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genesee county

December 30, 2016 - 3:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in nursing home, genesee county, news.

A demand put on the company buying the Genesee County Nursing Home by the NYS Department of Health has delayed closing on the title transfer, so in an emergency session this morning, County legislators approved a short-term lease agreement with the buyer.

The agreement will allow Premier Healthcare Management LLC to take over management of the nursing home on Jan. 1.

The county expected to be out of the nursing home business by midnight Dec. 31, so it canceled all of its third-party contracts related to the nursing home effective the last day of the year and told all county employees at the nursing home that they were going off the county's payroll.

This latest wrinkle in the sale process, therefore, caused a bit of turmoil among county officials, said Ray Cianfrini, chairman of the Legislature.

"The fact that this came up at the last minute is disconcerting to all of us," Cianfrini said.

The surprise twist in the plot isn't expected to change the eventual outcome of the sale, Cianfrini said. Officials believe the sale will go through by Jan. 15, but if it doesn't, Premier will pay the county $5,000 per month in rent for January and February. If the deal doesn't close by Feb. 28, rent payments go up to $50,000 a month.

Essentially, Cianfrini said, the health department is trying to nail down assurances that Premier isn't going to acquire the nursing home and the flip it to another buyer who will convert the building into condominiums.

That apparently happened in New York City not long ago, Cianfrini said, so the state is leery of a repeat scenario. Cianfrini doesn't think that is Premier's intention. He said Premier seems intent on establishing a strong presence in Western New York, where it's finding it easier to do business than in NYC.

Premier agreed to pay $15 million to the county to acquire the nursing home, which has been running in the red as a county operation for a decade, with deficits hitting as high as $2 million a year. Premier has already transferred $1.5 million to the county and has agreed to pay another $200,000, which is money the county will keep if the deal, for some reason, doesn't go through.

December 29, 2016 - 10:15am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, news, Sheriff's Office.

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With his family all around and many lifelong friends in attendance, William Sheron, after 21 years as undersheriff, became Genesee County's top cop Wednesday evening during an oath-of-office event at the Old Courthouse.

Administering the oath for Sheron was Thomas Graham, town justice in Oakfield, who was Sheron's first trainer when Sheron first joined the Sheriff's Office, walking into dispatch one day in 1977 and meeting Graham as a fresh-faced 18-year-old who "had no clue as to what I was doing, no clue at all." Graham had just been promoted to deputy and said, "sit down and start learning. The sooner I get you trained, the sooner I get to move on to being a deputy."

"He was at the start of a career that has been just phenomenal and the best part about it has been the people," Sheron said. "You’re not going to find nicer people. Every time I’ve progressed, people have stepped up and said they would help me out, ‘whatever you need, Bill.’ This is just the culmination of many, many years and I’m extremely proud to become Sheriff."

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Greg Walker was sworn in as undersheriff.

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Don Coleman, county coroner. 

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Scott German, county treasurer.

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Kevin Andrews, deputy county treasurer.

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Shirley A. Gorman, assistant district attorney.

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Karen Lang, county coroner.

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Randy Baker, town justice, Oakfield.

To purchase prints, click here.

December 15, 2016 - 11:22am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Along the way to settling on a 2017 county budget, the process wasn't without a bit of acrimony, but looking forward to future budgets, there may only be more pain ahead.

The County Legislature passed its budget last night, 7-2. It raises county property taxes to $10.07 per thousand of assessed value, creating a property tax levy of $28,699,115. The increase required the Legislature to vote to override the state's 2-percent cap on an increase of the levy.

Legislative Chairman Ray Cianfrini said he thought his colleagues could have done better and voted against the budget, which takes effect Jan. 1. 

"The county manager presented us with a proposed budget that used reserves to decrease the tax rate and keep us under the tax cap," Cianfrini said. "Now, we are rejecting it for a budget with an increase in the tax rate and that goes over the cap. I think we could have done better."

John Deleo also voted no. (Corrected)

The budget County Manager Jay Gsell presented in October took $1 million from the reserve fund and redirected $1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue that would typically go into the long-term capital project fund and cut the tax rate to $9.79.  

A report earlier from County Treasurer Scott German stated that if the county continued on the same path it had for the past eight years, of spending about $2 million in reserve funds per year, the county would be broke within five years.

That particularly concerned legislators Andrew Young and Bob Bausch and they initially pushed for a budget that took nothing from reserve funds. The problem they ran into: the Legislature couldn't find $2 million in spending to cut without cutting essential services, such as law enforcement; and they were no more happy with the idea of a tax rate approaching $10.50.

