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School safety expert in Pavilion gives advice: space and separation, survive, make sure kids live well

By Howard B. Owens
Don Shomette pavilion central school
Don Shomette, public safety expert, speaking in the auditorium on Thursday at Pavilion High School.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Since it was a small turnout in the Pavilion High School Auditorium on Thursday evening, Don Shomette, a school safety consultant, decided to have a conversation instead of his planned presentation.

He took questions and offered answers.

Those answers included three rules for staying safe if you find yourself in public during a safety crisis, such as an active shooter: act fast, get space and separation, and survive.

Don Shomette
Don Shomette

"Run, Hide, and fight -- I like it because nobody created it," Shomette said. "It wasn't as if someone sat down and said, 'You know what I'm going to do? I'm gonna go ahead and create a strategy that people can use to make themselves safer. That's not what they did. What happened was we watched a million people react to violence, and we said, 'Oh, everybody does one of three things. They run, hide or fight, or they do a combination of it. What I love about it is all of us will naturally do it."

Shomette is a former Marine, combat veteran, and former school resource officer with more than 30 years of security experience.  He has consulted with police departments, municipalities, and school districts nationally.  He provided the district with a vulnerability assessment based on personal visits inventorying all aspects of the campuses, as well as staff development training and Thursday's community meeting.

The low turnout for his talk on Thursday -- less than a dozen people -- was actually a good sign, Shomette said.  It is a sign there isn't a lot of anxiety about potential violence within the district and that there hasn't been a tragic or troublesome event in the area recently.

Advice for responding to violent acts
As for his advice, if you're in the proximity of violence, acting quickly can help save your life, and the thing you are most likely to think about first is getting away from the violence, Shomette said.

"If you're in a room and you hear what sounds like fireworks or firecrackers, chances are it means that the violence is far away from you, or it's not extremely close to you," Shomette said. "In that case, I would run to the door, close the door, lock the door and get out of the way. I'd stay in the room. Chances are, that might be the best thing to do. Okay, why stay in the room? If you can close and lock a classroom door, you have about a 99 percent chance that no threat will enter the classroom. That is, statistically speaking, what school attackers do is they tend not to destroy doors; they try the handle, and then they move on. So if you're in a classroom and you hear what sounds like firecrackers, my advice to you is if you can get to the door and close and lock it, stay there."

That's creating space - you're putting a physical object between you and the attacker.

If you're in the hallway, he said, you need to create distance. That means running.

"I will say that the vast majority of people who go outside tend to survive," Shomette said.

He cautioned, though, that you want to be sure you're running away from the violence and not toward it. 

Prioritizing survival is fighting, Shomette said. You're fighting to survive.

"You have to adopt the mindset right now that you're going to do anything you had to do to survive," he said.

He told the story of two people at a mass shooting who crawled into a hole in the wall that officials couldn't believe one person could fit in, let alone two.

When it comes to fighting back, that is a matter of assessing your situation and understanding what you've trained or practiced to do.  Some people are better equipped based on size alone or the equipment they care to provide physical resistance to an attacker.  He drew attention to, for example, School Resource Officer Trevor Sherwood, who was in attendance and is a large man, a trained peace officer who, if on campus, is probably properly equipped to fight back.

"Typically, we think of fighting as going physical," Shomette said. "If you can go physical, go physical. Trevor, stand up. I want you to look at Trevor. Trevor should go physical, don't you agree? Thanks, Trevor. I mean, I would bring Trevor with me and put him in a glass cage and just break it and say, Trevor, take care of it. If I told Trevor not to fight or as a last resort fight, it would be crazy because Trevor is trained; it's his natural, probably, proclivity. It's what he's going to be leaning towards."

But not everybody is well suited to taking on an attacker. Most people aren't, in fact. That's where space and distance comes into play, which Shomette said is also fighting because it's about surviving.

"The deal is 99 percent of people do not first think of physically fighting," Shomette said. "They tend to be 1 percent of people who physically fight. So don't be discouraged by this. Everybody fights in a crisis. If you run, you're fighting. If you hide, you're fighting. If you survive, you're fighting.”

Protecting yourself
Since students can't carry pepper spray, one young woman asked about carrying hair spray as a defensive weapon. 

That's fine if you're practiced in how you would deploy so that you're ready to react in a tense, life-threatening situation, Shomette said, but space and distance may still be your better option if it is an option.

"I would not, however, bank on the idea that I'm going to do something brand new that I've never done before," Shomette said.

When Shomette was a young police officer, he was provided with pepper spray and not a lot of training or practice time on using it.  He was pretty horrible with it as a defensive tool at first, he admitted.  One time he accidentally sprayed his partner in the face with it.

"That was the worst feeling in the world, seeing that red go on his face," Shomette said. "I felt very comfortable using it."

He eventually became proficient, but it took time.

He recalled a mass shooting in a bar, where dozens of adult customers were standing around with beer bottles in their hands.

"How many grown-ups threw a bottle at the attacker? None of them," Shomette said. "None of them, and you would think that they would do it. But the deal is when a crisis happens -- here's this part that it's hard to describe, and it's kind of painful to say, but during an extremely violent act, it is unlike anything you've ever experienced. You can you can feel it. You'll feel the vibrations. You can feel things hitting you. You smell things. In extreme violence, you can smell things that you never thought about. 

"I look at photos of some things that have happened that I've been involved in, and I still remember what that smelled like. I remembered the smell that was there in extreme violence. I don't know if it's from the room or from the weapons being discharged, but I can remember tasting metal. I look at some photos, and I taste metal. I guess my point is that stay away from extreme violence and get away from it. It is shocking. It is incredibly unnerving. You tend to fall back on the things that you feel most comfortable doing."

Mental health
Shomette started his discussion by sharing his views on the primary cause of mass violence -- mental illness, and the fact that mental health is what society needs to address and what parents need to see as a primary need of their own children.

"There are lots of people who believe what's happening is because of lots of reasons," Shomette said. "I won't go into all the reasons, but they are heavy, big-time debates.  ... This is me. My thoughts. The number one problem, or the number one driver for me, about why we have school attacks is because of mental health, hands down. Why do I say this? I just don't say it because I believe it. I study school attackers. I put on classes for police officers that are five days in a row, eight hours a day. All we do is talk about school attackers, who they are, and what they do. 

