The text of the State of the County address delivered today by Chairman Ray Cianfrini:
For those of you who know me, you know that I like to keep things brief and to keep the program moving. I’m sure my address tonight will not be out of character.
Let me start by saying welcome again to our new legislator, John Deleo, and to all our new department heads; Eve Hens our new purchasing director; Pam Lagrou our new clerk of the legislature; Ruth Spink, our director of the office for the aging; Theresa Asmus-Roth, the program coordinator for Genesee Justice and Mike Cianfrini, our new county clerk. This is an exciting time to be part of our county government and we need you as leaders to use your talents and your energy to bring us new ideas and not always accept the status quo, but to challenge it and change it when necessary.
I would also like to take a minute and say how our county takes great pride in the accomplishments of its leaders.
And we in Genesee County are proud to recognize and praise two of our longtime county leaders in county Manager Jay Gsell and county Sheriff Gary Maha.
Jay is scheduled to receive the prestigious Wolcott “Jay” Humphrey III Community Leadership Award from the Chamber of Commerce at their awards ceremony on March 5.
And our own sheriff, Gary Maha, the longest tenured sheriff in the state, has received the likewise prestigious sheriff Grover Cleveland award from the NYS Sheriff’s Association. This is the highest award to a sitting sheriff and has only been awarded on four other occasions.
We congratulate both of you for these well-deserved honors and we thank you for bringing us pride and recognition to Genesee County.
Last year I spoke of making 2015 a year of progress in our county and in looking back I think it's safe to say we may have overachieved in accomplishing our goal
Let’s look back to last year…….
Our Genesee County jobless rate at the end of 2015 was 4.8 percent, down from 5.5 percent the previous year. This is the lowest jobless rate in our county since 2006.
At Genesee Community College, construction began on the new student awareness center and the new student wellness event center with completion expected by this year.
Tourism continues to be strong in our county. The year 2015 saw a 2-percent increase in bed tax revenues and the Chamber of Commerce has used the “bed tax reserve” revenue to assist in the acquisition of a new chamber office on park road with a new visitors center.
A new ride is being built at Darien Lake and a new hotel is being built at Batavia Downs gaming facility and both are sure to bring additional visitors to our county.
Our airport began construction of its new $5.9-million terminal scheduled for completion next month.
The airport also saw record sales of jet fuel in 2015 continuing a trend that has seen our fuel sales increase every year since 2008.
The legislature gave its initiative and support for rifle hunting in Genesee County last year and also commenced its first ever deer management hunt at the county park.
We funded two new deputies for the Sheriff’s Department and we went to a full-time county attorney.
We adopted a new management salary schedule to bring parity to our management personnel and we successfully completed contract negotiations with both of our CSEA employee bargaining units.
In addition, the legislature adopted a 2015 county budget that reduced the tax rate by $.18 (cents) per thousand and for our 2016 budget we held the line with a zero-percent tax increase.
Also, agriculture is still our major industry in Genesee County and in 2015 we continued to be the “breadbasket of Western New York."
We suffered disappointment with the departure of Muller Quaker yogurt manufacturing, but we were very fortunate to have Dairy Farmers of America acquire the facility with the expectation of a new and perhaps larger dairy presence in the ag park.
To showcase our local agricultural riches, GCC hosted a “Harvest Fest” and Stein Farms in Le Roy held a “field to fork feast” on their farm in September.
We have also seen expansions at O-AT- Milk in Batavia and Yancey’s Fancy in Pembroke. And, (regarding) business facilities, a national site selection publication has ranked Genesee County as one of the fastest growing “food processing employment leaders” in the nation, ranking it seventh in their list of top 10 mid-sized metro areas for food processing growth.
While all of these are measures of progress last year, I feel strongly that the two major accomplishments of 2015 were the sale of the county nursing home and the reality of STAMP (Science & Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park).
As you know, the legislature, after a long and arduous process, sold the county nursing home last year to premiere health care for the sum of $15.2 million.
We anticipate a closing by this summer and when complete, we not only close the “fiscal dark hole” that generates almost $3 million annual deficits to our county budget, but once the county has settled all its debts and short-term borrowing and employee obligations, some of the sale proceeds can be designated to fund much needed infrastructure repairs.
We feel strongly that the sale of the nursing home to a well respected private ownership group is a win-win situation for all involved, including the employees and residents of the home.
On the economic front, last year Steve Hyde, the CEO of our GCEDC (Genesee County Economic Development Center(, stated that “2015 is the year STAMP comes to life” and he was right.
With our support and the hard work of the staff at GCEDC stamp became a reality when 1366 technologies announced last October that it is set to break ground by this summer on a new solar chip manufacturing plant on the STAMP site.
