea of diverting sales tax revenue away from roads and bridges (and the likelihood the county will be forced to build a new jail within the next five years), so that proposal is no longer under consideration.

But legislators can't agree on whether to tap into reserve funds to balance the budget. There's no more than four votes for that option, even if the amount taken from reserves is reduced to $500,000.

"I'm much more concerned about what's going to happen long term," said Legislator Bob Bausch. "I'm not willing to have my kids and my grandkids paying our bills."

Legislator Andrew Young was adamant that the Legislature needs a plan to ensure the county's financial viability before he could agree to spend any more reserves.

"We're working on deficit budgets and eventually that's going to catch up with us." Young said. "We need to put a pencil to this budget and cut things."

Young noted that Treasurer Scott German has warned that if the county continues to spend down reserves, it's looking at insolvency within five years.

To that end, Young was ready to push for the Legislature to eliminate the two corrections officer positions requested by the Sheriff's Office, but also leave unfilled a road patrol vacancy that will open up at the beginning of the year.

That would save the county about $200,000 in 2017.

Cianfrini said if that was part of the final budget, he would have to vote no. The Legislature was split on whether to then eliminate just the two CO positions or just the deputy position.

The reason the Sheriff requested the CO positions is those new hires could start handling prisoner transports for female prisoners between Genesee County's courts and the county jails where they are housed (because Genesee County's jail can't house female prisoners). The county is facing rapidly rising overtime costs because of the transports and road patrol shifts are sometimes short of manpower.

Bausch and Legislator John Deleo were both opposed to any significant tax increase, especially the nearly $1 million increase needed to make up for not spending reserves and not diverting sales tax revenue.

Even when asked to consider spending only $500,000 of reserves, Deleo looked at the potential tax rate, shook his head and muttered, "that's just too much."

He said he was concerned about the burden on taxpayers in the city.

"People tell me all the time to hold the tax cap," Deleo said. "They stop me in the street. But even if we hold it to the 2016 rate, we can't make this work. It's just unreal."

Bausch said there is another constituency to seriously consider -- farmers, who own most of the land in the county.

"Even a 10-cent increase would have a big negative impact on our farmers and they're the number one industry in the county," Bausch said.

There will be some budget relief once the county closes on its deal to sell the County Nursing Home, but the impact will mostly be a one-time benefit and not help the longer term, growing fiscal crisis facing the county.

The legislature meets again on Monday evening to take up the budget discussion once again and see if they can come to an agreement on taxes and spending for 2017.

The total proposed buget for 2017 is $146,249,625, which includes all expenses covered by all funding sources, including revenue received from various other funding sources besides property and sales tax. A property tax of $9.76 per thousand would raise $27,844,499 (the tax levy). The county is also budgeting for about $18 million in sales tax revenue. A large proportion of the county's expenditures are mandated by state law and can't be eliminated.

November 10, 2016 - 12:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

There will be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 21, where the public can speak on the question of whether the county government should pass a resolution to override the state's property-tax cap.

The County Legislature is considering passing the resolution as a safety valve in case budget constraints require it to increase the tax levy above the state's 2-percent limit.

Passage of the resolution does not mean the tax levy will increase above the tax cap amount, but it will provide the legislature with that option if during budget discussions it's deemed necessary.

The hearing will be held in the Old Courthouse, 7 Main St., Batavia.

October 27, 2016 - 1:22pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in nursing home, budget, genesee county, news.

As County Manager Jay Gsell and the Legislature work on finalizing the 2017 budget, it's been a bit of a nail-biter for county officials wondering if they would be able to close on the sale of the Nursing Home before Dec. 31.

Without the close, the county would need to include nearly $16 million in expenses and offsetting revenue in the budget.

Back in May, the NYS Health Department approved the certificate of need ("CoN" -- a kind of license) 160-bed care facility, but officials had gotten no word on the other CoN for the 80-bed adult home.

All along, Gsell felt the sale would be finalized before the end of the year, but without final approval, there was no way to count on it.

Yesterday, an executive with the prospective Nursing Home buyer, Premier Health LLC, got a phone call from a state official saying the certificate of need was approved and an official letter should be dropped in the mail today.

"At least now we have a very good sense that this is actually going to happen in the calendar year 2016," Gsell said.

