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Byron residents shoot down proposal to build new highway garage; supervisor claims 'scare tactics'

By Mike Pettinella

Byron Town Supervisor Peter Yasses said he respects the wishes of the municipality’s residents, who voted down a proposal to build a new highway garage on Wednesday, but he didn’t hold back expressing his disappointment with the decision.

“The people have spoken, and I’m OK with it,” Yasses said in reference to a 250-145 vote that shot down town leadership’s bid to construct a slightly expanded steel structure to replace the current 60-year-old, six-bay block building next to the Town Hall on Route 237.

The $1.895 million project would have been paid by town taxpayers over 30 years, Yasses said, with the increase in the taxes (possibly up to $90 per year on a home assessed at $88,000) dependent upon whether any grants could have been obtained.

Yasses and a committee of town council members and employees had worked with the town engineer and an architect to come up with a plan that they believed was the best solution to replace the garage, which they deemed as “cramped, inadequate and unsafe.”

The supervisor previously stated that the highway department’s four full-time employees and one part-time employee work in a building that isn’t big enough to properly park its three 10-wheelers and one single-axle vehicles and its loader, and is saddled with safety issues.

Specifically, Yasses said the narrow width and low height of the current bays have forced workers to park vehicles sideways and put holes in the walls to make room for the plows. He also reported that the building’s heating and ventilation systems were faulty, and that windows and doors were deteriorating.

Yasses blamed the proposal’s defeat, in part, to “lies and scare tactics” spread by two vocal opponents, John Sackett Jr. and (former highway superintendent) George Heins.  Sackett and Heins were instrumental in getting enough signatures on a petition to force Wednesday's referendum.

The supervisor also said that the two men sent out letters and went door-to-door to persuade residents to vote against it.

“They used scare tactics, stating that it would double the tax (rate) and they were quoting stuff that no one knows yet, things that haven’t been agreed upon,” Yasses said.

Yasses said more than $6,000 was spent to develop the plan – which would increase the current building’s size from 40 by 113 square feet to 63 by 152 square feet with seven bays – and to conduct the public vote.

“The problem won’t go away,” Yasses said. “It has to get solved, but we’re not going to spend any more money on it this year.”

Heins, a 25-year highway department employee and superintendent for 12 of those years, said he understands that another building is needed but not “a $2 million barn with interest.”

“They can put up another one behind the current building – a three-bay barn for the longer 10-wheel trucks,” Heins said. “They can use the $400,000 that is in the reserve account.”

He cited other factors such as the town’s decreasing unexpended fund balance, uncertainty surrounding Genesee County’s sales tax negotiations with other municipalities, and a proposed $22 million bond to renovate Byron-Bergen Central School as ample reasons for residents to be concerned over a tax increase for a new highway garage.

“We’ve been trying to do something about the garage for years, but tearing it down is not the answer,” he said.

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