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GCC's Kristen Schuth receives George Killian Award of Excellence

By Press Release

Press Release:

Genesee Community College is thrilled to announce that Kristen Schuth has been awarded the NJCAA 2023 George Killian Award of Excellence. Kristen, who serves as the Assistant Vice President of Student Engagement and Inclusion and Director of Athletics at GCC, has been recognized for her outstanding commitment to voluntarism, achievement, service, leadership, and excellence.

Kristen has been a driving force behind GCC's athletic programs since she was named Director of Athletics in 2013. Under her leadership, the college has achieved incredible success on the field, capturing two national championships, 12 regional titles, and 17 conference titles. The athletic department has produced numerous All-Americans and academic award winners, a testament to Schuth's dedication to both athletics and academics.

Beyond her contributions to GCC, Kristen has also become involved at the regional and national levels, serving as the NJCAA Region 3 Women's Director and NJCAA Region 3 Board of Regents member. She chairs several NJCAA Division III committees and has played a crucial role in hosting several regional and national championship events at GCC.

"I am incredibly honored and humbled to receive the NJCAA 2023 George Killian Award of Excellence. This award represents the values that I strive to embody every day - voluntarism, achievement, service, leadership, and excellence. I share this recognition with the outstanding coaches, staff, and student-athletes at Genesee Community College who have worked tirelessly to achieve success on and off the field," said Schuth.

The George E. Killian Award of Excellence is a prestigious honor within the NJCAA, and Schuth's selection is a testament to her outstanding contributions to the association and the college community. We congratulate Kristen on this well-deserved recognition and look forward to her continued leadership and success at Genesee Community College.

Photo courtesy of GCC.

Possible restructuring of WROTB board of directors has local Republican lawmakers up in arms

By Mike Pettinella

Local New York State politicians are speaking out against a report that Democratic legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul are considering changes to the structure of the board of directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, all Republicans, issued statements Thursday and today, indicating their opposition to what they believe is a proposal to eliminate individual counties’ authority to select WROTB directors.

Press release from Tenney:

“For 50 years, Western Regional Off Track Betting has shared operational control between 15 county governments and the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo. Under this established system, Western Regional OTB has brought jobs, tax revenue, and entertainment to Western New York. Over the past two years, Western OTB returned over $13.9 million to offset local county taxes across Western New York,

“County leaders throughout New York’s 24th district have reached out concerned about efforts to dismantle, politicize, and disadvantage rural communities within Western Regional OTB. When ‘Home Rule’ created the ownership of Western Regional OTB, member counties were given equal representation. NYS Senate Bill 7855 would strip rural counties of their 50-year established authority of this public-private sector partnership in favor of Governor Hochul and left-wing legislators in Albany.

“I stand with local leaders across the district in calling on Kathy Hochul to drop this misguided plan. It should be dead on arrival during budget negotiations in the Albany sewer. With a budget that is nearly four weeks late, a crime surge, and historic mass outmigration, Albany Democrats should leave Western OTB alone and focus on the real problems facing New Yorkers.”

Press release from Borrello:

“Although they already control the major levers of power in Albany, that hasn’t stopped Democrat One-Party Rule for brazenly and continually hunting for more opportunities to conquer and silence those outside their control. Their latest power grab targets Western Regional Off-Track Betting which has operated for five decades under a model of shared operational control between 15 county governments and the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

"However, changes under consideration right now would eliminate this cooperative structure of the past 50 years and replace it with a politicized board that would do Albany’s bidding. The voices of our rural counties would be silenced and the jobs and revenue they depend on put at risk.

"I am fiercely opposed to this last-minute attempt to slide this controversial proposal into the budget as the final details come together. It is another shameful attempt at rigging the system for political purposes and should be rejected.”

Statement from Hawley:

Hawley called the proposal "a power grab trying to diminish the influence of smaller, less populated counties."

"It's called Western New York OTB, not Erie County OTB," he said, responding to a text message from The Batavian. "This is similar to what Western New York complains about in the State Legislature. Excessive control by New York City. Shameful and wrong."

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, contacted today, said he and Board Chair Richard Bianchi are monitoring the situation.

“We are waiting to find out what the actual language of the proposed legislation is before making an official statement,” Wojtaszek said.

Currently, the individuals serving on WROTB’s 17-member board, which represents its 17-member municipalities, are appointed by their county or city (Buffalo and Rochester) legislative bodies.

Hawley Chastises Assembly majority for blocking gold star license plate bill

By Press Release

Press Release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R , C-Batavia) is disappointed that the Assembly Majority has moved to block his legislation, A.2062, from passing in the Assembly chamber. The bill would have eliminated the registration fee for Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Family Members for their distinctive license plates. Gold Star Family Members are families of veterans that served in the military and made the ultimate sacrifice, and Hawley has always been an ardent supporter of showing those families the respect they deserve.

“It’s really disappointing and frustrating that the Assembly Majority cannot vote on something that would go such a long way for families who deserve our support,” Hawley said. “The blocking of this bill tells me that despite whatever the Majority may say in regard to supporting our families of veterans, they don’t really care when it comes to meaningful action.”

The blocking of this bill recalls an issue several years ago that Hawley also championed, which was the granting of free college tuition to Gold Star Family members that also faced questionable pushback from the Assembly Majority. Hawley believes New York can do better for its Gold Star families.

“There’s not much to say other than it’s another example of New York failing to show up for those who showed up for New York. It suggests our state government needs a real re-evaluation of values and character,” Hawley concluded.

Photo: File photo by Howard Owens.

Tour and open house capped off with celebration of growth -- again -- at Liberty Pumps in Bergen

By Joanne Beck

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An open house and special celebration at Liberty Pumps Thursday meant as much to employee Dylan Mackey as it did for any of the top brass speaking on stage in the newly debuted Link Building.