The compromise a draw on reserves of only $500,000, but that lowered the rate to only $10.25, so the legislators met again to try and find more spending cuts. They invited in Undersheriff William Sheron (the next sheriff), Public Defender Jerry Ader and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman to discuss cuts.

Out of that, the Sheriff's Office still gets its two new corrections officers, which will help save the overtime costs associated with deputies transporting female prisoners between courts and jail facilities in other counties, and Ader keeps his caseworker, which helps ensure criminal defendants meet their obligations, but Friedman won't get to promote ADA Melissa Cianfrini to his first assistant.

He's been without a first assistant for six years and the discussion over the promotion became contentious, with both Ray Cianfrini, Melissa's father-in-law, and Friedman suggesting that the reason some on the legislature didn't want to give her a raise is because she's a woman.

That suggestion didn't go over well with members of the Legislature, particularly Bausch, who pointed out he has three daughters, including one who is an attorney.

Future budget years don't promise to get any easier for a county that has already been through years and years of spending cuts, eliminating more than 100 jobs, keeping management pay about 95 percent of market value, delaying maintenance on infrastructure, reducing spending on support agencies, selling the nursing home and holding off on building a new jail.

All this in an environment where the state continues to mandate increases in spending -- this year, for example, forcing the county to increase the salary of the district attorney -- and a new White House administration that promises to eliminate the Affordable Health Care Act.

That, Gsell said, "will render asunder state and county budgets."

The AHC required the county to take on more Medicaid expenses, mainly by ensuring more people who are qualified for Medicaid are receiving Medicaid. The number of people locally who are enrolled in Medicaid has gone from 8,800 to 12,200.

The county's share of the expense is now $178,000 per week.

That expense won't be reduced if the AHC is repealed because the people currently receiving Medicaid will still be eligible for Medicaid, but the federal government's share of the expense, which flows through the state to the county, will be reduced.

That's a mandated expense the county can't legally avoid.

And the increase in enrollment is not without its benefits, Gsell said. It helps control expenses because people are in managed plans and are not relying on emergency rooms for their medical care.

And the fight continues with the state over other mandated costs. The state recently increased the standards for indigent legal defense and with the changes, there was supposed to be relief from the $1.2 million in county expense, but the bill that would make that change has lingered on the governor's desk.

That will be a topic of discussion next week, Gsell said, when representatives from all 52 counties in the state meet for their annual convention.

Meanwhile, work has already begun on the request of legislators to come up with a five-year plan for the county. There is a template recommended by the Comptroller's Office and the county's auditors for five-year planning, Gsell said, and staff has already started working through it.

That plan will set priorities, provide a framework and anticipate contingencies that may help with future budget discussions.

Also, last night, Cianfrini announced that discussions have begun at the most preliminary stages with Orleans County about building a regional jail.

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.

December 7, 2016 - 3:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in emergency communications, genesee county, Le Roy, news.

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A new 165-foot communications tower is being installed today on Town of Le Roy property off of Asbury Road (the site at one time of an airport).

The tower is part of the county's upgraded 800 megahertz digital communications system and will help fill in some dead spots in the town and village of Le Roy. It will also help in spots in Le Roy where communication was harder inside of buildings.

Steven Sharpe, director of emergency communications for Genesee County said the tower will also help complete the phase of building interoperable capabilities with Monroe County's emergency dispatch center, which will then also create a bridge for communications with Ontario County.

"Our goal is to improve interoperable capabilities throughout the region," said Sharpe (in the bottom photo, taking a video of the shelter for communications equipment being lowered into place.

The tower is funded with a $3 million grant from the state.

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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 29, 2016 - 6:12am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, history, news, tourism, hlom.

If you have a history lover or a curiosity seeker on your holiday shopping list, the gift shop area of the Holland Land Office Museum (131 W. Main St., Batavia) is going to be your best friend this holiday season.

Genesee County is blessed with rich American history. The county’s location and people have made significant contributions to the history of our country. The Holland Land Office Museum has a great gift shop that features many local history books and local history items for sale. It’s refreshing to see such a nice array of offerings.

You can visit the gift shop area Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Take a look at some of our favorite items:

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Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...
November 28, 2016 - 10:49am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, holiday.

It was only a few days ago, the table was filled with turkey and pumpkin pie. All of a sudden – BAM! – it’s the holiday season. The calendar says we are at December’s doorstep, so it’s time to get into the spirit of the season. Here are some holiday events happening this weekend that will certainly put you in a festive mood!