They have committed over $700 million to the project and will create over 1,000 jobs with an additional 5,500 construction and supply chain jobs.
With this announcement, the state released $33 million dollars from its budget for site improvements to the STAMP site, which will provide water to the Town of Alabama and water and sewer to the STAMP site.
So as you can see, 2015 had an aggressive agenda that resulted in a very productive year with progress made on many fronts and I applaud our management and my colleagues on the legislature for their hard work and dedication. It was a year we could all be proud of.
However, with a new year in front of us there is still much to do.
In a perfect world of county government, there would be no state mandates, taxes would be low; revenues would be high.
Social service programs and our jail population would be reduced; everyone would have county water; our roads and bridges would be in excellent shape and our sheriff would have all the deputies he asks for.
Unfortunately, in our real world of today, things are far from perfect.
The state continues to overburden counties with mandates that are an onus to our taxpayers. We need only look at our county cost of Medicaid, indigent legal defense and pre-K programs forced on us by the state to cry out for the need for reform.
Our jail population, especially for female inmates, puts a tremendous strain on our tax dollars and the need for a new 125-bed jail for males and females at a cost of over $36 million is facing us in the near future.
Our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair.
Sales tax revenues are flat and with the cost of gasoline going down, they will continue to be flat.
Our sales tax agreement with the city of Batavia and our county-wide water agreement with the city, which includes completion of phase 2 of the county water project, are both scheduled to expire in 2018, less than two years away.
As a result, I see 2016 as a year of tremendous challenges.
County water and distribution of sales tax revenues are the “hot button” topics that must be resolved in the next two years.
I feel it is imperative that we begin discussions immediately to explore how best to allocate our sales tax revenues with our municipalities when the current agreement expires and hopefully have some concessions that allow the county to complete phase 2 of the county water project.
In addition, we need to develop a strategic plan for how best to use the net proceeds from the sale of our nursing home to address our aging infrastructure.
Our roads and bridges have been too long neglected. I’m sure many of you are not aware that our county is responsible for every bridge in the county over 5 feet, which would include most all culverts, and we have already been advised by our highway superintendent about the deteriorating condition of many of our county bridges. We need to act now!
On the economic front, the STAMP project will come to life and hopefully we will see the growth of new businesses to support 1366 technologies and the installation of water to the Town of Alabama and the STAMP site.
We look forward to the new hotel on Park Road and we will continue to work in partnership with the City of Batavia and GCEDC on the pathway to prosperity to provide funding for development and enhancement of the brownfield opportunity area in the city.
I feel it’s time for the county to consider selling some parcels of county-owned property that are currently underutilized and a drain on county revenues.
Let’s look at the Holland Land Office and the former engine house property to see if they might be better served by being in the hands of private or not-for-profit ownership.
And hopefully with some state assistance, I would like to see us increase our rural broadband capacity to those areas of the county still without this increasingly vital resource.
And finally, let’s look at a small-scale solar project to see if it can benefit the county in reducing our energy costs.
Now on the state level, our governor has been asking counties to consolidate or share services to reduce our tax burden.
Five years ago the governor instituted the property tax cap to municipalities with the understanding that when implemented, counties would get mandate relief.
Through innovation and creativity we in Genesee County have stayed under the tax cap for all five years, but where is our mandate relief? Surely not in the meager checks for $15 or $20 we got earlier this year from the state.
And yet in our governor’s budget state aid to municipalities remains flat and he is lowering our tax cap, still looking for us to come up with innovative ideas on how to stay under the cap.
“Ok, governor, we get it!” We’ll keep working on it, but how about you and the legislature giving us the tools to work outside the box?
Give us the legislation that allows us the opportunity to pursue a regional jail with an adjoining county instead of our county taxpayers bearing the entire cost of a new jail that will be in excess of $36 million.
And why stop at just a new regional jail? Why not look at a regional county-wide justice court system that consolidates our current 15 city, town and village courts into two or three centrally located district courts in the county to reduce costs on all the municipalities and the Sheriff’s Office and provide for a more efficient justice court system?
These are the challenges that face us this year.
As legislators and managers, we need to keep our priorities in order and understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges we face.
Rather than think and talk about the problems, we need to think and talk about the solutions.
We rose to the occasion last year and we have the right people in the right place to attack these hard issues in 2016 because we, as leaders, have the capacity to translate vision into reality.
Let me end by saying 'thank you' to all our hard working and dedicated employees, department heads, managers and legislators for putting Genesee County in the forefront of progress and economic development in our state. It is you who are our county’s greatest assets.