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February 23, 2021 - 1:44pm

Council debates proposal to defer lease payment, reduce capital fund contribution from ice rink operator

As Batavia City Council members ponder giving the company that manages the city ice rink a break on their lease and capital improvement fund payments, they also realize they can no longer skate around the need for renovations at the Evans Street facility.

Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski on Monday night introduced a resolution that would amend and extend the lease agreement with Firland Management, the Virginia-based firm that has operated the Batavia Ice Rink (formerly Falleti Ice Arena) for more than a decade.

Speaking at Council's Conference Meeting at the City Centre Council Boardroom, Tabelski explained that Firland’s finances have taken a severe hit due to COVID-19 as the rink was closed for most of 2020 and just recently saw the return of youth league and high school hockey.

She is recommending that Council let Firland make its next lease payment of $25,000 on Jan. 1, 2022 instead of the current due date of March 1, 2021, and also to reduce its contribution to the rink’s capital fund for 2020-21 from $32,958.30 to $5,000.

Furthermore, she is proposing to extend the contract from its current ending date of March 31, 2021 for two years through March 2023. As a result of negotiations, Firland’s lease payments will be $20,000 annually for 2021-22 and 2022-23 and its capital fund contribution will be $5,000 annually for the next two fiscal years.

Rink Has Some Big-Ticket Items

Currently, $370,000 is in the rink’s capital improvement fund, Tabelski said. That may seem like a large amount, however, a new refrigeration system could cost around $500,000 and a Zamboni dasher board could cost up to $250,000.

Contacted this morning, Tabelski said the time has come for the city manager’s office to conduct a study and analysis, and present a strategy to Council to “move that facility forward.”

“This should be done within the next year with the goal of bringing it back to full capacity and to potentially attract a buyer,” she said.

Council did put $19,500 into the 2021-22 budget to fix the front doors and the locker rooms, both “minor repairs,” Tabelski noted.

Another issue at hand is finding a business or organization interested in having its name affixed to the building. Falleti Motors is not interesting in renewing its “naming rights” agreement with the city, said Tabelski, suggesting a request for proposal will be forthcoming.

During the meeting, Council Member Robert Bialkowski asked about events scheduled for the rink, noting that he couldn’t remember if the activities stated in the contract actually took place.

Tabelski said that events were added during the last negotiation period with Firland “because we’d like to see more done with the facility” and mentioned that the home show is held there and she hopes to see indoor soccer events there.

Council Member Rose Mary Christian asked how much the city is paying to take care of the ice-making system (refrigeration) per year. Tabelski said the city contracts with a separate firm and estimated the price tag at $2,500 to $5,000 annually, but believed that is billed back to Firland. She said she would check on that and get back to Council.

Deferring Costs in a Tough Time

After hearing that the locker rooms have been painted recently, Christian said it was important to know about the refrigeration contract since she believed the city was reducing Firland’s lease payments.

Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said lease payments were being reduced for the one year, but the city was giving Firland more time to make its payments.

“They’re paying the same amount, right?” he asked, and Christian replied, “Only for this year?”

Van Nest entered the conversation, stating “we’re deferring the lease payment that would have been due in March, based on the COVID shutdowns that affected all hockey rinks as Councilman (Paul) Viele and I are well aware because we don’t see each other at the rinks anymore.”

“Deferring it and then basically reducing the capital contributions … so that gives them a little bit more flexibility as Council president indicated to get the operations back to a normal level of service and normal level of programming.”

Christian said she heard that the rink is doing well now, with the Genesee Amateur Hockey Association and the adults leagues in action once again.

Viele said officials are “trying to lump a lot of games in a short amount of time, so what you would play in October, they’re trying to get everything in February and March, and that’s why they’re deferring the payment to get the money.”

Jankowski noted that the rink was closed for many months, and that’s why the city is looking at deferring the payment until Jan. 1, 2022.

Hockey Players Return to the Ice

Van Nest said hockey wasn’t permitted until Feb. 1 of this year, and only skilled-based practices were allowed. Viele said that open skate sessions also were closed to the public.

“It will be the same amount but only the capital part will be reduced dramatically for the two years (since the city has some money in reserves),” Jankowski said. “That will give them two years – one year to get back on their feet, one year to assess and then we’ll be back, talking to them about an extension or whatever we need to do after that. It’s only a two-year agreement.”

Council agreed to forward the measure to its March 8 Business Meeting, where a formal vote will take place.

Van Nest said that Firland would be interested in participating with city officials about future capital projects at the rink.

“Firland has significant experience with capital planning for rinks, development of rinks, renovation of rinks,” he said. “They actually assisted the Buffalo Sabres with development of their practice facility, so in talking to Firland … they indicated they would be happy to look forward to assisting with general capital planning discussions for the facility.”

Roach: Public Safety Comes First

In other action, Council held public hearings for the 2021-22 budget; water rates, meter fees and capital improvement fees, and a local law amending the Business Improvement District plan. All three resolutions were forwarded to the March 8 Business Meeting for a final vote.

City resident John Roach was the only public speaker, expressing his view that the city should not pay the salary of the Batavia Development Corp.’s director since that is not a city position.

“As long as you have any public safety positions vacant, then I think it's wrong that you pay the BDC money to pay for their employee, no matter how good a job, how worthy,” he said. “It’s not a city employee and I think public safety should come first.”

He also questioned giving money to GO ART! for Picnic in the Park and said if the agency doesn’t hold the summer event, the money should go back into the city coffers.

Council Member Patti Pacino responded that there is no money in the 2021-22 budget for that event, and Tabelski said that appropriation was not paid out in 2020-21 as Picnic in the Park was cancelled.

Tax Rate to Increase by 14 Cents

Concerning the budget, Tabelski reported a 2021-22 spending plan of $27.78 million, with $16.855 million of that in the general fund.

The property tax rate would increase by 14 cents per thousand of assessed value – from $9.59 to $9.73. That would cost a homeowner with a $100,000 house about $13 more per year in property taxes.

She said Council has approved reductions in purchasing, overtime and training, and are keeping three firefighter positions, two police officer positions and one laborer position vacant.

Water rates and meter fees would increase by 3.5 percent while capital improvement fees would go up by 10 percent – numbers that have been the norm in recent years.

Amendments to the BID Plan will include three proposed capital projects -- downtown marketing banners ($9,000), downtown music equipment ($30,000) and downtown Christmas decorations ($38,000) – and spell out the amount of the BID’s assessment charge to its members.

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