"I'm not trying to be insensitive, but after every school attack, the newspaper could read, 'We have learned nothing new.' We've learned nothing new for the last 10 years. We have known everything about school attackers, there is nothing new. Every time, it's shocking, but there's nothing new. The mental health aspect is, without a doubt  -- I think every school attacker suffers from mental health illness because they've had a break with reality and they believe it's okay to take a life. Would you agree that that's totally unhealthy? So I think by the act itself, whether they were diagnosed mentally ill or not, it doesn't matter, in the act of murdering an innocent person, you have proven that you are mentally ill."

Parents, he said, watch your kids and make sure they overcome the barriers they encounter in life and enjoy life.

"Are you ready? I have eight kids," Shomette said. "I am super vigilant, hyper-vigilant. I look at all my kids, and I think about these things on a very personal level. If you live life well, I think you tend not to choose violence. I worry that people who don't live life well long enough, they go down. We make the mistake of just going out there and saying they're mentally ill, but they're really not mentally ill. 

“They say that whatever you practice, you become good at whatever it is you practice,” he said. “So, if you have kids, my advice is to do everything you can to help them live well. If kids can live well, I think we'll get rid of most of our issues and problems."

GCC History Club begins the Historical Horizons lecture series Feb. 7

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Historical Horizons Lecture Series is set to make a return in Spring 2024, presenting a captivating lineup of four Wednesday lectures at Genesee Community College, sponsored by the GCC History Club.

The lectures, scheduled to take place at GCC's Batavia Campus in the Conable Technology Building, Room T102 at 7 p.m., promise to offer a diverse range of topics that appeal to both history enthusiasts and the general public. All lectures are free of charge, underlining Genesee Community College's commitment to providing accessible educational opportunities to the community.

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Photo of Cory A. Norling, courtesy of genesee.edu.

The series kicks off on Feb. 7 with a lecture titled "'Opera Was Not Written for New York Alone': Circuit Chautauqua, English-Language Opera, and the Making of an American Middle, ca. 1910-1930." Renowned scholar Cory A. Norling, PhD Musicology, will delve into the rich history of the Chautauqua Movement and its impact on the American Midwest, exploring the role of staged opera as a cultural bridge.

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Photo of Jess Maxfield, courtesy of genesee.edu.

Following this, on March 6, historian Jess Maxfield will present "The Cautionary Tale of Encephalitis Lethargica: Epidemic Disease and Historical Memory." Maxfield will shed light on the encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early 20th century, drawing parallels with the ongoing conversations surrounding global pandemics.

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Photo of Derek Maxfield, courtesy of genesee.edu.

April 3 brings us to "The Worst of the Worst: The Story of the Confederate POW Camp at Belle Isle in Richmond During the Civil War" by Associate Professor of History, Derek Maxfield. The lecture promises a compelling exploration of the Belle Isle camp, challenging popular perceptions about Civil War prisoner-of-war camps.

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Photo of Victor Vignola, courtesy of genesee.edu.

The series concludes on May 1 with a book talk by Civil War Historian Victor Vignola titled "Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31-June 1, 1862." Vignola's award-winning work on the Battle of Fair Oaks offers a fresh perspective on this pivotal moment in Civil War history.

Genesee Community College invites the public to join them for these enlightening lectures, providing a unique opportunity to engage with historical topics and esteemed scholars. Mark your calendars for an enriching experience at the Historical Horizons Lecture Series this spring.

For more information, please contact the Office of Student Engagement and Inclusion at sei@genesee.edu.

Town of Batavia Republican Committee sets endorsement meeting for Wednesday

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Town of Batavia Republican Committee will hold its Endorsement Meeting on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at The Batavia Town Hall.

Anyone interested in being considered for said Republican endorsement for Batavia Town Clerk should send a letter of interest & Resume to shawley@smhawley.com no later than Jan. 30 at 5. p.m.

Council members take deep dive into numbers and mull issues for future change

By Joanne Beck
Shawn Heubusch, Erik Fix, Tammy Schmidt
Batavia City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, left, Assistant Manager Erik Fix and Councilwoman Tammy Schmidt of Ward Six take part in ongoing budget talks Thursday night at City Hall. Council is expected to adopt a budget by the end of February, followed by a public hearing and a final vote on the 2024-25 plan.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Whether it’s $4,000 or $55,000 and larger, City Council members have financial decisions to make either with this year’s budget or those in the future on items big and small, ranging from fireworks at Dwyer Stadium to the city’s technology plan and beyond.

The group has been delving into the numbers line by line the last two weeks, getting department updates about equipment, vehicle, personnel, building, property, and infrastructure needs, future projects, and those in progress, asking questions, and getting the full picture of reality for the city of Batavia. 

“It probably sounds overwhelming, everything we’re telling you, but it’s our job to be completely honest with council on what we’re facing here as employees," Human Resource Director Rebecca McGee said during a conversation Thursday evening about information technology. "And one of the biggest things we face, one of the biggest hindrances we have, is information technology and doing our jobs, and trying to make things work the right way.” 

Apparently, things haven’t been working very well with the city’s contract for monthly maintenance with AIS. Assistant City Manager Erik Fix, who was admittedly sort of pegged as the surrogate IT guy in the absence of someone being on-site full-time, he said, reviewed the plan, which provides a person to visit on-site once a month and perform installations. 

As for handling those day-to-day technical issues, much of that has fallen to Fix and other city staff. Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and his department staff have had to consistently address issues themselves, he said.

“I just pulled up our spreadsheet, we have over 30 computers at our office alone,” Heubusch said. “That is immensely time-consuming when we have to deal with any of the problems. The investment that we have with AIS, although great, it is not enough. I have an officer, a detective actually, on staff who fixes our computers when they’re broken or installs a new program because something broke. That’s a waste of his time and his energy.”

He also mentioned the surveillance cameras, which are great when fully operational, but when they break down, it takes city public works staff to retrieve them from a pole and then someone to make a repair so that they can resume their function on city streets, he said. 

AIS serves a function; it’s just not enough, Fix said. 