Mackey, 27, has been with the company since 2013, going from part-time in fabrication, earning his degree at Genesee Community College and eventually moving into a full-time information technology position as supervisor.

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He is one of the 330 people who not only work at the Bergen company but claim part ownership in it as well. Liberty Pumps is family and employee-owned.

The announcement of another expansion — an 80,000-square-foot warehouse and 30,000-square-foot Link Building — was good news for everyone, Mackey said.

“Working at Liberty Pumps is wonderful. Everybody is very kind. There's no arguments in the workplace. Everybody knows we're all on the same team. We're all doing the same thing,” he said. “Tonight … it’s definitely a celebration for sure.”

Employees watched a video about the company’s growth along with an audience of several hundred visitors and local officials. Mackey said that not everything goes smoothly with each attempt, but seeing this expansion “and seeing the changes made to it and seeing the new parts of the company added into that, it’s a sense of pride, right?”

“It's a hey, I'm part of that, there's a ton of us that are a part of that,” he said. “That's really what it is.”

This is the third expansion for Liberty, located at 7000 Apple Tree Ave., Bergen. The last one was in 2016, when it “literally felt like we had a sea of space that was going to meet our needs for a very long time,” President and CEO Robyn Brookhart said.

“But as we introduced new products and expanded existing lines, and have been ultra fortunate to experience steady and solid growth, our building was busting at the seams,” she said. “So the building expansion team was assembled, and the planning began. And here we are 18 months later in this beautiful and seemingly enormous new space.”

The cavernous Link Building temporarily featured tables and chairs for guests, a photo booth, serving stations for beverages and hors d’oeuvres and a stage for the speakers and musical entertainment. Other open house activities included a self-guided tour with a map and QR codes to learn more about several areas, such as accounting, the cafeteria, customer support, product engineering, a fitness center, machine shop, purchasing, sales and marketing, shipping and technical customer support.

A few guests were late to the special presentation, and staff member Jenna graciously seated them in a golf cart to zip them through the spacious plant, zig-zagging left and right down lanes, to party central — the Link Building.

Genesee County Economic Development Center was given a nod for having been involved in the early inception days of Liberty Pumps, and CEO Steve Hyde asked, “where would you rather be but right here right now, celebrating your guys' collective success?”

“This has just been a great story. I’ve been working with (Board Chairman Charlie Cook) now, and our paths have connected in so many ways. He was the chairman of the GCEDC board for a few years and did a great job. I worked with him on the Regional Economic Development Councils, and we’re nothing but thrilled to be a small part of participating in their ongoing growth,” Hyde said. “And you see a company like Liberty Pumps just growing like they have. I’ve been in this position 20 years now, and I’ve been here for three of those major expansions. When I got the role Charlie, you just finished your first 60,000 square feet. And now look at it today. You’re five times bigger … six times larger employment than back in 2003.”

When the company broke ground for the project, the employee total was at 300, with an expected 30 more to be added. At that time, Cook said it will “relieve congestion in our current structure and free up much-needed manufacturing space for large pump systems. That’s become a significant part of our business, and we’re pleased to better support our customers with this addition.”

Since opening in 1965, Liberty Pumps has become a leading manufacturer of sump, effluent, and sewage pumps and systems for residential, commercial, municipal, and industrial applications.

The 185-acre business park developed by the GCEDC has approximately 350,000 square feet of facilities at Apple Tree Acres.

“Your success is going to continue to roll, and we look forward to being there for you the next time you're ready to expand,” Hyde said. “Thank you, Robyn. Thank you, Charlie. Thank you, team. We're thrilled to be here tonight.”

Genesee County Legislators Christian Yunker, Shelley Stein and Gregg Torrey attended the event. Torrey took a tour of the massive facility and saw nothing but positives everywhere.

“It just means a tremendous amount for just the jobs it creates. It’s a homegrown company that’s created 350, 330 jobs. It's amazing. And I see all these employees here at this event, and it’s like 600 people here for this cutting edge facility, and they’re on a continual path to increase the square foot and growing the company, it’s just a great local story for Genesee County,” he said. “It’s really impressive. Everything is state of the art. It’s probably the cleanest manufacturing facility I’ve ever seen, it’s just beautiful.”

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Top Photo: President and CEO Robyn Brookhart welcomes guests and announces the expansion project during an open house at Liberty PumpsThursday evening; guests tour the facility in Bergen, watch demonstrations, and enjoy refreshments, and live musical entertainment. Photos by Howard Owens.

Polka fans Sturr crazy for a night of fun and dancing at Batavia Downs

By Howard B. Owens

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There was a polka party featuring the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra at Batavia Downs Thursday night while WBBZ taped four segments of the station's weekly show, Polka Buzz, for broadcast in May.

Sturr has won 18 Grammys for his polka albums and is the undisputed King of Polka.  

PreviouslyJimmy Sturr coming to Batavia to spread the love for Polka

Photos by Howard Owens.

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Besides playing with Jimmy Sturr, Chris Caffery's other gig as lead guitarist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

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Southern gospel homecoming set for Needhams at Batavia First Methodist

By Jazmyne Boozer

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Joyce and Bob Spamer fell in love with the soulful sounds of southern gospel music over a decade ago. In an effort to share that love with others, they embarked on booking concerts for their fellow Western New Yorkers.

Through their foundation, Southern Gospel New York, the Spamers seek out Southern gospel talent from all over the South and invite them north for concerts.

Now, the pair is hosting a concert featuring the hometown southern gospel band, the Needhams.

With over two decades under their belts touring and singing together, the Needhams will return to their hometown of Batavia to perform a homecoming concert.

The band has written and recorded seven albums, including their latest: "Legacy."

