City Council expresses confidence in economic development effort by BDC
During a budget workshop Wednesday night, the occasionally controversial Batavia Development Corp. received across the board support from members of the City Council.
Up for discussion was the $110,000 the city provides to the BDC to fund its operations, including paying the salary of Economic Development Coordinator Julie Pacatte.
Councilman Al McGinnis opened the discussion suggesting that while it might be OK to fund BDC this year, he would like the funding reviewed next year.
By the end of the meeting, however, McGinnis backed off that request because he learned funding for BDC comes from the video slot machine proceeds paid to the city by Batavia Downs.
"As long as it's the VLT money, that's fine," McGinnis said after the meeting.
He said he doesn't have a problem with the BDC and likes the work Pacatte and the board of directors are doing. He would just like to see a more detailed, nuanced regular report from the BDC on its projects.
At that point, Councilwoman Kathy Briggs jumped in and said the BDC regularly emails council members about its projects.
As for residents who are sometimes critical of the BDC, she thinks more of them are excited to see what's coming, and once the two in-progress breweries open up, that will help validate the work of the BDC in the eyes of a lot of people.
"Once they start seeing something, they’re going to get excited," Briggs said. "They’ve been hearing it for so long and they ask when, but when they start seeing a little progress, they’re going to get excited."
Both during the meeting and after, Councilman Paul Viele said the money the City is providing the BDC is money that is being well spent.
"For the $110,000 that we’re giving them, we’re getting a bang for our buck," Viele said. "You see what the result is. It’s great for the city. Whatever we can do to help them, let’s move forward."
During the meeting, Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian questioned why BDC's budget was $125,000 last year. Interim City Manager Matt Worth explained that $15,000 was added to the budget because of some anticipated environmental remediation. It turned out that work wasn't necessary, the money wasn't spent and it was moved back into the general fund.
Worth also provided a short history of the BDC, which dates back a couple of decades. At one time, Ed Flynn, now a consultant working on the Downtown Revitalization Initiative for the state, worked for the city handling economic development. The BDC received federal funds to establish a revolving loan fund. After Flynn's position was eliminated, the BDC board and the loan fund remained but with nobody to administer it. That led to some problems with collections on the loans. A coordinator's position was created both to help with the administration of BDC functions, but also to pursue economic development opportunities.
Since then, during Pacatte's tenure: several new market-rate apartments have been added to the downtown residential stock; the Carr's Warehouse has been converted into a mixed-use complex; a developer has been secured for the former Della Penna property and the Santy's Tires property; and soon the J.J. Newberry building will become the Eli Fish Brewing Company with the FreshLab restaurant incubator as part of the project.
Councilman Adam Tabelski expressed concern that talk of defunding the BDC could hamper the BDC's relationship with developers and other development partners, creating uncertainty about the BDC's continued operation.
"It perplexes me that this matter is even coming up as a topic," Tabelski said.
Christian asked about the BDC's contribution to the city winning the region's Downtown Revitalization Inititiviative contest, with its $10 million prize for economic development, and Council President Eugene Jankowski said that Pacatte assisted in the application process plus the fact that the city has the BDC, as well as the Batavia Business Improvement District, gave the city more points to help in its winning score.
The budget workshop started off with a discussion about funding a part-time staff position at the youth bureau. In the past, the position was filled by a member of AmeriCorps but the Federal government has eliminated AmeriCorps.
The County's Youth Bureau Director Jocelyn Sikorski, who operates the city's youth bureau program as part of a shared services agreement, said the job is critical to the operation of the youth bureau.
After a discussion about the importance of the programs the youth bureau provides to give children in the city, especially children from poorer homes, constructive activities and meals, the council voted to fund the position.
"We pay now or we pay later," McGinnis said. "And if we pay later, we pay dearly."
The council also addressed the topic of a spray park on the south side of the city. On Christian's request, with council support, Worth said staff will work up a report on the cost of the smallest possible spray park in Farrall Park, just to give council members of an idea of what it might cost, not that the spray park will be located there or be a park like the one in the report.
In today's dollars, the Austin Park spray park would cost $500,000.
Tabelski said Albion is building a small spray park for a couple hundred thousand dollars.
The current spray park uses about six million gallons of water each summer. To picture that much water, he said, imagine filling and emptying the water tower over by the VA Center four times.
The city buys that water at a wholesale price.