“They manage and maintain all of our servers, they manage and maintain all of our equipment,” he said. “It’s that troubleshooting piece, that hands-on piece that Shawn’s talking about. It’s just a constant, constant battle to keep that up and running and avoiding probably doubling or tripling our fees and ask them to have somebody here. We’re managing bare bones.”

Another glitch in the city’s older-fashioned system is the need to do some timesheets manually, McGee said. 

“Do you know we all still do our timesheets by paper?” McGee said as the room went silent. “When we’re thinking about IT, it’s the time-savings of taking 36 timesheets and entering them. When we’re trying to weigh out the costs, it’s the time savings and the cost savings.” 

Fix suggested a 10 percent increase for both the AIS piece and software cost, for a total of $71,500. In this next year’s budget, AIS alone would be $55,000, which prompted Councilman David Twichell to suggest considering dropping the maintenance service and hiring an IT person. If full-time, however, there would be expenses of benefits and retirement costs to be considered.

The city has pulled back on community celebrations spending, reserving $4,000 from last year potentially for a request from Batavia Muckdogs owner Robbie Nichols for fireworks, which is where it went after GO Art! Announced that there wasn’t enough staff and volunteers to pull off the former Picnic in the Park event at Centennial Park on July 4. 

"Last year Council allocated funds to do a fireworks celebration at Dwyer with those funds. I did not add that in there. But I did get a request as we were walking into this meeting from Robbie Nichols. So if you'd like that, I have a written request for that," she said. "We did, however, get a letter from the Holland Land Office Museum asking for support. So I did add that into the budget, but it's certainly something Council can review."

There’s $2,500 slated for both GO Art! And Holland Land Office Museum.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski supported a contribution to the West Main Street museum, he said. 

"They are remodeling and painting, they’re closed for a month, they’re setting up new displays, they're going to be entering into an expansion project from the west side of the building, a major expansion … and doing some major work on the building too,” he said. “This small amount of support from the city really means a lot to him, and I think so many city people use it, you know, the schools, I think it’s a great educational tool.”

City staff participates in the Memorial Day parade, Christmas in the City and Veterans Day, with corresponding investments, for a total of $13,500 for community celebrations.

The city also has $12,500 for a hot water tank and $20,000 for seating repairs earmarked from reserves for Dwyer Stadium. There’s a need to improve a section of seats that have been beaten up by the weather, Tabelski said.  Those seats haven’t been able to be used, and that equaled a loss of ticket sales, she said. 

Other Dwyer expenses are $6,000 for salaries and another $3,000 for maintenance, for a total of $43,500.

The ice rink is to get $20,500, with $16,500 for a contractual expense and $4,000 for public works salary. 

In other recreational-related expenses, Human Resource Director Rebecca McGee let council members know about a new health perk for employees.

“We are excited to announce that we're able to increase our gym reimbursement program so that anybody can turn in a receipt up to $100 towards their membership for a gym,” she said. “We're pretty excited about that. Again, this continues to just keep going towards the health and well-being of all of our employees, and how seriously the city is taking that.”

Bialkowski asked how many employees take advantage of the reimbursement. 

 “We have $1,500 budgeted for it, so 15 employees,” Deputy Director of Finance Lisa Neary said.

There is also $2,500 for employee recognition, which includes fees for participation in the annual GLOW Cup 5K in Batavia.

“We’re moving towards the wellness and continuing to keep that in the forefront and focus for all of our employees. As we can see, they're pretty excited to have it, we'll take advantage of that one to help to make sure that we're all staying healthy. And then employee recognition, we had a great turnout over the last couple of years for their GLOW race, which is celebrated in Centennial Park that first week in August. So that's the increase towards that. We've had a lot of members take advantage of that over the last couple of years,” McGee said. “We’re pretty excited to be able to again continue to offer that as a wellness benefit for all of our employees, and making sure that we're all staying healthy, and being able to have some bonding time with our fellow employees and recognizing the importance of that, to have that line increase there as well.”

Other assorted budgeted expenses from general governmental services include:

  • $45,000 for City Centre properties (fees and taxes) parcel #s 2, 11 and 16; 
  • $25,000 for the city’s mall fees; 
  • $11,000 for recycling and garbage pickup; 
  • $10,000 for city facility maintenance; 
  • $22,000 for court operations and maintenance; 
  • $15,000 for mowing, boarding and picking up garbage for code inspection-related properties.
  • The expense of $310,000 for the portion of roof over Main St. 56 Theater was negotiated, but from here on out, future sales of city properties will be considered “as is,” Tabelski said. 

The big-ticket items for major departments will be included in future articles. Council has more budget sessions scheduled for the week of Jan. 29.

Hornets top Lancers in Boys Basketball 64-45

By Howard B. Owens
elba oakfield basketball

Oakfield-Alabama beat Elba on Thursday evening 64-45.

Avery Watterson scored 27 points for the Hornets. Gavein ARmbrewster scored 8, and Kyler Harkness scored eight, as did Nate Schildwaster.

Ashley Bezon scored 15 points for the Lancers and Mike Long scored 11.

Also, in Boys Basketball on Thursday, Pembroke beat Notre Dame 60-54. Tyson Totten scored 24 points for the Dragons.

Photos by Debra Reilly.

elba oakfield basketball
elba oakfield basketball
elba oakfield basketball

Byron-Bergen tops Lyndonville 69-15

By Howard B. Owens
byron bergen basketball

Byron-Bergen beat Lyndonville on Thursday night 69-15. 

Braedyn Chambry scored 24 points, and Colin Martin scored 10.

It was the Bees' 11th win of the season.

Photos by Jennifer DiQuattro
byron bergen basketball
byron bergen basketball

WROTB board prepared to hire outside law firm to investigate sexual harassment, wage theft allegations

By Mike Pettinella
Dennis Bassett

The chair of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors this afternoon said it’s likely that an outside law firm will be hired to look into sexual harassment and wage theft allegations by three former Batavia Downs Gaming employees.

“The allegations in the lawsuit made by the OTB employees are certainly concerning to us as a board and warrant an investigation,” Dennis Bassett, (photo at right), who represents the City of Rochester, told The Batavian. “Presently, we are discussing whether we should seek an outside law firm to conduct further investigation to ensure the integrity of their findings.”