This album features 10 new songs and commemorates the group's 25th anniversary.

The Needhams is a family band. Formed by Sr. David Needham, the band is comprised of Dave Needham (his son), Diane Needham (his daughter), and her husband Steve Mummert.

Being big fans of the storytelling and talent of the band, the Spamers wanted to ensure that the Needhams felt loved and honored by their hometown.

“We wanted to make it big this year because they’re celebrating their anniversary in singing. The dad, Dave Sr. has been singing for 60 years, he started the Needhams,” Joyce Spamer said. “It’s encouraging. They need the encouragement to know that people are excited about what they do. They are putting us on the map.”

The family gravitated to gospel, Bob Spamer said, and to music's personal meanings.

“We’ve always loved gospel music. There’s a message in the music,” Spamer said. “These gospel songs tell a story. A lot of people write from the experiences they’ve had.”

All who wish to attend the event on May 26 are invited to go to Batavia First Methodist Church at 8221 Lewiston Road, Batavia. The concert begins at 7 p.m. No tickets are required, however, a love offering will be taken to help support the ministry of the Needhams.

Submitted photo

First-quarter financials have Batavia Downs Gaming officials predicting another record year

By Mike Pettinella

Just a few months removed from what Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials reported as a record year for revenue, signs are pointing toward even greater earnings for Batavia Downs Gaming in 2023.

“We experienced a record 2022 and now the first quarter of 2023 is up 16 percent in what we distribute (to member municipalities),” WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said following this morning’s board of directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “It’s the highest net win by more than a half a million for the corporation, so it’s really been a blockbuster first three months of the year for us.”

Jacquelyne Leach, the corporation’s chief financial officer, provided a report to The Batavian that shows that distribution of surcharge and earnings to the 17 participating municipalities for the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same time period in 2022.

The numbers indicate that $2,269,956 in surcharge and earnings was generated this year compared to $1,956,149 in the first quarter of last year.

Genesee County’s share increased by 18 percent – from $42,002 to $49,664.

Leach also pointed out that the "net win" for March was the corporation's highest ever, $7.7 million. "Net win" is defined as credits played in the machines less credits won, she said.

Wojtaszek said Batavia Downs Gaming is bucking the trend in the gaming industry, citing information shared at a recent conference in Atlantic City.

“We heard that while the industry is doing pretty well as a whole, the indication is that the brick-and-mortar part of the casino (business) isn’t necessarily up, depending where you are, geographically,” he said. “But we’re clearly a brick-and-mortar operation and we’re clearly having a banner year. Our numbers are definitely up.”

He said he is optimistic that 2023 will exceed last year’s figures.

“(The first quarter) is usually the slow season. We’ve experienced no slowdown and now we’re coming into the busy part – with the Triple Crown, the concerts and many other events that we have here. So, we’re looking forward to a great 2023.”

On another front, Wojtaszek said a committee looking into the possibility of expanding The Hotel at Batavia Downs met on Wednesday and is leaning toward recommending the expenditure of up to $100,000 for a feasibility study and architect’s rendering.

“We’re going to be careful in our analysis of it and spending any money, but in order to figure out whether or not the expansion of the hotel is warranted, we’re most likely going to have an architect give us some drawings and have a market study done as to the return on the investment … if we do expand,” he said.

Following last month’s meeting, Wojtaszek mentioned the possibility of adding 42 rooms to the 84-room facility, but today he backtracked a bit.

“We discussed it yesterday and decided not to sit on a number at this point,” he said.

He pointed out that the hotel has been very busy and sold out on many nights, but wasn’t sure if “we’ve hit that tipping point to necessitate additional rooms.”

Wojtaszek also noted that an expansion would enhance the ease of guests’ entrance into the hotel.

“We want to make sure we have a safe drop-off area and convenient drop-off area for people,” he said. “Now, it’s a difficult situation relative to the drop-off and entrance to the hotel. We’ve acknowledged that and we’re trying to give a better experience to the guests arriving at the hotel.”

He did say that Downs’ officials will address the drop-off situation regardless of the decision on expansion.

Richmond Memorial Library’s annual trustee election is May 4

By Press Release

Press Release:

Richmond Memorial Library’s Annual Trustee Election will be held in the Library’s Gallery Room on Thursday, May 4  from 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. Any registered voter residing in the Batavia City School District is eligible to vote. There will only be a Trustee Election this year (not a Budget Vote), since an increase in the library budget is not being requested.

Mr. Richard Beatty is the sole candidate running unopposed for the seat. The term is for 3 years and runs from July 2023 through June 2026. Richard was born and raised on the west coast of Florida before setting off on a life and career path that eventually brought him to Batavia. Since the summer of 2000, Richard and RaeAnn Engler have called Summit Street home. Richard is active in the community volunteering for the Holland Land Company, the Batavia Community Garden, GO ART! and as a member of the Books Sandwiched In committee. He has been a docent at Buffalo’s Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, the Darwin Martin House since 2004. Most every morning of the week you will find him at Pub Hub Coffee sorting out the world’s troubles with whomever may be there.

Accident reported on West Main Street Road, Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

A motor vehicle accident with injuries and blocking is reported in the area of 4063 West Main Street Road, Batavia.

Town of Batavia Fire, along with Mercy EMS dispatched.

UPDATE 10:11 a.m.: A first responder reports that the road is not blocked. Both vehicles have pulled into a business's parking lot.

UPDATE 10:12 a.m.: Two patients, one ambulance sufficient, hold the assignment to Rescue 20.

Longtime tradition of ag district review continues to ensure 'farm protections'

By Joanne Beck

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Only one person spoke during a public hearing about Genesee County’s Agricultural District 1 Wednesday, and it was the organizer of the hearing, Director of the county Planning Department Felipe Oltramari.

