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April 9, 2018 - 11:04pm

State comptroller's audit directs City to tighten its grip over Downtown Business Improvement District

A New York State comptroller’s audit of the City of Batavia’s relationship with the Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District mandates City Council to assume greater control of the agency’s financial matters.

That was the word from both Council President Eugene Jankowski and Interim Manager Matt Worth at tonight’s City Council business meeting at City Centre Council Chambers.

“Basically, the state has supported what we said in the past (that Council needed more oversight of the BID) and lays down some ground rules going forward,” Jankowski said. “This has been going on for a couple years; we should have caught it sooner.”

See NYS Local Government and School Accountability audit summary findings posted above this story.

Worth said the audit addresses several procedural issues, particularly in the areas of budget oversight and retention of the BID’s funds.

“It deals with who should take possession of the funds and requires that a more formal contract between the City and the BID needs to be created,” Worth said.

The City and the BID were at odds for some time into the second half of 2016, stemming from the City’s contention that the agency’s 2016-17 assessment budget exceeded the General Municipal Law limits for district assessment charges used for operations.

Jason Molino, city manager at the time, also urged the BID to follow Open Meetings and Freedom of Information laws, and to post its bylaws and meeting notices and minutes on its website.

The dispute simmered in a public forum, eventually prompting Laurie Oltramari to resign her position as BID director (although she said the budget flap did not enter into her decision).

Since then, the BID Board of Directors has changed as has the director, with Beth Kemp taking over the lead role in November 2016. Additionally, the City -- in a move supported by the audit -- has more than $200,000 in a special account (BID taxes that were levied inappropriately) that will not be used until the agency plans a capital improvement project.

A call to Kemp this evening had yet to be returned when this story was posted.

In other action, Council:

-- Approved a contract with R.A. Haitz Co. Inc., of Batavia, for $49,838 to replace two roofs at Dwyer Stadium, with the intent of having the work done prior to the opening of the Batavia Muckdogs’ season in mid-June.

“I think it’s great that we finally found someone from Batavia that can do some work in Batavia,” Council Member Rose Mary Christian said.

The cost comes in at $1,838 over the projected budgeted amount, but Worth said he thinks the City could save money on some other projects at the baseball park “so it comes out in the wash, so to speak.”

The Haitz bid was not the lowest of the three received, however. A $28,800 bid from Dan & D.J.’s Reasonable Contracting, of Elba, was not considered because that firm miscalculated insurance costs related to the project, Worth said.

-- OK'd a liquor license request by the Muckdogs to offer beer and cider during the New York-Penn League games.

-- Voted to contract with Labella Associates in the amount of $12,000 for administrative services in connection with a Communities Development Block Grant to replace 900 linear feet of water mains on a portion of Brooklyn Avenue.

-- Passed a resolution designating four eligible census tracts – in Ward 2, 3, 5 and 6 – as federal qualified opportunity zones.

This gives developers federal tax incentives to reinvest capital gains in areas designated as “disadvantaged” by virtue of having 20 percent or higher poverty and a median family income 80 percent less than the area’s median income.

The resolution states that “coupling opportunity funds with the locally enacted Pathway to Prosperity tax increment financing program may assure cleanup of brownfield sites, gain new investor commitments to Batavia, and will ensure that our region can be an attractive economic driver creating jobs, building tax base and increasing population …”

-- Was informed that two part-time janitors have been hired to work at the City Centre Mall but a full-time maintenance worker has not been hired yet.

Council Member John Canale reported that a mall merchant commented that she noticed people working in the mall and “appreciated” the City’s effort to improve what has long been a tenuous association between the merchants and the City.

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