Bassett said he spoke to all the other directors by telephone on Thursday and is fairly certain that attorneys from an independent firm not connected to the public benefit company will be retained.

“Our intention is not to delay moving forward on this,” he added.

Former WROTB bartenders Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont are suing the corporation, claiming wage theft by supervisors who kept a share of pooled tips.

Furthermore, Sweet is alleging sexual harassment against Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and Director of Security Daniel Wood.

Kiedrowski and Wood are named as defendants, along with WROTB and Batavia Downs Gaming, in the suit that was filed in Supreme Court in Genesee County on Wednesday.

Bassett said that both Kiedrowski and Wood are on the job pending the outcome of the investigation and lawsuit.

“They are innocent until we find out the facts,” he said. “We’re going to look at all the facts, as well as our institutional policies and how we responded (to the allegations).”

He said some of the allegations in the lawsuit were not presented to WROTB administration, necessitating the need for an independent investigation.

“By hiring an outside firm, we would send a signal that we want to get to the bottom of this and act accordingly,” he said. “I don’t believe administration had all the pieces to do a thorough investigation but did as much as they could with the facts presented.”

When it was mentioned that WROTB continues to find itself embroiled in legal troubles, giving the corporation a “black eye,” Bassett sighed before responding.

“Regardless of how successful we are – and we certainly have been over the past couple of years, we cannot and will not in any way overlook the concerns of our employees,” he said. “We will look into this and take it very seriously. At the end of the day, our success depends on how our employees are treated.”

On Thursday, The Batavian reported in detail on the lawsuit, which was reported by the United Public Service Employees Union on Oct. 30. Batavia Downs Gaming fired Sweet on Nov. 16, while Armison and Cline quit their jobs in the spring.

A letter dated Dec. 8 from the attorney representing Sweet, Armison, and Cline indicated that the trio was seeking $250,000 “to right these wrongs:” and that Sweet be reinstated and her disciplinary record be swept clean. If those conditions weren’t met by Dec. 22, according to the letter, the demand for compensation increases to $500,000, along with the threat of a lawsuit.

WROTB officials contend that Sweet was let go for stealing from a customer, something that is disputed in the lawsuit.

Previously: Former Batavia Downs employees file lawsuit alleging wage theft and sexual harassment; OTB documents point to inconsistencies

New name to align with mission for Arc GLOW golf tournament

By Press Release
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Submitted photo of Bocce players measuring who is closest to the Pallino.

Press Release:

Arc GLOW has chosen a new name for the 48th annual event held at Terry Hills Golf Course. 

GLOW Abili-TEES Golf & Bocce Tournament.

“The new name aligns with Arc GLOW’s mission of focusing on the abilities of individuals served by Arc GLOW while adding a twist to the word “Abili-TEES” as it relates to the game of golf,” said Ed Carney, chairman of the GLOW Abili-TEES Golf & Bocce Tournament committee.

It was chosen after a staff naming contest was held.

“The individuals who Arc GLOW serve have a lot of talent; we want to highlight that at this tournament while raising money so we can further help empower and support them,” said Lisa Bors, public relations director for Arc GLOW.

This year it will be held on Monday, July 15 at Terry Hills Golf Course, located at 5122 Clinton Street Road in Batavia.

Along with enhanced sponsorship opportunities, Arc GLOW has reduced the golf fee to $135 and bocce to $60 for the tournament. To reserve a spot, e-mail Sandy Konfederath at SKonfederath@ArcGLOW.org or (585) 343-1123 ext. 1715.

Keep your eyes peeled for further information on the Arc GLOW Facebook page and website, and save the date to be sure to help empower and support people of all ages with a broad spectrum of emotional, intellectual, and developmental disabilities.

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Submitted photo of a golfer winds up to hit a golf ball at the 2023 golf tournament at Terry Hills.

Byron-Bergen receives Excellence in Student Service award

By Press Release
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Submitted photo of (from left to right): Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes, Gregg Torrey, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, B-B Director of Instructional Services Betsy Brown with therapy dog Dottie, B-B High School Counselor Kristie Holler with therapy dog Stew, B-B Superintendent Pat McGee. Photo courtesy of Amanda Dedie.

Press Release:

On Saturday, Jan. 20, the Genesee Valley School Board Association (GVSBA) met for their annual breakfast hosted by the Byron-Bergen Central School District. 

The event included superintendents and representatives from districts throughout the GLOW region as well as Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, and Gregg Torrey representing Senator George Borrello. The gathering served as an opportunity for the school administrators and school board members to discuss issues with their state representatives and
honor the 2024 recipients of the Excellence in Student Service awards.

“I was very pleased with the nominations as they came in this year and the wide range of programs,” said GVSBA Coordinator Pat Burk. “It shows that schools are thinking outside of the box to make what they do much more accessible as well as entertaining and really, really special.”

Twenty school districts and Genesee Valley BOCES received Excellence in Student Service awards. Byron-Bergen was honored for the district-wide therapy dog program which launched in 2021 through the efforts of district staff and retired Byron-Bergen teacher Jen Faro. The program began with one therapy dog, Pinot, owned by Faro, and has quickly expanded to include six dogs and additional visiting dogs from the Rochester-based not-for-profit, RocDogs.

Pinot, Maya, Dottie, Stew, Hula, and Daisy are valuable members of our team,” said Byron-Bergen Superintendent Pat McGee. “These therapy dogs are boots on the ground, in the district supporting student and staff mental health. I am extremely proud of this program and believe that they deserve this recognition.”

The award was presented by Burk and GVSBA and Byron-Bergen School Board President Deb List. The award was accepted by McGee, Director of Instructional Services Betsy Brown with her therapy dog Dottie, and Byron-Bergen High School Counselor Kristie Holler with her therapy dog Stew.

“The therapy dogs are here for all of our students as well as the staff,” said Brown. “There are students who specifically visit the office just to see Dottie and receive some love and attention. Research shows that interacting with therapy dogs reduces stress and anxiety and I’m thrilled that Dottie and I can be active participants in the program.”

The event also included a performance by the Byron-Bergen Jr./Sr. High School Jazz Ensemble led HS Band Director Kevin Bleiler, breakfast catered by the Byron-Bergen Food Service Department, and discussion sessions in which school and elected officials discussed rural education.