He explained the process and importance to conduct reviews and hearings for Ag Districts, which occur every eight years for each of four different districts.

“It’s a very well-known program, it's been around since the 70s. It benefits the farmers and gives them the right to farm protections from the state. So it's a voluntary program that landowners enter into, and we administer. It's an eight-year term that they have to agree to, so this is their one chance to move their property in or out of the district," he said after the hearing and county Legislature meeting. “It’s fairly common for there not to be any speakers because it's not very controversial and protects the farmland, protects the farmers from being able to do the things that farmers need to do without fear of lawsuits and things … it's mostly protection from nuisance lawsuits or from regulations that a town government may place upon them that wouldn't allow them to continue their operations.”

The public hearing was about the review and modifications “for the folks who have asked to be removed and the folks that have asked to be put back in,” he said.

District 1 includes the towns of Alexander, Batavia, Bethany, Darien, Pembroke and Stafford. There are 69,193.97 total acres, and of those, 17,119.86 are owned by farmers, and 7,514.13 are rented by farmers. Since the last review, 1,507.13 acres have been added and 414.82 removed.

Oltramari asked the Legislature to adopt a resolution stating that the public hearing was conducted and the ag district review “has been determined to have no significant effect on the environment after preparing and evaluating a Short Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), and "WHEREAS, the Committee on Public Service does concur with the recommendation of the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board. Now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, that the Genesee County Legislature does hereby approve of the adoption of the proposal for the continuation and modifications of Agricultural District No. 1 in the Towns of Alexander, Batavia, Bethany, Darien, Pembroke, and Stafford as recommended by the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board for a period of eight years."

District Review Worksheets were mailed to the 1,200 landowners listed under District 1 on January 22, 2023, allowing them to make modifications to their land’s status and requesting information about their operation, Oltramari said in the county planning report

Owners responded to the mailed worksheets by either returning the included paper form, completing a web-accessible form, or calling the Planning Office. Of the 1,200 worksheets sent, 49.5 percent (596) were returned or had a response recorded.

Returned worksheets account for 64.6 percent of the parcels and 68.3 percent of the acreage. The return rate was higher than the 2015 review, which had a return rate of 40.2 percent, he said.

Altogether, farms account for 39,507 acres (58 percent) of the District. This data analysis is incomplete, however, as the calculations include only a partial estimate of the data attributable to the 50.5 percent of the landowners who did not respond to the mailing.

As a result of the review, 48 properties consisting of 1,440 acres were added to the District, and 220 properties totaling 2,589 acres were removed from the District. These modifications account for a net loss of 1,149 acres or a change of -1.7 percent, the report stated

In accordance with the Department of Planning’s process to revise the Agricultural Districts, properties of less than 2.5 acres without apparent farm-related activities and large-scale non-farm-related commercial properties received a targeted mailing which specified that if they did not respond, the parcel would be removed from the Agricultural District.

As part of this process, 144 targeted mailings were sent out, and 103 parcels totaling 124 acres were removed due to no response being received. These removals account for 4.8 percent of the acreage removed from the District.

Smart Growth, Farmland, Comprehensive Plans
The County has adopted a Smart Growth Plan, an Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, and a Comprehensive Plan. The renewal of Agricultural District No. 1 “will be in harmony with the long-term goals of agricultural protection and the economic growth strategies contained within these plans.” The benefits and protections afforded farm operators enrolled in the Agricultural District program help to meet the long-term goals of these plans and are integral to their strategies.

Genesee County’s Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan (adopted in 2001 and updated in 2017) prescribes a plan of action to boost the economics of local farming. At its core are a series of land use and economic incentives designed to address the bottom line of farm operations. The benefits of the Agricultural District program help to achieve these goals as an incentive to keep lands in agricultural production, the plan states.

The Plan’s second recommendation is to “reaffirm the importance of existing agricultural districts, especially with regard to water and sewer extensions.” The 2017 update found that “Extension of water and sewer infrastructure has been effectively controlled through the County’s Smart Growth Plan, which, as noted above, respects the importance of Agricultural Districts. Recognizing the impacts of extended infrastructure into Agricultural Districts, "the Genesee County Legislature adopted the Smart Growth Plan in May of 2001 to prevent new waterlines from encouraging the development of prime agricultural areas in the County," it states.

What does the renewal of ag districts mean for the county? It gives a boost by "maintaining a financial incentive to keep prime agricultural land in agriculture," the report states. 

Local Comprehensive Plans
All of the Towns with lands in Agricultural District No. 1 have adopted Comprehensive Plans. According to the planning report, the adopted plans indicate "a strong desire in these communities to preserve and protect agricultural lands and their rural character." These local plans include:

  • The Town of Alexander’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2003) indicates a strong desire to preserve and protect agricultural lands and their rural character.
  • The Town of Batavia’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2017) supports agricultural land uses by stating goals to “promote the continued economic viability of agriculture,” “preserve a large, contiguous area of high-quality farmland to ensure a viable land base for continued agricultural production in the Town,” and “reduce the potential for conflict between farmers and non-farming neighbors.”
  • The Town of Bethany’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 1997 and amended in 2007) indicates that “many residents support the preservation of viable agricultural activity.” The Plan encourages the “development of new agricultural related businesses” and states that “Residential and other developed land uses should be appropriately sited so as to minimize potential conflicts with agricultural activities.”
  • The Town of Darien’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2005) states a goal to “Provide for the protection of farmland for agriculture as an important environmental, economic, and aesthetic component of the community, and consider the impacts on agriculture in all actions of the Town.”
  • The Town of Pembroke’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2007) provides an objective “to ensure that agricultural land in the Town is protected and remains a viable economic opportunity,” and the Town lists these as action items: “Utilize cluster development and planned unit development practices in rural areas, implement existing land uses ratios to restrict the subdivision of land in viable agricultural areas, and study and inform agricultural Businessmen/ Landowners about the benefits of land trust easements to preserve agricultural land.” The future land use map within the plan identifies the majority of the land in Agricultural District No. 1 as Agricultural and Agricultural/Residential.
  • The Town of Stafford’s Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2007 and revised in 2009) states as a goal to “Support and protect agricultural lands” and “recognize the importance of farming to the character, economy, and spirit of the Town.” The Plan recommends the Town consider “adopting a local ‘right to farm’ law.