Once the letter is in hand, both sides can start working on the details of closing the sale, including transferring employees and contractors, completing paperwork, and finalizing how to handle accounts receivable, among other details.

That will be a three- or four-week process, Gsell said.

The county will get about $15 million for the nursing home, but after expenses, only about 25 percent of those proceeds will be available for either the general fund or the capital fund.

Gsell was able to share the good news with legislators yesterday during a budget work session.

There were no decisions that came out of yesterday's budget discussion. The legislators have a 292-page, $141 million budget to pore through as they grapple with their options for the tax rate, deficit spending or any big spending cuts that they might make.

Gsell's budget is balanced, but it requires pulling $1 million from reserve funds and reallocating sales tax revenue from future road and bridge repairs to the 2017 general fund.

A $15 million increase in assessed value, of which about $7 million is taxable, for properties in the county, makes the break-even tax rate for the 2016 vs. 2017 tax levy at $9.66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Gsell's budget proposal increases the tax levy by $645,000, the maximum increase under the state's tax cap law.

That would set the 2017 property tax rate from the county at $9.76 per thousand of assessed value, or 10 cents lower than 2016.

The Legislature will consider whether to pass a resolution authorizing them to override the tax cap limit to raise taxes. Because of timing and budget deadline issues, the resolution will need to be passed before they even get to the point of deciding what the tax rate should be.

It's a policy decision for the legislature whether to accept Gsell's budget as proposed, raise taxes to reduce deficit spending, or make significant cuts in non-mandated services, such as parks and law enforcement.

October 25, 2016 - 11:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

His proposed county budget for 2017 is bare-bones and no-frills, County Manager Jay Gsell told Legislators in his annual budget message, delivered as his office wraps up putting together a tax and expense plan that meets the county's obligation to continue state-mandated programs, keeps local services in place and doesn't call on officials to raise taxes above tax cap levels.

Increasing state-manded funding obligations continue to burden local taxpayers, with no relief in sight, Gsell said.

"The continued disregard of New York State's culpability in the county tax rate increases over the past 40 years is something we have learned to live with, but to be additionally mocked by Albany for not being able to control our expenses or tax rates, and blaming us for 'living with these unfunded mandates' is disingenuous at best and necessitate county governments cutting non-mandated, quality-of-life programs, reducing funding for vital community agency programs and depleting our fund balance in lieu of 10- to 30-percent property tax levy increases, neither option of which is sustainable nor logical in tax-happy New York State," Gsell wrote.

Examples of mandated expenses without concurrent state aid is Medicaid, an expenditure equivalent to 80 percent of the county's tax levy. The county is also being forced to pick up more of the cost of legal defense for suspects unable to pay for their own attorney. Unreimbursed legal services costs now exceeds $1.2 million. The state is also mandating an increase in District Attorney pay from $152,500 to $183,350. 

Gsell's budget once again dips into the county's reserve funds, to the tune of $1 million, and transfers $1.1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from future projects, such as road and bridges, to spend the money in 2017. It also cuts 10 percent of the funding requests for several local agencies, including Genesee County Economic Development Center, libraries, the Holland Land Office Museum, and the Soil & Water Conservation District.

Shuffling the deck chairs enables Gsell to present a balanced budget that keeps the tax levy under the tax cap level.

The proposed tax rate is $9.76 per thousand of assessed value for a total levy of $27,844,499.

Any drastic changes in Gsell's proposed budget, such as raising the tax rate above tax cap levels, or cuts to essential services, what Gsell previously called "the nuclear option," are policy decisions best left to members of the County Legislature, Gsell said.

The legislature meets at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in the conference room of the Old Courthouse to discuss the proposed budget.

As mandated expenses continue to grow and the county facing potentially large bills for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and possibly a new jail, Gsell warns in his budget message that the county may have to consider in 2018 pulling back the 50/50 share of sales tax revenue with towns and the city. The county isn't required to share sales tax revenue and expenses for local roads and bridges falls almost entirely on county government.

October 20, 2016 - 2:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

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Legislators are faced with a number of hard choices as the county's 2017 budget comes together.

Increases in mandated spending, increases in personnel expenses, flat sales tax revenue and unsettled questions about expenses related to the soon-to-be-former Genesee County Nursing Home means the county needs to raise more money than allowed by the tax levy cap.