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Submitted photo of Byron-Bergen therapy dog Maya. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Spittler.
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Submitted photo of two Byron-Bergen students spending time with therapy dog Daisy Sweet Potato. Photo courtesy of Katie Grattan.
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Submitted photo of Byron-Bergen therapy dogs (from left to right) Hula and Pinot. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Spittler.

Hawley criticizes cuts in the state budget, releases statement

By Press Release

Press Release:

File photo of
Steve Hawley.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C-Batavia) attended a press conference yesterday to address the governor’s decision not to “Hold Harmless” school district regarding foundation aid in the state budget. 

Gov. Hochul released her state budget proposal early last week and did not keep her promise to local school districts that they would not see a decrease in their foundation aid funding from the previous year. 

This comes as the state has put more regulations on school districts such as last year’s mandate requiring all school buses to be electric by 2035. Hawley is frustrated that upstate rural and suburban school districts will not receive the funding they need.

“Gov. Hochul is at it again,” said Hawley. “It’s ridiculous our schools should have to take a back seat while the governor continues to hinder them with less funding and more regulations. The governor should remember her promise to ensure foundation aid for local school districts would not decrease and give them the resources they need. I cannot and will not vote for any state budget that does not put the education of our children first.”

HLOM History: Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market once leading source of meats and groceries in Batavia

By Ryan Duffy
Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market batavia

During the first half of the 20th century, most Batavia families purchased their main courses from one source for all their meals big and small, Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market. 

The store became the preeminent meat seller in the area and even had a wider distribution area. Over its history, it had a few different locations in Batavia and even subsequent generations of stores after the owners went separate ways.

Colgrove and Ryan’s was the brainchild of the partnership of Myron Colgrove and Joseph Ryan. The two were seasoned grocers and meat sellers, coming from other businesses in the area. They began in 1920 and opened their first shop at 10 and 12 State St., which was named The Genesee Market. They stayed at that location until 1926, when they purchased Greentaner’s Sanitary Market at 54 Main St., changing the name to Colgrove and Ryan’s. 

This store backed up to the State Street market with a narrow alley in between. Due to the professionalism and expertice of the operation, the business became the go-to spot for grocery and meat shoppers. 

Adding to what the customers wanted, Colgrove and Ryan added a line of groceries in 1930, though their meat products were still their claim to fame. 

The store was also an early pioneer in telephone ordering, as people could order from their homes and pick them up at the market. In the fall of 1926, the store was featured in the magazine “Meat Merchandising” in an article, which commended them for the store lighting and the noted telephone service. 

Around 1945, Colgrove hinted at buying out his partner, but in turn, it was Ryan who bought out Colgrove. Under his singular ownership, Ryan turned the Main Street store into a wholesale meat center called The Western Provision Company. The operation grew quickly, and by 1949, he had several countermen and office clerks, as well as two order clerks, a receiving clerk, two sausage makers, and several delivery boys with a fleet of trucks.

Colgrove took his business back to 12 State St. and reopened The Genesee Market. The Genesee Market remained open until the building was bought during Urban Renewal, which was the same time that Myron Colgrove retired. He passed away in March 1966 at the age of 72. 

Joseph Ryan would fight in World War II and would suffer from the aftereffects of a sulfur gas attack for the rest of his life. At the time of his passing in 1960, he was not only the head of the Western Provision Company but also the treasurer of WBTA and the Batavia Baseball Club and a partner in the Ryan-DeWitt Oil Distribution Company. 

Western Provision Company was bought first by John Byrne of Niagara Falls and then by Harold Ironfeld before it was also closed due to Urban Renewal.

Ryan Duffy is the director of the Holland Land Office Museum.

Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market batavia
Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market batavia
Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market batavia
Colgrove and Ryan’s Meat Market batavia

Two cars involved in accident on Route 5 in Pembroke on Thursday evening

By Howard B. Owens
pembroke accident

Two ambulances were requested to the scene of a two-car motor vehicle at 6:40 p.m. on Thursday in the area of 1396 Main Road, Pembroke.

There's no information available on the status of the patients.

Pembroke Fire and Indian Falls along with Mercy EMS responded to the accident. East Pembroke assisted with traffic control at Boyce Road.

The Batavian will provide an update if an accident report is released by law enforcement.

Reader-submitted photos.

pembroke accident
pembroke accident

Photo: Fog at BHS

By Howard B. Owens
fog at batavia high
Dense fog rolled into Batavia this afternoon, including the campus of Batavia High School.
Photo by Jason Smith.

Former Batavia Downs employees file lawsuit alleging wage theft and sexual harassment; OTB documents point to inconsistencies

By Howard B. Owens
Batavia Downs 2022

Three former employees of Batavia Downs have filed a lawsuit against Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. and two supervisors, alleging sexual harassment and wage theft.

The suit was filed in Genesee County on Wednesday. It names as plaintiffs, Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia, and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont.  

All three are claiming wage theft by supervisors keeping a share of pooled tips, and Sweet is making allegations of sexual harassment.

The defendants, besides Batavia Downs and WROTB, are Scott Kiedrowski, chief operating officer, and Daniel Wood, director of security.

WROTB has not yet had an opportunity to file with the court a response, but The Batavian obtained two letters previously written to a union representative and the attorney for the plaintiffs that provide assertions that seem to refute the allegations in the suit, along with a letter from the attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Sweet was terminated by Batavia Downs on Nov. 16. Armison and Cline both quit their jobs in the spring.

The lawsuit alleges that Sweet was fired because she filed a grievance over a policy that allowed supervisors to get a share of tips from customers. Supervisors getting a share of tips in a tip pool is both unlawful and a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between WROTB and the United Public Service Employees Union. 

She also alleges that Kiedrowski made unwanted sexual advances, sent texts that made her feel uncomfortable, made inappropriate requests and that Wood made inappropriate comments and inappropriately touched her.

According to a letter written to Antonella Rotilio, a labor relations representative for UPSEU in Albany, by Danielle N. Fleming, WROTB director of human resources, Batavia Downs became aware of the alleged sexual harassment through communications from the union.

The letter expresses frustration with the union for not providing more information to assist in the investigation and notes that the complaint to the union, rather than human resources, was contrary to the terms of the employee handbook and company policy. 