The Town of Batavia is the only municipality with lands in Agricultural District No. 1 that has a locally adopted and State certified Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan. The Plan, adopted in 2010, identifies one of its actions to create an Agriculture Production Zone, stating, “The Town should establish a zoning district that establishes agriculture as a priority use and limits the extent of non-agriculture development.”

Agricultural District No. 1 has met its intended goal, the report summarizes, and in conjunction with the other three Agricultural Districts in Genesee County, it has formed the foundation for the County’s future actions toward agricultural protection and enhancement.

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Top file photo of Felipe Oltramari, by Joanne Beck, and image above provided by Felipe Oltramari as part of the Planning Department report.

Scholarship opportunity for seniors in Darien

By Joanne Beck

The Town of Darien Republican Committee invites graduating seniors that live in the Town of Darien to apply for a scholarship of $1,000.

"This is a unique opportunity because they can be enrolled in college, trade school or the armed forces," a committee member said. 

There will be two scholarships available, and seniors are asked to complete the scholarship form provided HERE

HLOM announces guest speakers, next trivia series, music, and more Java with Joe in May

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce the next edition of our Guest Speaker Series on Wednesday, May 10th at 6:30 p.m. We welcome back Derrick Pratt of the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse. His presentation, "Buffalo v. Black Rock: The Western Terminus" details the debate that ranged over which community would be home to the western end of the Erie Canal, Buffalo or its close neighbor Black Rock. Admission is $5 or $3 for museum members. Please contact the museum at 585-343-4727or hollandlandoffice@gmail.com if you plan to attend. "This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council of the Arts with the support of the office of the Governor and New York State Legislature and administered by GO ART!"

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce the next edition of our Trivia Night @ the Museum on Thursday, May 11 at 7 p.m. This month's topic is Sherlock Holmes and his creator author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This trivia night will be held at at GO ART! located at 201 E. Main St. in Batavia. Tavern 2.0 will also be open if you would like buy a drink. Admission is $5 or $3 for museum members. Please contact the museum at 585-343-4727 or hollandlandoffice@gmail.com if you plan to attend. The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce the next edition of our Concert Series on Thursday, May 19th at 7 p.m. We welcome Don Dwyer, musician, singer and songwriter from Buffalo, who specializes in music and stories of the Civil War. Admission is $5 or $4 for museum members. Please contact the museum at 585-343-4727 or hollandlandoffice@gmail.com if you plan to attend. "This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council of the Arts with the support of the office of the Governor and New York State Legislature and administered by GO ART!"

The Holland Land Office Museum is proud to announce the next edition of our Java with Joe E. series. This month's program will be in the afternoon on Thursday, May 25th at 2 p.m. This month's presenter is former Batavia resident and now local author David Reilly. David will be sharing stories from his childhood growing up in Batavia in the 1950s and 1960s, which are is his new book "Small Town Talk: Growing Up in Batavia, New York in the 1950s & 1960s." Copies of the book will be available. Admission is free, and don't worry coffee and donuts will still be provided. Please contact the museum at 585-343-4727 or hollandlandoffice@gmail.com if you plan to attend.

Genesee SnoPackers recognized at Annual Banquet

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Submitted information and photos.

The Genesee SnoPackers Snowmobile Club was named Snowmobile Club of the Year at the annual meeting of the New York State Snowmobile Association last weekend in Lake Placid.

The Oakfield-based club, which provides support, educational classes, and camaraderie to local snowmobilers while also grooming trails in the county, was recognized both for its Bikini Rally as well as the club's efforts to help rescue stranded motorists during Winter Storm Elliott.

The state association represents 258 clubs.

Bucks Motor Sports of Akron was recognized as the dealership of the year. 

Notre Dame pitching continues to dominate, Fitzpatrick tosses no-hitter

By Howard B. Owens

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For the second time in his career, on Tuesday, Notre Dame's Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed a no-hitter, striking out nine over five innings.

The Fighting Irish beat Attica 10-0.

It was the fourth straight shutout for Notre Dame, and the Irish pitchers are working on a string of 25 consecutive scoreless innings.  The staff has surrendered only one run over 35 innings, and that one run was unearned.

Jordan Welker had two RBIs, a double and also scored three runs. Chase Cummings had two RBIs on a single. Hayden Groff was 2-2 with a single and a double, and 3 runs scored.  Jimmy Fanara was 2-3 with a double and a triple.  

Top photo: Submitted. Photos below by Pete Welker.

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GVCA hosts Annual Round and Square Dance

By Press Release

 

Press Release:

The Genesee Valley Council on the Arts invites you to our Annual Round and Square Dance on Saturday, May 6th from 7-10 p.m. The dance will be held at York Central School elementary gym, 2578 Genesee St., Retsof. Music and calling will be provided by Kelly’s Old Timers and members of the Geneseo String Band led by SUNY Geneseo Professor Jim Kimball. Admission is $5 Adults, $3 Spectators, 18 & under free - all ages are welcome at this family-friendly event.

If you’ve never been to a square dance, you can come early at 6:30 p.m. and learn the basic steps. No special clothing or prior knowledge is required - beyond knowing one’s left from one’s right! The dance is truly a fun evening for all ages, and a great opportunity to enjoy a longtime local tradition. Refreshments will be available.