Batavia’s Christmas in the City – Genesee County’s largest holiday celebration takes place on Friday, Dec. 2nd at 5 p.m. in downtown Batavia. The entire downtown area gets in on the action with more than 18 different activities; horse and buggy rides, musical performances, contests, kids' activities, workshops, specials and so much more. The centerpiece of “Christmas in the City” is the festive parade at 7 p.m. that travels from Court Street to Summit Street.

Le Roy Winterfest – On Saturday, Dec. 3rd, the picturesque Village of Le Roy celebrates the season “small-town style” with its annual Winterfest. The daylong event is capped with the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. in the center of town. Throughout the day there are fun activities for shoppers, a holiday bazaar, children’s activities at several locations and more. Everyone gets excited for the arrival of Santa at 1 p.m. at the Moose Family Center. (Photo by Howard Owens.)

Village of Bergen Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony – Join a parade of carolers on Friday, Dec. 2nd at 6:30 p.m. who will walk from Hickory Park to Ward Park, where the tree lighting will take place at 7 p.m. The parade is guided by the Bergen Fire Department and Santa & Mrs. Claus. After the tree lighting there will be a musical performance, contests and more.

Shopping with the Spirits at Rolling Hills Asylum – Do a little holiday shopping on Saturday, Dec. 3rd, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at one of America’s most notoriously haunted locations, Rolling Hills Asylum, 11001 Bethany Center Road, East Bethany. Admission is free to shop for unique gifts, jewelry, mystic pine candles, art works, essential oils, Herkimer diamonds and gemstones, creepy dolls and more. There will also be some mini-tours of Rolling Hills Asylum for a small fee.


15th Annual Wonderland of Trees, Holland Land Office Museum – Tuesdays through Saturdays until Jan. 4. View more than 50 holiday trees decorated by local businesses and organizations throughout the historical Holland Land Office Museum, 131 W. Main St., Batavia. Celebrating its 15th year, Wonderland of Trees is a bonafide Genesee County tradition. All proceeds go to help this wonderful organization.

Create-A-Critter at Genesee County Park & Forest – Make your own “critter” as a holiday gift or to keep as your own. On Saturday, Dec. 3, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. let your imagination run wild and create a critter made out of objects found in the woods. This fun event takes place in the activity room at the Park’s Interpretive Nature Center, 11095 Bethany Center Road, East Bethany.

Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

November 23, 2016 - 11:50am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, thanksgiving.

Wow! 2016 is flying by. It’s hard to believe that it’s Thanksgiving week. We have a lot of things to be thankful for in Genesee County – including items that will make your “Turkey Day” awesome. Whether you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner, or are going to someone’s house on Thursday, here are five places/items that will enhance your holiday.

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Greg’ry’s Bakery (13 N. Lake Road, Bergen, NY)   – You will certainly be a superstar if you show up to Thanksgiving dinner with one of Greg’ry’s Bakery’s 25 delicious pies. Everything at this beloved Bergen bakery is made from scratch, so you know it will be great. Greg’ry’s also has a slew of breads, coffeecakes and rolls that will be welcomed at the dinner table. If you visit their website, Greg’ry’s Bakery has a special online Thanksgiving ordering form to help facilitate the process.

(Photo by Howard Owens.)

Oliver’s Candies (211 Main St., Batavia, NY) – Since 1932, Oliver’s Candies has been a sweet tooth’s favorite destination in Genesee County. Oliver’s uses original proven family recipes and the very best in ingredients. Glazed cashews and ribbon candy are two of Oliver’s specialty items that are welcomed at any Thanksgiving table. The fact that Oliver’s is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week should make it easy for you to stop by.

Kutter’s Cheese Factory (857 Main Road, Corfu, NY) – This is your destination for award-winning cheeses. There are so many different flavors to choose from, including all your Yancey’s Fancy favorites (smoked Gouda and bacon is this writer’s top choice!). A large selection of curds, dips, cottage cheeses, jams, spreads, and crackers are also available in the outlet store, as well as Hunt Country Vineyard wines.

Midgard Wines (purchase at West Main Wine & Spirits, Batavia) – Bring some local wine to the table! Genesee County’s only meadery turns honey into wine (also known as mead). Midgard’s delicious flavored wines are made from their own bee colony on the family farm. Mead is quite the rage in the food and beverage world – so not only will you bring a great wine to Thanksgiving, but it’s also catching the wave of a popular trend.

