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Council member dissects 'gray areas' of resolution for city to accept Rotary Club grant for youth kayaking

By Mike Pettinella

Batavia City Councilperson-at-Large Robert Bialkowski and Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski engaged in several minutes of Q & A on Monday night over the particulars of the city’s acceptance of a Batavia Rotary Club/Rotary Foundation grant. It would be used purchase kayaks and related equipment, which then would be “gifted” to Genesee County for use as a youth outdoor recreation activity.

Council, at its Business Meeting at the City Centre Council Board Room, was preparing to vote on the resolution to receive the $6,000 in what Tabelski termed “a pass-through” transaction since the Rotary Club wished to donate the funds directly to the City Youth Bureau.

When Paul Viele, who was running the meeting in place of City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr., asked for discussion, Bialkowski was ready with a series of questions.

Bialkowski said he was concerned by recent discussions with a couple of county legislators who said they knew nothing about owning anything, stating that “they will just store it for us.”

City Council learned about the resolution at its Oct. 26 Conference Meeting.

At that time, Jocelyn Sikorski, City and Genesee County Youth Bureau executive director, advised Council that the city would “gift” all equipment from the grant – kayaks, kayak launch, paddles and vests – to Genesee County, which will maintain and store it at the DeWitt Recreation Area on Cedar Street.

She also said that county workers will build a trailer for hauling the equipment back and forth.

The resolution stipulates that the city would accept the grant from Rotary for the period of Oct. 1, 2020 through April 30, 2021 “to provide assistance to expand outdoor recreation and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.”

Fast forwarding to last night, following is the back-and-forth between Bialkowski and Tabelski -- with Viele interjecting his thoughts toward the end of the mini-debate:

Q. Who will be purchasing the kayaks?

A. It will be purchased through the city and then it will be gifted to the county, so we have no liability for the kayaks or the docking.

Q. Why are we giving the county money?

A. When Mrs. Sikorski was here at the last meeting, she discussed that because it is the city Rotary, they wanted to do the grant with the city. But after myself and the county manager looked at it, it will be housed in a county park.

Q. Why are we … transferring the actual funds to the county if we’re buying the kayaks?

A. We’re not transferring the funds, we’re transferring the material after purchase – the kayaks and the docking.

Q. Because the resolution implies we are transferring the funds.

A. No, it will be purchased through the city’s procurement policy. The city will gift the equipment from this grant to Genesee County Parks who will assist with the maintenance and the storage of program equipment once purchased, and they will be responsible for the insurance for that as well.

Q. Then who will own the kayaks?

A. Genesee County. We will not own them.

Q. There seems to be some gray areas here. Who will be instructing in the use of the kayaks?

A. I know the YMCA was a partner in it and when we have youth programming, again through whatever means we do, I think it would be incumbent upon that person to have an instructor there when they bring children out there.

Viele jumped in at that point, stating that “we’re going to buy the kayaks and gift them to the county, very simple.”

Bialkowski pressed on, however, saying that “the county doesn’t know anything about us donating kayaks, and they’ll probably be plastic throwaway kayaks … the inexpensive ones, and the longer they’re in the sun, the shorter the shelf life.”

To which Tabelski replied that Paul Osborn, county parks supervisor/forester, was building a shed and a place to store them.

Q. Who will be responsible to replace them?

A. The city would not be responsible moving forward. We’re basically acting as a pass-through … (for the kayaks) to be housed at the county park, along with the docking system that we discussed at the last meeting that has the handicap accessibility.

Bialkowski said he was surprised the county doesn’t know about this, and Tabelski reemphasized that the vote on the table was to accept the grant, purchase the equipment and give it to the county.

Viele said he was sure the county knows about it.

“They have to know about it, if we’re doing this. They have to know about it, if we’re voting on it,” he said. “Maybe the legislator hasn’t read his email to see what is going on.”

Bialkowski said he didn’t think a couple of legislators would do this, but Viele said since the city is not liable, “don’t worry about it.”

After Bialkowski signified his concern about the status of an instructional program for youth, Viele remarked, “It would be a good job for you. You could teach them.”

In the end, Council voted in favor of the resolution, with Bialkowski casting the lone "no" vote.

Legislature Chair Weighs In

The Batavian contacted County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein today about this matter and although she wasn’t aware of the details, she indicated that it was likely to come up at the next Human Services meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 30.

“Basically, this is an opportunity that Rotary wanted to focus onto the city youth recreational program, and it has been working on for well over a year,” she said. “The fact that those kayaks could be donated to the DeWitt park area, it just enhances what we already have going on there and it gives opportunity for the city youth at the same time.”

Stein acknowledged the “fluid situation right now with youth services, (so) we are following our process and our procedure because we certainly want to be a good partner.”

“Everybody has a job to do and we all have steps to take to get to where we need to be,” she said.

When asked about instruction for the youth, she said the county has a kayak program that is run by the Interpretative Center staff.

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