The complaints were reported by the union on Oct. 30th.

The letter states that on 10 prior dates, all of which are listed, Fleming requested that the union provide evidence and specific details, including screenshots of text messages, and the union never complied with these requests. 

"Your response to each of these requests has vacillated between promising to share all relevant information and then refusing to provide the information we need in order to conduct a thorough investigation of any and all allegations," it stated. 

The letter reminds Rotilio that her organization has a contractual obligation to cooperate in the investigation.

"The union is required to follow the collective bargaining agreement to mitigate any sexual harassment situations, just as the company is held to the same requirement," the letter states. "By withholding documentation that is necessary in order to investigate allegations of harassment in the workplace, the union is making it impossible for the company to investigate any potential wrongdoing and to provide appropriate measures to remediate the same."

On Dec. 18, an attorney for Batavia Downs sent a letter to Clare T. Sellers, with Hayes Dolce in Buffalo, the attorney representing Sweet, Armison, and Cline, in response to Dec. 8 letter demanding payment from Batavia Downs for $250,000 "to right these wrongs."  The letter from Sellers also demands that Sweet be reinstated and her disciplinary record be swept clean. If the demand isn't met by Dec. 22, the letter states, the demand for compensation increases to $500,000 and threatens a lawsuit if no settlement is reached.

Ginger D. Schroeder, with Schroder, Joseph & Associations, of Buffalo, informed Sellers that WROTB fully investigated claims of wage theft and retaliation against Sweet. The letter states the charges of sexual harassment could not be investigated because Sellers provided only generalized assertions and offered no evidence to support the allegation. 

Regarding the alleged theft of pooled tips, Schroeder states that the issue was resolved through the grievance process and that supervisors are no longer assisting employees with customer service.

"What your clients have overlooked in making these allegations is that they received the same amounts from the tip pool as they would have received if they had not been assisted by their supervisors in performing services for the patrons," the letter states. "This is because -- if the supervisors had not assisted them -- other employees in the bargaining unit would have assisted them, and the amounts received by your clients would have remained the same. Accordingly, when the supervisors were assigned to perform these tasks, they were not acting as supervisors but were doing the same work as your employees, and each such supervisor simply stepped in to perform the work that otherwise would have been performed by another employee." 

Because of these circumstances, the letter states that the employees did not suffer any economic loss as a result of the shared tips with supervisors. 

There is also an allegation that employees were not paid for work performed while on break.  The letter states that employees who choose to take a meal break but remain at the bar did not perform any work while at the bar during meal breaks.

As for alleged retaliation, the letter states Sweet and another employee (who is not a plaintiff in the suit but is named a person represented by Sellers in her Dec. 8 letter) were first disciplined for alleged policy violations well before Sweet filed a grievance. Sweet and the other employee were accused of over-serving a patron in 34 Rush on Aug. 5, which then resulted in a security incident involving that apparently intoxicated patron and two other patrons. Following an investigation, Sweet and the other bartender received a two-day suspension on Aug. 30.

The tip-pooling allegation was first brought to the attention of Batavia Downs two weeks later, according to the letter.

The lawsuit states that Sweet was suspended for "three days" on Aug. 30 "without just cause."

Sweet was previously warned, according to the letter, in October 2021, for allegedly over-serving a customer in September 2021. 

Another apparent incident is redacted from the letter and notes that Sweet was terminated on Nov. 16 "after providing both Ms. Sweet and her union representative an opportunity to respond to the evidence," and that she was dismissed from her job for cause.

The allegation in the suit is that Sweet was terminated without explanation and purely in retaliation for filing a grievance. 

While the letter from Schroeder states that up to that point, WROTB had received no evidence or specifics to support the claims of sexual harassment, nor even knew, prior to the Dec. 8 letter, the name(s) of accusers, the lawsuit filed on Wednesday specifies multiple incidents of alleged harassment.  

It accuses Wood of telling Sweet that she is beautiful, a hard worker and that they should run away together and get married, that "her fiance did not deserve her."  It accuses Wood of hugging her and rubbing her back without her consent. It also states that Wood invited her to his office for a back massage and that he texted her to offer her a 15-minute nap on his couch. 

The suit accuses Kiedrowski of taking Sweet and two other employees to Sabres and Bills games, to a private suite and then starting to refer to her as "Special T." That he sent her late-night texts that made her feel uncomfortable (the contents of the texts are not revealed in the suit).

In February 2022, the suit alleges Kiedrowski asked Sweet to bring him lunch in his office and that he would "give her a big tip." 

As a result, "Plaintiff Sweet was scared and creeped out by this request." 

The suit accuses Kiedrowski, along with additional complaints, of not doing anything about sexual harassment from patrons while acknowledging it occurred. 

The suit alleges that Sweet brought her complaint of alleged sexual harassment in August (without specifying a day), which is within the same time frame she is accused of over-serving a patron.  The suit does not explain how officials at WROTB would have known the complaints came from Sweet since she went to the union, which the suit acknowledges, and the union withheld the names of the employees making the allegations, according to the previously mentioned letter from human resources to the union.

The suit also claims that the other bartender was not disciplined, but Schroeder's letter states she was.

The suit states that on Nov. 16, just prior to her termination, Sweet, along with another employee, was "falsely accused" of stealing $8. This may be the incident redacted in the Schroeder letter. 

Among the relief sought in the suit, the plaintiffs are asking for payment of unpaid tips, damages, civil fines and penalties, and attorneys fees.

First Amendment question left unresolved in plea deal for Batavia mother accused of harassing school officials

By Howard B. Owens

A Batavia mother charged with harassment in the second degree for sending a series of angry emails, including one with profanity, to City School officials will not need to admit to any wrongdoing under terms of a plea agreement reached in City Court on Wednesday.

Kate Long, 39, accepted an offer from the District Attorney's Office to get the charge against her dismissed if she can avoid any additional criminal charges over the next six months.

That would wipe the slate clean, as if she was never charged in the first place. It would also mean no legal challenge to her arrest, which could have very well violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.

It makes perfect sense that Long would accept the plea offer, said Constitutional scholar Jared Carter, but the plea could also potentially mean government agencies remain free to use the harassment 2nd statute to silence critics.