We welcome a new caller to the dance this year, local musician Elise Kelly. Elise has received a 2023 Apprenticeship grant in square dance calling from the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Arts Council for Wyoming County.  Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships comprise an area of support from the Council, where individuals can devote dedicated time to study with master folk artists from their own community. As described in the guidelines, “Folk arts traditionally are transmitted from elders to younger generations in the same distinctive ethnic, regional, occupational, or religious community. Where the chain of transmission is no longer as strong as it once was, apprenticeships can stimulate the continuity of these traditional arts.”

The Kelly family of Perry Center has long been a part of the regional music scene, providing music for dances, concerts, parties, anniversaries, and countless other public and private events for four generations. Kelly’s Old Timers was formed in 1950 by “Woody” Kelly (accordion and calling) and brother, Roger Kelly (guitar), and has been performing continuously for nearly 75 years. The band currently includes Doug Kelly (bass and calling), Eric Kelly (keyboards and vocals), Elise Kelly (bass), Guy Macaluso (trumpet and guitar), and Tom Kwiecien (drums).

Elise will study with both Doug and Eric throughout the year, gradually adding to her repertory of dances, with the goal of learning enough calls to supply an entire evening of dancing. She is getting “real time” practice at this and other dances, and a celebratory event will take place in the fall. 

Elise is excited to continue as the fifth generation of her family in this community tradition, feeling that “it’s the perfect time to pick it up.” With degrees in Music and Education, she loves the idea of incorporating simple instruction into dances, to help teach and show the moves. As an educator for special needs preschool children, she sees many connections with nonverbal and imitative learning that is important for that population, as well as for many age groups and abilities. Elise is looking forward to building more connections with younger generations through groups like 4-H, schools, and scouting, and utilizing social media to promote dancing and dance events. 

Also a long-standing ensemble in the valley, the Geneseo String Band was formed in 1976 at SUNY Geneseo by Jim Kimball, playing traditional American fiddle, dance and vocal music.  For more than 40 years the student group (and some alumni and townspeople) has played for countless on and off-campus events, performing for receptions, clubs, dances, concerts, local churches, historical societies, camps and schools.  Much of their music comes from the Genesee Valley region, documented and recorded from old time players by Jim Kimball.  Many of Kimball’s recordings have been recently digitized and can be viewed and heard at https://knightscholar.geneseo.edu/kimball

This event is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the NYS Legislature. 

Top photo: Dancers at York Central School, 2016. Photos by Karen Canning.

Dancers at York Central School, 2013. 

Elise and Doug Kelly, June 2022. 

Strength in Numbers hosting Youth Suicide Prevention fundraiser at Batavia Downs

By Chris Butler

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Members of the Rochester-based Strength in Numbers nonprofit have scheduled a Youth Suicide Prevention Event from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on July 9 at Batavia Downs.
The theme: “You Are Not Alone.”

The evening will feature dinner and drinks, a silent auction, merchandise sales, and a motorcycle run. Ticket holders will receive Batavia Downs Casino Game Play Credit. Musician Joel Russlett is scheduled to perform.

If you want to participate, then you must act fast. 

Organizer Dan Clor said the event can only accommodate 200 guests. Tickets are $100 per person. People who wish to attend must email Clor at DanClor@strengthinnumbersorg.org

According to the Maryland-based Walden University, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 to 24 and takes 4,600 lives annually. 
Clor cited school bullying and sexual abuse as only some of the reasons why young people feel distraught and take their own lives.

“Generations in the past, if there was bullying at school, young people could go in their rooms or play in their backyards or be around their neighborhoods. But social media basically puts all of that on blast at a worldwide level. Young people are so connected all the time. Social media has added to the challenges,” Clor said. “Kids are disconnecting more. They are putting headsets on and playing in their rooms. There is that communication from human to human without devices [that they are not getting].”

Members of the riding group Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) are scheduled to speak. 

Clor said the July 9 event will highlight Strength in Numbers’ Youth Mentorship Program. 

“The mentorships we have are creative avenues for these kids to have a healthy outlet through their struggles,” Clor said, adding the program includes fitness and martial arts training.

“On the flip side of that, we also have music and art outlets, yoga, that kind of thing.” 

The July 9 event will also honor the lives of Madeline Bartz and Makenna Dadey, who are no longer with us, said organizer Sara Betz.  

“Madeline was the type of girl who, if she saw you upset, she would do everything she could to make you happy. She was a cheerleader, outgoing, a dancer and loved to play music,” Betz said. 

“Makenna was into music, drawing, volleyball, and she also sang.”

Clor said he and his colleagues have held Youth Suicide Prevention Awareness gatherings in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia. They will organize similar events elsewhere throughout the country and even internationally. 

“We are looking to build new relationships and move this initiative forward at a much larger scale,” Clor said.

For more information, visit https://strengthinnumbersorg.org

Submitted photo.

Police officers say bail reform is failing victims, defendants, and community

By Howard B. Owens

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Ask the people -- police officers -- who deal every day with crime victims, and those accused of committing the crimes, and New York's landmark 2019 bail reform law just isn't working.

It isn't working for victims, because they either get re-victimized, or there are new people victimized because accused criminals are free sooner to commit new crimes, or victims simply decline to press charges because they know the accused person will just be issued an appearance ticket.

And it has also failed the people it was supposedly designed to help: criminal defendants.

Those accused of a crime are now more frequently set free to commit new crimes and dig themselves into a deeper hole, or they don't appear before a judge or go to jail where they are afforded the opportunity they need to enter substance abuse programs.

"The joke is (among officers), it's like fishing. It's 'catch and release,'" said Batavia PD Det. James Defreze.

