Town of Batavia leaders developing plan to 're-imagine' Town Hall's operational function
While Batavia Town Board members are thankful that municipal operations during the COVID-19 pandemic have continued with minimal disruption, they’re also hopeful that a plan to reopen the Town Hall on West Main Street Road comes to fruition in the days ahead.
The board, along with Town Engineer Steve Mountain, gathered via videoconference on Wednesday afternoon to tackle the issues surrounding how to move from “brick and mortar thinking” to a next generation virtual Town Hall or operations center, including the future of the space used for Town Court proceedings.
With construction design for a new Town Hall postponed indefinitely, Supervisor Greg Post posed the question, “How do we move forward from what has been a traditional (form of operating) to something closer to what we’re really doing now?”
Post mentioned the dire forecast contained in the latest coronavirus impact report from the New York State Association of Counties – possible losses of up to $9 million in both sales tax and state aid to Genesee County – as a reason for the Town to take steps to reduce overhead and to make sure that the pipeline for sustainable economic development does not become clogged.
Currently, the engineering, building and inspection departments have been able to maintain a high level of activity, he said, working remotely, using the telephone and utilizing the Town Hall only when necessary.
“They have said they can follow a schedule that will work for them that won’t require any additional footprint in the building,” Post said.
Other Town employees, however, most notably the clerk’s staff, regularly work at the Town Hall, which also serves the public in various capacities.
Council Member Chad Zambito suggested reconfiguring work spaces or cubicles for employees to use, potentially on a staggered system depending upon the day of the week.
Town Clerk Teressa Morasco said that could work “depending on how many are in here, but there needs to be more privacy if we get back to more people in the office.”
Council Member Patti Michalak wondered if the courtroom could be used for employee work space, prompting Post to mention the uncertainty surrounding the court system’s future.
“As it stands now, (the court) is inadequate and, obviously needs a several million-dollar makeover,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know if there will be one court or four regional courts in Genesee County.
Mountain recommended that each department head submit a restarting plan for the board to review, outlining ways to work remotely and specific needs related to using the Town Hall.
“It’s a reimagining of a new type of Town Hall,” he said, downplaying thoughts of expanding the building, which would have to be “much larger if we want to operate as we have in the past.”
Morasco said relief from social distancing mandates would determine when residents would be able to use the drive-thru window, while Council Member Sharon White noted that although the safety procedures have been working, “I would hate to see it continue forever as I miss the interaction with everybody.”
Post said he isn’t convinced that the virus won’t return, but he was able to find a silver lining as it relates to the construction of a new Town Hall.
“If this happens, and it is likely it will happen again, I guess the positive side is that it came before we spent $6 million on a facility and couldn’t use it.”