"My initial reaction, from a pure First Amendment perspective, is this was always a troubling case based on the facts as I understand them," Carter told The Batavian on Wednesday evening. "On one hand, there is some vindication of the First Amendment on the basis of the dismissal.  Of course, you don't have a ruling from a court saying this arrest was unconstitutional, so does the school district or law enforcement or whatever (agency) have any check on power? Can they again do what they want to do, and the short answer is, 'Yes.'  That's the unfortunate aspect of all of this."

Carter is counsel with the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic, based in Ithaca, and a professor of Law at Vermont Law and Graduate School. Carter specializes in First Amendment cases.

Long, a mother of three children, was issued a summons in November and charged with a single count of harassment in the second degree, a violation of Penal Law 240.26(3), which reads:

He or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

The charge was based on a criminal complaint filed with Batavia PD by John Marucci, president of the Board of Education for the Batavia City School District.

The complaint cited a Nov. 8 email that contained profanity and noted that Long had sent a series of emails over a short period of time complaining about how her son's Spanish class at Batavia Middle School was being handled.

In order to comment on the charge for an article The Batavian published on Dec. 18, Carter reviewed the emails and the charging documents and offered the opinion that Long's conduct would likely be viewed as protected speech by any court asked to rule on the constitutionality of her arrest. 

"They're (prosecutors) skating on very thin constitutional ice if any ice at all," Carter told The Batavian in December when discussing the arrest and prosecution of Long. "The First Amendment robustly protects Freedom of Speech, and the freedom to criticize government action. That would include criticizing the way that a school handles itself."

In 2014, the state's aggravated harassment statute, which contained similar language but specifically targeted speech, was ruled unconstitutional.  The state Legislature changed that law the following year but left open the ability of police to arrest individuals engaged in speech that is deemed offensive conduct under the harassment 2nd statute. 

Buffalo attorney Tom Trbovich, retained by Long to represent her in City Court, told The Batavian after her initial court appearance that he wasn't likely to mount a constitutional challenge to her arrest, suggesting an easier resolution could be negotiated with the District Attorney's Office.

"I think this was a good resolution," Trbovich said after court on Wednesday. "Right now, we were circling the wagons and making sure that nothing goes wrong. And hopefully, this will be taken care of in six months as if it never happened."

Asked if he thought his client committed a crime, Trbovich offered a slight smile and said, "I don't want to antagonize the office. I got a good disposition."

There are no conditions on Long over the next six months other than she avoid a criminal conviction, though Trbovich offered in court that Long would agree to have no further contact with school employees at Batavia Middle School.

Her son has transferred to Notre Dame, and her husband would have remained free to talk with school officials.

Judge Durin Rogers rejected the condition because there are typically no additional conditions on an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.

Carter said Trbovich getting a potential dismissal of the charge for his client was understandable.

"Criminal defense attorneys try to get the best outcome for their clients by keeping them out of harm's way," Carter said. "It totally makes sense to tread carefully, to get the best outcome for his client as he can. I totally get that. I'm not second-guessing that at all."

But, he said, the First Amendment is still in play for Long if she wishes to pursue it as a civil matter, meaning, filing a lawsuit against the school district or the police department, if she feels her arrest did her harm or that it has a chilling effect on her future speech.  The fact she offered to have no future contact with the school, Carter indicated, suggests her arrest does indicate she is willing to self-censor out of fear of repercussion.

"You have to have some sort of injury to get in the courthouse door," Carter said. "Would a chilling effect be enough if she wanted to bring a First Amendment case? It could be injury enough to get in the courthouse door."

An investment in Batavia school district benefits all, superintendent says

By Joanne Beck

During budget talks this week, city officials compared the city’s percentage of property taxes — 25 percent —to that of the city school district’s — cited as being 52 percent — and the disparity of one percentage being twice as much while not every city resident uses the services of the school district.

The Batavian asked district Superintendent Jason Smith his thoughts about the comparison, and also whether the district might consider cutting costs to bring its tax levy down.

Smith wanted to make clear that, in 2022-23, the school tax percentage of property taxes was 48.52 percent, and that “since 2003, the local taxpayer responsibility for BCSD school taxes has been reduced from 56.27 percent to 48.52 percent.”

“In addition, our 20-year tax levy average has increased by 1.5 percent, well below the CPI, and BCSD is the largest public employer in Genesee County,” he said. “Like the city, BCSD provides valuable services to BCSD families, including academic, mental health, social, and emotional support. In addition, our events draw many community members, and budgets have been overwhelmingly approved by the community as a whole. We have an exceptional array of mental health professionals and numerous extra-curricular and athletic opportunities for students.” 

The city’s discussion focused on how “every single city resident uses city services,” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said, and therefore she reasoned that the city’s property tax rate of $8.96 per $1,000 assessed value was giving a pretty good bang for its buck. 

The Batavia City Schools 2023-24 tax rate was $17.18 per $1,000 assessed value. Smith said he believes that is also well worth the price.

“I would also assert that an investment in a sound and well-rounded public education benefits all citizens, not just those students who attend BCSD -- the research is clear on this,” he said. “As shown in a recent Board of Education presentation, our performances on state assessments and graduation rates are increasing, and our students are graduating from BCSD workforce or college-ready.”

New waste removal service aims to 'care for people' in Genesee, surrounding counties

By Joanne Beck
new trash business
Joey Raziano and Bre Downs are ready to haul your garbage, recycling and junk with RRR Waste Removal Services.
Photo by Howard Owens

A Batavia couple wanting to provide a cheaper alternative for garbage services is also living the American dream of becoming entrepreneurs with a future path for their family, they say.

Joey Raziano and Bre Downs have set an ambitious course for themselves while they each are pursuing an educational goal — a nursing degree for her and a commercial driving license certification for him — they are establishing themselves as RRR Waste Removal Services with a seven-day-a-week business.

“It’s a side gig for now,” Downs said. “A goal is that it’s something to pass down to our kids when Joey and I are married … and to be able to help others and to actually give people the life that they want and not have to give money to garbage companies.”

Raziano added that “we actually care for our customers,” and one indication is that they let their customers choose which days they want garbage pickup rather than dictate when it’s going to happen. They also cited low monthly rates compared to their competitors.

