Between the public comments section at the top of the agenda and a presentation by folks with Vibrant Batavia, the City Council heard more than an hour of reasons to keep the city-created community promotion group.
Some on council sounded a skeptical tone about continued funding.
Vibrant Batavia is seeking $50,000 for 2015. City Manager Jason Molino is recommending $45,000, which is in line with the commitment the council made to Vibrant Batavia two years ago.
"I would be very disappointed and embarrassed if you were pulling back on your financial commitment to Vibrant Batavia, putting your reputations on the line," said Mary Valle, a local business owner and active member of the Vibrant Batavia Board.
The community's business owners donated their money for Batavia's centennial, committed to our community. How could things continue without a leader for Vibrant Batavia? If you do pull back, our business leaders, I believe, every one of them, would be very hesitant to donate and support projects in the future."
Councilman John Deleo said he's having a hard time justifying to himself and his constituents the expenditure of $45,000 or $50,000 on Vibrant Batavia when the city is talking about a tax increase.
"I did run as a fiscal conservative," Deleo said. "In fact, I may be downright stingy with taxpayer money and this is what I'm obliged to."
Last year, Vibrant Batavia was funded to the tune of $45,000 through unspent contingency funds from the previous budget year. Whether it's funded -- if it's funded -- through the same process this year, or from reserves, or through the general fund, or perhaps with video lottery money from Batavia Downs, is something for the City Council to discuss.
Funding or no, Vibrant Batavia won't necessarily have any impact on the tax rate.
Vibrant Batavia Director Leanna DiRisio (pictured) provided the council with an overview of what Vibrant Batavia has accomplished in its first two years.
- Hosted coffee talks
- Conducted neighborhood surveys
- Hosted a fall frolic
- Hosted home tours
- Published the Vibrant Times
- Organized neighborhood meetings
- Sponsored beautification projects
- Set up a community art project
- Organized the city's ongoing centennial celebration.
One of the big accomplishments for Vibrant Batavia in 2014 was raising $124,000 to fund this year's Batavia centennial celebrations -- an ongoing series of events that started with New Year's Eve fireworks and parties in City Hall and on Evans Street.
Valle noted that Vibrant Batavia, by raising so much money, exceeded council expectations, and that Deleo in particular expressed skepticism that the group could meet its fundraising goals
Those funds can only be used for the centennial and can't be used for Vibrant Batavia operations.
In year three, Vibrant Batavia, if funded, will focus on neighborhoods, particularly along the lines of forming three block clubs, DiRisio said. One on the Southside, one on the East End and one in the Central Park District.
Vibrant Batavia would also look pursue leadership development for community leaders and deliver programs that engage residents and build pride in the community.
The consultants found that with greater civic engagement, Batavia could improve itself both economical and socially, spurring revenue growth and decreasing crime.
It all begins, the report said, in fostering a greater sense of community pride and more community engagement.
Those who spoke during public comments, such as Lisa Barrett and Paula Miller, said Vibrant Batavia has certainly hit that target.
After one neighborhood event, children who live near Barrett were asking her when they could have another block party. Next week, maybe? Not that soon, said Barrett, but soon.
"I think when youth see adults caring about their neighborhood, then as adults they will care about their neighborhood," said Barrett, not in person but on a video screened for the council, as was a video from City Church Pastor Marty McDonald, who is very active in Vibrant Batavia.
Miller said before their neighborhood gathering, she and some of her neighbors were concerned about one house on their block that seemed to be a source of ongoing issues with the tenants.
The opportunity to come together as neighbors with city officials, including police and code enforcement, helped lead to an eventual resolution of that issue, she said.
"We felt it was a unique opportunity to bring our concerns to them and through that developed a request with City PD and city administration to come around and hear our complaints," Miller said. "It wouldn't have happened if we each felt we were the only ones hanging out there. We came together as a united effort to resolve our issue."
Deleo said there has been a lot of good work by Vibrant Batavia that he supports, but his constituents aren't seeing the value, not when faced with a 1.7-percent property tax increase.
"If we had a flat tax rate, I think it would be great," Deleo said. "Voters are pounding on me. They understand the water rates, but they can't understand the 1.7."
Councilman Eugene Jankowski, who used a post on Facebook yesterday to generate feedback from local residents, said everybody seems to believe Vibrant Batavia does good work. Where opinions diverge is on whether it should receive city funding.
"If we fund it completely, then we're not listening to half the people who don't want it funded by the city," Jankowski said. "If we don't fund it, then we're not listening to the other half. I don't know if we could fund it to a different degree to please both sides."