County Jay Gsell laid out several options for the legislators, except one, but Chairman Ray Cinifrinit put it on the table: Voting to override the tax cap limit.

To override, the Legislators would have to hold a public hearing and then vote on a resolution. That would have to be done before completion of the budget process, so approving the resolution wouldn't necessarily mean there would be a tax increase above the cap amount.

"I'm suggesting that we at least pass the resolution," Cianfrini said. "That's just good planning."

Gsell said he won't submit a budget proposal, which is due within 48 hours, that includes a tax increase above the cap amount.

The formula for figuring the cap takes into account the $14 million in increased assessed value for real property in the county, but the county can only use a portion of that increase for any pre-cap increase in the levy.

If the county were to raise no more money from the levy than in 2016, it would put the tax rate for the county at $9.69 per thousand of assessed value.

The rate can't go past $9.86 to stay under the levy cap. 

If Gsell accepted all of the funding requests by various county departments, which by direction were already frugal requests, the tax rate would be $10.27.

To get the rate down to at least $9.86, Gsell said there will be no new hires for county staff, except two new corrections officers, and he's looking at using $1 million from the county's reserves, as well as diverting 1 percent of the sales tax that would normally go to next year's capital projects (think roads and bridges), for another $800,000 in savings. He's also cutting 10 percent from all non-mandated services, except for mental health related services, Genesee Community College and the Chamber of Commerce (the tourism office helps generate revenue for the county and gets funding from the hotel bed tax).

Here's the list of programs and agencies slated for a 10 percent cut from their funding requests:

  • GO-ART!
  • Business Education Alliance
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Holland Land Office Museum
  • Housing Initiative Committee
  • Genesee County Economic Development Center
  • Libraries
  • Mercy Flight
  • Soil & Water Conservation District

Legislator Andrew Young expressed concern about the county once again dipping into reserve funds to balance a budget. He noted that practice can't last forever. He is also concerned about diverting funds from capital projects when the county is looking at a $15 million bill for road and bridge repairs over the next five years.

So take those two revenue diversions off the table, that leaves Legislators with two big options -- raise taxes above the levy cap, or go to what Gsell called "the nuclear option," the "scorched earth policy."

That option is completely eliminating a service the county currently provides but isn't mandated by state law. Those options include closing county parks and eliminating the road patrol deputies in the Sheriff's Office.

Such drastic cuts could also include elimination all funding for the nine programs and services listed above.

"If they (the legislators) don't like what I recommend in terms of how the revenues are put together," Gsell said after the meeting, "that's when I have to go back to the expense side of the equation and get rid of $1 million to $2 million worth of expenses."

But Gsell warned legislators that drastic cuts will certainly bring about intense pushback from the community.

"We tried that with Genesee Justice a few years ago and I believe there were 200-plus people at a public hearing over in the court facility," Gsell said. "Everybody and the kitchen sink came in and said that's the worse thing the county has ever thought of, let alone tried to do as far as county government goes. So that's just a caution."

The two-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday also included a lengthy discussion about how to eliminate some of the overtime costs within the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Gary Maha, Undersheriff William Sheron (top photo), Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble and Jail Superintendent William Zipfel participated in the conversation.

The two main areas of overtime expense are deputies in training with their four-hour daily commute to and from basic training in either Niagara Falls or Monroe County and prisoner transport of female inmates between Genesee County, which doesn't have a jail that can house female inmates, and the jails in the area that can accept female prisoners.

Currently, deputies are taken off of road patrol for transports.

The Sheriff's Office budget requested three new corrections officers to handle the transports, but the discussion headed toward a proposal to hire two new corrections officers and find retired law enforcement officers to work part-time help with transports.

County Attorney Charles Zambito, soon-to-be County Judge Zambito, said once he's judge he can probably make sure the calendar is adjusted to ensure prisoners to be transported are scheduled for appearances in batches, reducing the number of transport trips. 

Jail expense is also going up, Zipfel said, because of the changing demographics of the jail population. There is more time and expense with medical transportation and dealing with mental health issues, including more one-on-one watches for inmates who may be suicidal.

"The jail population is aging and getting sicker with every month that goes by," Zipfel said. "We're encountering more people who have drug and alcohol addictions, more people who are older. We've had several people recently in their 70s and 80s who are getting sentenced because of drug and alcohol addictions."

The legislature will meet again on the budget next Wednesday.

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.

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