Chief Shawn Heubusch added, "It is catch and release, and they understand, the officers understand, what the laws are, and we're here to enforce the laws. But the laws are not helping our citizens. At least this particular law is not helping our citizens. It's not helping the community at large."

The Batavian spoke with Heubusch, Defreze, and Sgt. Christopher "CJ" Lindsay this week about the impact of bail reform on the department and the community after a series of press releases from Batavia PD about individuals who have been arrested multiple times on warrants for failure to appear for various minor offenses.

In press releases about arrests, Batavia PD has recently been highlighting criminal defendants who get are repeatedly arrested on failure-to-appear warrants three, four, or five times.  Unfortunately, there isn't clear data that judges are issuing, in the aggregate, more warrants, because, by policy, the department no longer seeks warrants on unpaid parking tickets, and with the legalization of cannabis possession, there are fewer marijuana-related arrests. That means there is no way to make a meaningful comparison from one year to the next of the total number of warrants.

The Why of Bail Reform
The path to bail reform in New York perhaps began in 2015 with the death of Kalief Browder. Browder had been held in Rikers Island on cash bail of $3,000 after being accused of stealing a backpack.  Browder said he was subjected to mental and physical abuse. His charges were dropped after three years of pre-trial condiment for lack of evidence. Upon his release, he committed suicide.

Advocates for bail reform said confining poor people, who can rarely make bail, on charges without conviction was a violation, at least in spirit, of due process. Advocates pointed to statistics that poor blacks, especially in the state's cities, were more likely to be held on bail, than white defendants. 

In 2018, in his State of the State speech, Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked up the cause of bail reform.  

"Let's be painfully honest: The truth is that our Lady Justice is still not colorblind, and her scales are still not balanced," Cuomo said. "Our bail system is biased against the poor. Too many jails are cruel and inhumane, and our court system is too slow."

Bail reform was approved by the State Legislature in 2019 and was meant to reduce incarceration by limiting the need for defendants to come up with money to pay for their liberty. The new law mandated pretrial release for the majority of nonviolent charges and required that judges consider a person’s ability to come up with the cash to pay bail or security to post bond.

On low-level, non-violent charges, officers must issue appearance tickets rather than hold the suspect for arraignment (where, in most cases, they would have been released under the old system). When suspects are arraigned, judges must release defendants without requiring bail and with no conditions on their release ("on their own recognizance").  In certain conditions, they can put conditions on their release ("released under supervision").   If bail can be set, the bail amount must be the lowest amount possible that is affordable for the defendant.  That's why you sometimes see bail set at $1.

There are multiple exceptions and conditions that police officers and judges must follow.  That is one of the complaints lodged by Heubusch.  The bail system is arcane and confusing.  

As an example, Heubusch cited a recent case where a suspect was arrested for burglarizing a restaurant.  The suspect was released following his arrest.  The next day, he burglarized another restaurant.  The judge misunderstood the standards of the bail reform law in this particular circumstance and released the suspect again.  He was arrested 20 minutes later after burglarizing another restaurant.

"So we now have one individual that has three burglary charges -- felony burglary charges," Heubusch said. "Again, he could have been held on that second arraignment, but there was a misunderstanding between the judges as to what they can actually do when it comes to that type of thing."

To help us understand how complex the new bail rules are, Heubusch pointed us to this web page on bail reform for the state's public defenders. It contains this matrix of qualifying (for bail) and non-qualifying (no bail) options. It also contains this flow chart that helps guide anybody in the justice system on when to require bail or when to release a defendant. 

Bail reform makes law enforcement harder
Being a police officer is inherently a risky job, and police officers accept that risk, Heubusch said.  It's also a tough job where officers are expected to deal sometimes with uncooperative or even hostile criminal suspects.  But that aspect of the job has been made worse, by bail reform, Heubusch said.

He said when people understand they're going to get an appearance ticket, they're more likely to flee or or fight with an officer because resisting arrest won't elevate the seriousness of their criminal activity.

"We've seen people run from us, fight with us, and attack us more than they did before, in my opinion, because they know, it's not taken as seriously or, you know, 'haha, I can get away with it. I'm gonna get a slap on the wrist from the judge. See you next week or see you tomorrow,' that type of thing," Heubusch said. "It just seems that the attitude, to resist arrest, to fight with the cops, has increased."

Bail reform has also made it hard to get drug dealers off the street, Defreze said.  

First, the Class B felony of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree is a non-qualifying offense, meaning a judge can't automatically set bail.  Defreze said he's seen dealers back on the street selling narcotics within five hours of their arrest.  

"Pre-Bail Reform, we were pretty effective and successful in removing drug dealers from our community," Defreze said. "We would find people, we would arrest them for possession with intent to sell or for criminal sale, both (Class) B felonies. When we got the indictment warrants, those people would go to jail. Now the majority of these people are getting charged with two to four Class B felonies, and they go see a judge, and they're released. Then people were calling, saying these people are selling drugs in my neighborhood."

That arrest was made after months of work that involved finding and working with a confidential informant, gathering evidence, reviewing the evidence with the district attorney, and presenting the evidence to a judge to get a warrant either for a search or an arrest.

When a recently released dealer just hits the street again, he can't just be arrested on the spot. The whole process must start again.

But now it's harder to find confidential informants.

"Bail Reform, in and of itself, made getting a CI inherently harder," Defreze said. "People used to be, there was some kind of fear that they were going to go to jail for minor offenses. You'd catch someone for stealing from Tops, and they wouldn't want to go to jail for that. They would cooperate to have that charge go away. I mean, CIs for minor offenses are a thing of the past."

Victims
Bail reform hasn't been good for crime victims, the officers said.