The Mill (7061 Old Orchard Road, Elba, NY) – If you want to spice up your house with some seasonal decorations, or purchase a small gift for your Thanksgiving host, The Mill gift shop is a wonderful place to shop. Set in an old grain mill, The Mill has a wide array of gift items that fit right in with the holiday season. Lots of items to discover throughout.

Bonus locations: After stuffing yourself for a few days, you might want to get some exercise by going for a hike at either Genesee County Park & Forest and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

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 17, 2016 - 5:09pm

In an effort to more effectively and efficiently deal with vacant and abandoned properties, the city, the county and the counties of Livingston and Orleans are considering the formation of land banks.

Land banks have been around for just this purpose since 1971 but didn't start to get traction for county and municipal governments until the early 2000s when Genesee County, Mich., started a successful land bank.

Land banks, which are nonprofit corporations formed by local governments, are able to acquire tax-foreclosed property on a streamlined basis and then more quickly get that property back into residential or commercial use.

Typically, land banks are self-funding, generating revenue from real estate sales that is reinvested in the process of moving more property from unproductive use to productive use.

They're particularly popular in rust-belt communities where populations have declined and industry has left hulks of buildings vacant. 

The proposed agreement between the three counties and the city has a provision for the land bank to hire an executive director and potential staff members.

The board of directors would be appointed by the government bodies and those members would serve without compensation.

The corporation would be known as the GLO Regional Land Bank.

County Manager Jay Gsell introduced the potential agreement to members of the County Legislature on Wednesday evening. The Legislature has not yet been asked to take action on the proposal.

Currently, when a property owner allows a parcel to pass into tax foreclosure, the property is sold at auction. Each local government would have the option to let a property go up for auction or transfer that parcel to the land bank.

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 15, 2016 - 2:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in district attorney, genesee county, news.

For the first time Monday, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman spoke at length publicly about the Governor's Office mandated pay raise for county district attorneys and made his case that the County Legislature should pass the resolution boosting his pay.

"I would like to think that after myself, being a district attorney for 20 years and in the office for 35 years, that if it was not for the mandated salary, I would think that the district attorney salary would be at least as much as the salary being paid to the new county attorney," Friedman said. 

The statewide fight over DA salaries arose, Friedman said, because members of the legislature didn't want to give county judges raises without giving themselves raises, and if judges didn't get raises, then neither did DAs.

That went on for 13 years before Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed a commission to recommend a new salary structure.

The county benefitted all those years that there were no mandated raises, Friedman said.

Furthermore, even with the raises, the county is paying less for the DA than the county attorney because the state picks up $72,000 of the DA's salary.

Under the mandate, Friedman's salary will go from $152,500 to $183,350 and then up another $10,000 in April 2018.

Legislators, such as Mike Davis, said they have no problem with the job Friedman is doing, but they object to the mandate and Davis expressed concern that the salary is out of line with rural expenses.

Friedman said that one reason the wage increase is being pursued at a state level is that it was getting harder to retain DAs in their jobs, with many opting for higher paying county court judge positions.

The committee voted to advance the pay raise resolution on a unanimous vote.

"The ramifications of not doing this, however, would impact our budget even worse because we would not have the benefit of the New York State supplement for the DA's salary that we're getting now, so we would end up paying even more," said Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg. "We are supposed to be a country of laws and whether we like this or not, this is a law and this is the Public Service Committee, so I vote to follow the law."

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 - 11:21am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, arts, business, news.

Are you looking to try something new? Why not take an art class? Life can be hectic at times – slow it down a little by exploring some creative pursuits. The benefits of taking an art class are numerous: self-expression, relaxation, slowing down, awakening other parts of your mind and discovering new talents are just a few.

From absolute beginners to individuals with prior training, there are several opportunities in Genesee County where you can stretch your creative muscles. Here are seven locations where you can “get your art on!”

