In his fourth week as interim executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, Jay Gsell said he is focused on networking throughout the agency’s nine counties to help the region bounce back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gsell was back at the Old County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, in the legislative chambers – upstairs from the office where he spent one day shy of 27 years as the Genesee County manager. He retired in August and, about a month later, accepted the interim position with G/FLRPC.
During a review of the regional planning council’s recent activities for the legislature’s Public Service Committee, Gsell said a $400,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant awarded to the G/FLRPC will go a long way toward “disaster and recovery planning, and resiliency planning from the pandemic but also what it is going to look like coming out on the other side.”
“We will be working closely to see what the GCEDC (Genesee County Economic Development Center) and others are doing in terms of once COVID is under control and putting that into perspective,” Gsell said. “And we will be working with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and others to make sure you are not duplicating effort but also how do we come together to make sure the region comes back.”
The G/FLRPC qualified for the grant through its designation as an Economic Development Administration-designated Economic Development District.
Gsell said he is working out of an office on the eighth floor of a building owned by a private developer in downtown Rochester, commuting from his Batavia home five days a week for about five to six hours per day. He said he has an open-ended contract with the agency.
“It’s really up to what the executive committee (which includes Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein and Esther Leadley of Pavilion) and the regional board want to do as far as the time period,” said Gsell, who is temporarily filling the position that was manned by David Zorn until his retirement after about 29 years on the job.
Gsell said Zorn told him that he worked about 35 hours a week doing the basic job and spent another 30 doing “everything else.”
“Dave Zorn did a great job … now I’m starting to liaison with other agencies they deal with, and the other counties -- starting to network like Dave had done.”
Gsell said the G/FLRPC has an annual budget of around $700,000, with Genesee County providing $9,400 each year.
“It has been a flat level of county funding for a number of years and we don’t expect that to change,” Gsell said, noting that larger counties, such as Monroe, contribute more to the agency which has four full-time employees with an average tenure of about two and a half years.
He said the G/FLRPC benefits Genesee County through its work on behalf of watershed development, on comprehensive plan updates and government workshops to help local zoning officials get their mandatory hours of training every year.
“Plus, the grants that are coming in support all the counties and we also have an alliance with the Genesee Transportation Council and each of the municipal planning departments in the county,” he said.
The G/FLRPC was established in 1977 and set up “to do transportation funding, infrastructure funding, wastewater quality, environmental funding activity, and to be clearing house for grants for other organizations to help them focus on the bigger picture," Gsell said.
Counties in its original membership were Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne and Yates. Wyoming County was admitted in 1986. The nine counties in the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region comprise 4,680 square miles, with a population exceeding 1,217,000 residents.
The voting members of the Council are chief elected officials, local legislators, department heads and community leaders representing the participating counties, City of Rochester and the community at-large.