"What's been missed during this whole thing, just from my perspective, is we've completely forgotten about the victims," Heubusch said. "We've created a system that cares about the defendants, and we care about the defendants as well, we certainly want don't want to hold somebody for years upon years upon years on petty crimes because that doesn't make any sense. But the victims are now being re-victimized over and over again by the same offenders. So I think that's, that's the biggest frustration that you see from law enforcement because we are out there trying to make sure that our communities are safe."

In March, deputies arrested two men in Elba on property crimes. Under terms of Bail Reform, the deputies had no choice but to release the suspects on appearance tickets. The two men were processed at the Genesee County Jail and released. Upon their release, they allegedly stole a car, leading to a police pursuit across multiple jurisdictions.

Bail reform has made orders of protection less effective, the officers said.

Domestic abuse always involves a human victim, so that means the arresting officer can haul the suspect in front of a judge for an arraignment. That gives a judge a chance to issue an order of protection, but unless the crime is a qualifying violent felony, the judge has -- at least until now -- limited power to set bail.

"I can think of a domestic situation where somebody was arrested for harassment, and they were arraigned in front of the judge, got an order of protection, but they had to be released, and they went right back to the house and violated the order protection," Heubusch said.

Bail reform has also led crime victims to ask officers not to arrest offenders, Lindsay said.

"Obviously, we understand the defendants have rights but like (Heubusch) said, we kind of forget about the victims," Lindsay said. "I've had numerous times where we have a case where the victim wants to have someone arrested, so they'll ask us, 'are they going to be held in jail,' and we tell them, 'no, we can't hold them, so they say 'well, I don't want him arrested then because I don't want to deal with whatever fallout.'"

Lindsay said victims are also frustrated.

"We're probably dealing with more angry victims," Lindsay said.

The law is confusing
Heubusch came to the interview with The Batavian carrying a sheaf of paper. He had printed out the matrix, flow charts, and rules officers, attorneys, and judges must know in order to ensure nobody is jailed in violation of the law.

It's a lot to know and a lot to keep up with, and even sometimes judges get it wrong, he said.

"We had a situation where an individual burglarized a restaurant," Heubusch said. "He was arraigned, released and burglarized another business that weekend. He was arraigned, and the judge misunderstood that it was a new charge and released him. He burglarized another restaurant after he left. So we now have one individual that has three burglary charges -- felony burglary charges. And, again, could have been held on that second arraignment, but there's a misunderstanding between the judges as to what they can actually do when it comes to that type of thing."

Defendants harmed by Bail Reform
When defendants are released on appearance tickets, no judge gets an opportunity to recommend a substance abuse or mental health program. When a criminal defendant is free to re-offend, they sometimes do.

"If you look at it, from the defendants' standpoint, this person now has the opportunity to rack up multiple criminal charges to make that sentence, maybe harsher on them," Heubusch said.

He said his officers have seen defense attorneys ask judges to set bail in cases for the sake of their defendants.

"The only way they know their guy is gonna get help is by sitting in jail because the jail will provide that assistance to them, whether they want it or not," Heubusch said. "It'll at least be in front of them. If they get to walk away from that arraignment without being held, the chances of them going out and reoffending are very good. The chances of them going on or overdosing and dying are even higher."

We asked Heubusch in a follow-up email if he had any data on the number of times defendants have been released from custody only to OD, and Heubusch said, "I am not able to put together stats as quickly as I would like to, but we do have cases where individuals that we know to have substance abuse issues have committed crimes and while out pre-trial they have overdosed and died. If judges had the ability to incarcerate these individuals for, what the lawmakers are calling petty crimes, they would be offered assistance and/or mandated assistance pre-trial. This could keep some alive."

Ideas to reform the reform
The police chiefs in New York, Heubusch said, have their own ideas about how to fix bail reform.

First, end cash bail.  That is, in fact, right in line with what downstate reformers want.  Defendants should either be held pre-trail, with no bail, or released.  That would end the perceived unfairness of people with a bit of money being able to get released while poor defendants must stay locked up, unable to get to jobs or care for families.

"The amount of money sitting in your bank account should not determine if you're a free person or not," Heubusch said.

And allow judges to determine whether a person is a danger to himself, another person, or the community.

"We're the only state in the United States that doesn't have a dangerous statute in our law," Heubusch said. "Bail is set specifically upon reappearance for court. We're the only one that doesn't include dangerousness. I don't know why New York wants to lead the way in that, quite honestly, because the communities are suffering because of it. So eliminate cash bail altogether. There's no reason to have a $1 value on it. You're either held to your release, or you're released upon certain restrictions and then that can be reviewed at your next appearance."

Some reformers consider "dangerousness" too subjective of a standard. Heubusch countered that trying to determine if somebody is a flight risk is a judgment call.

Reformers are concerned that allowing judges discretion raises the specter of bias, and studies show the criminal justice system has a history of being biased against people of color.  Heubusch said race should absolutely not be a factor in who is held and who is released but blanket policies by lawmakers who don't live in the communities dealing with crime are not the solution to racism.

"If judges are using race to incarcerate people, then they should be held accountable," Heubusch said. "We should not be changing the system so that more people can be victimized. We are allowing people who commit crimes to remain free due to decisions by lawmakers who are not dealing with these individuals in our communities."

The officers know the current bail scheme is not helping local communities, they said, because they see it every day.

"You really have to explain to the folks that are there complaining about what's going on in their neighborhood, that we can only go so far," Heubusch said. "The reason this person is not locked up is not because of me. It's not because of the judge. It's because of the state laws that say they can't be locked up. It's because of the state laws that say they can't be evicted from that apartment. It's because of the state law. You know, it's very difficult to explain that to somebody who really just wants to see their neighborhood get better."

Photo by Howard Owens. Chief Shawn Heubusch, Det. James Defreze, and Sgt. Christopher Lindsay

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