Oatka School of Glass – 56 Harvester Ave., 2nd Floor, Batavia
This place is known as the little studio with a big reputation. Artists and students come from around the world to learn and teach at Oatka School of Glass. And you too can create your own glass masterpiece at this highly revered place! The school offers a variety of classes and instructional demonstrations. Experienced glass-workers guide you through the steps to create a unique glass project such as a glass paperweight, flower, beads and pendants, wind chimes, plates, coasters, or even a sun catcher.
oatka-glass3

GO-ART! – 201 E. Main St., Batavia

GO-ART! is the main arts advocacy and promotions organization in Genesee and Orleans counties. In addition to supporting artists and producing events, the organization also hosts art classes throughout the year. Artist Jill Pettigrew teaches classes in many different mediums. Visit their website to see their offerings.
go-art

Fired Up Ready to Paint Ceramics – 216 Ellicott St., Batavia
Here are some fun projects to undertake. Visit Fired Up and pick out one of the countless three-dimensional items to use for your project. Using special paints, you then paint your item, which is eventually placed in a kiln. A few days later you come back and get your ceramic masterpiece.
fired-up2

Country Cottage Gift Shop & Gardens – 10448 Harper Road, Darien Center
In the rolling countryside of Darien Center is this very neat gift shop, gardens and art class complex. Classes take place in a small cottage or in the loft of a barn. The classes and projects here tend to focus on a country theme. A delightful place to purchase a gift, too!
country-cottage

Karen’s Yarn Paper Scissors – 550 E. Main St., Batavia
Just like the name of the business implies, you can find art supplies here – especially those involving paper and yarn. Karen’s also offers a few unique art classes throughout the year. There have been recent classes involving mixed media, inks and metals, decoupage, drawing techniques, and more.
karens

Jade Pottery – 10115 Creek Road, Pavilion
Tucked away in the southeastern most corner of our county, Jade pottery offers custom pottery, handprint art, paint-your-own pottery and more! Drop in during their open hours, or sign-up online for one of their many public classes. Private classes, birthday parties and children’s camps are also part of Jade Pottery’s many offerings.
Jade

Art Ah La Carte – 39 Jackson St., Batavia
Art Ah La Carte is a teaching art studio for all ages. Kim Argenta, the school’s owner, teaches in many mediums, including acrylics, oils, mixed mediums, chalks, pastels, pencil and much more. The school offers weekly classes, open paint nights, and parties for all occasions.
art-ah-la-carte-mark-gutman-4

Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

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 24, 2016 - 3:27pm

Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming County Public Health Column:

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is this week, Oct. 23-29. The Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming County Health Departments encourage you to learn about lead, lead poisoning, and the importance of preventative testing in order to make our community a healthier one.

Lead is a metal found in the earth and it is a poison. For years, lead was used in paint, gas, plumbing and many other items. Since the late 1970s, lead paint was banned in the United States, however other countries may not have regulations regarding the use of lead products. Lead can be found in the soil, deteriorated paint, household dust, contaminated drinking water from old plumbing, lead-glazed pottery, some metal jewelry, and at some jobsites (typically construction, manufacturing and mining).

Lead poisoning is preventable but when ingested, even a small amount can cause severe and lasting harm. Exposure to lead can happen from breathing air or dust, eating contaminated foods, or drinking contaminated water. All houses built prior to 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.

Lead dust, fumes and paint chips can cause serious health problems. Too much lead in the human body can cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. Everyone, young and old, can be affected if exposed, but children and pregnant women are considered at highest risk. Young children between 6 months and 6 years old are more likely to suffer health problems from lead exposure. Lead poisoning can slow a child’s physical growth and mental development and may cause behavior problems, intellectual disability, kidney and liver damage, blindness and even death.

“New York State Department of Health requires health care providers to obtain a blood lead test for all children at age 1 and again at age 2,” said Brenden Bedard, director of Community Health Services for Genesee and Orleans counties. “Up to age 6, your doctor or nurse should ask you about ways your child may have had contact with lead.

"Pregnant women are at high risk because lead can pass from mother to her unborn baby, as well as be responsible for high blood pressure and miscarriage. Also, be concerned if you or someone in your home has a hobby or job that brings them in contact with lead."

Prevention is the key! Protect yourself and your family from possible lead exposure by talking to your Primary Care Provider about lead testing. There are also many precautions that can be taken to protect yourself and your family; here are a few. Prior to consuming food, make sure hands are washed, clean your home weekly, do not allow your child to chew on something that is dirty, avoid wearing shoes in the house, and hire a qualified professional if you suspect there is lead in your home that you want removed.

For information about this topic or Health Department services contact,

  • Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website

at www.co.genesee.ny.us/departments/health/index.html. Visit Facebook at Genesee County Health Department and Twitter at GeneseeCoHealthDept.

  • Orleans County Health Department at: 589-3278 or check out our website at: www.orleansny.com/publichealth. Visit Facebook and Twitter: the user name for both is OrleansCoHealth.
  • Wyoming County Health Department at: 786-8890 or visit their web site at www.wyomingco.net/health/main.html

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