They provide everything from a weekly garbage and recycling pickup to a monthly pickup service, a one-time garbage and junk removal, a moving and clean-out service, and bulk pick-ups of items such as couches, beds and stoves, with no extra mileage fees to the regular costs.

Their territory is expansive, covering Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties, the border of Erie County, and they’re considering a portion of Livingston County as well, Downs said. 

“A lot of customers are switching from other companies for weekly trash pickup,” she said. “We’re getting calls all the time.”

They can accommodate their current list of 100 customers with a pickup truck and two trailers and are making plans for when and if they will need to expand for a growing clientele. As that happens, they expect to hire more employees, Raziano said.

Downs has applied for an LLC, so the business is a limited liability company.

“And we now have an online contract system instead of paper contracts,” she said.

While the field of nursing may not seem to have much in common with waste removal, there’s s strong connection for Downs, she said. Her mom has been a certified nursing assistant for 28 years, and Downs has watched that type of care and compassion all of her life, she said. 

Raziano, 24, emphasized that “we actually care for our customers.”

"We treat customers like a family and not a number," he said.

“We care for other people first,” Downs said, explaining her hectic schedule. “I’m a go-getter. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it in the end, it’s helping small families in the end.”

They have previously been involved in the business with former partners and have been operating their own company for the last six months. They consider it to be an investment in their future as Downs, 22, prepares to graduate nursing school in September, and they look forward to their wedding in August 2025.

For more information, call the office number at 585-813-4026 or go HERE. 

Batavia City Schools to deal with reduced funding as COVID grants come to an end

By Joanne Beck
Jason Smith

During his superintendent’s report, Jason Smith updated Batavia City Schools board members Monday about project decreases in revenue for this year’s budget, including several federal grants that will be winding down in September and state-issued Foundation aid recently laid out in Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget.

“With the Governor's current budget proposal, BCSD is slated to receive $24,177,919, which is a $13,936 reduction from last year's Foundation Aid. However, had the Governor not adjusted the current law, BCSD would be receiving, and I would argue is entitled to receive, an additional $277,141 in Foundation Aid,” Smith told The Batavian Wednesday. “It is especially frustrating that this was changed with very little notice to school districts, further hampering our ability to plan our budget and programs for students accordingly.”

Smith plans to review options for how to deal with a decrease in aid, and those expiring three-year grants that were given to the district during COVID to provide additional support to students. 

The COVID funds are that of the American Rescue Plan Act, which divvied up additional monies for municipalities, and for school districts to apply toward student-needed measures in the current post-pandemic era.

The district dedicated a large portion to the hiring of a second school resource officer and several new teaching positions and placed a focus on students’ mental health and social-emotional learning.

In October 2022, Thomas Ramming of Thomas Ramming Consulting, Inc., presented his study on the district that found “a lack of comprehensive and strategic staffing plan, increased teacher positions paid for with additional federal and state aid despite declining enrollment, and a large number of school counselors per federal recommendations,” based on at least some of those increased hirings.

When school board members raised the point that his study was conducted after the pandemic, Ramming admitted that the whole COVID scenario was not calculated in the overall findings. 

He did suggest, however, that the district continuously assess whether the extra personnel will be warranted in the future. And if that’s the case, the district needs a plan for how to pay for those salaries and benefits, Ramming had said.

It would seem that time is coming, for dealing with both reduced aid and grant funding.

"Recommendations will be provided to the board over the upcoming budget preparation season, slated to begin in February," Smith said.

In other district financial news, the board approved a four-year contract with the Batavia Administrator’s union that provides them with:

  • A four percent raise each year;
  • Increased starting salaries for assistant principals “to recruit exceptional talent,” Smith said;
  • The removal of an incentive that was related to the graduation rate; and
  • Increased health insurance rate premiums by 2 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent for current contribution rates of between 14 to 25 percent, depending on the selected plan.

“The Batavia Administrators Association last rolled over its agreement in 2021, so this is truly a new contract for them since 2018 when the last contract was negotiated,” Smith said.

The board also approved:

  • Payment of $42,400 to Mollenberg-Betz, Inc. for the emergency repair of sump pumps at John Kennedy Intermediate School. 
  • In early October 2023, the Buildings and Grounds staff discovered that the sump pumps located in the JK basement had failed, and the Board of Education approved an emergency project during its Dec. 19, 2023 meeting. 

    The state Education Department approved the emergency project designation, normal bidding procedures were suspended in order to proceed, and the necessary electrical and plumbing work was completed.

  • A compensation adjustment of $8,000 for Clark Patterson Lee as an amendment for the company’s professional services agreement of April 27, 2022.

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TAKE NOTICE THAT The Town of Elba is requesting Bids for the 2024 Cemetery Mowing season, with extra clean-up and trimming of trees/bushes. This will include three (3) cemeteries, Pine Hill Cemetery on Chapel Street, Maple Lawn Cemetery on Maple Avenue and Springvale Cemetery on Edgerton Road. Bids are for a 1-year contract and the successful bidder must provide their own $500,000.00 Liability Insurance certificate. A complete list of specifications/properties can be obtained by contacting the Town Clerk’s Office at (585)757-2762, ext. 10. Sealed bids should be clearly marked “Elba Cemetery Mowing Bids” and submitted no later than 4:00 p.m., Thursday, March 7, 2024 at the Town Clerk’s Office, 7133 Oak Orchard Road, Elba, NY 14058. Bids will be opened at 1:00 p.m. at the Town of Elba Town Hall on Monday, March 11, 2024. The Town Board reserves the right to accept or reject any or all bids that do not comply with their specifications. By Order of the Town Board, Trisha Werth Town Clerk
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Crossroads House is a comfort care home for the dying. We are a non-for-profit organization that provides its services free of charge. We run on a supportive community and selfless volunteers. With out both of those we would not be able to serve our community. If you have a caregiver's heart and 2 to 4 hours a week, we would love for you to become a part of our Crossroads House family! No experience required, we will train you and provide mentors and experienced volunteers to guide you. Please go to Crossroadshouse.com to apply, click on volunteer tab to complete application or email Ashleymanuel@crossroadshouse.com
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