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Batavia City Council

March 10, 2020 - 9:28am

The Batavia City Council on Monday night unanimously approved a three-year contract with the Batavia Police Benevolent Association that gives the union members a 3 percent salary increase each year and makes modest adjustments to their uniform purchase and maintenance allowance.

The vote was 8-0 since Council Member Jeremy Karas was not present.

According to City Manager Martin Moore, the impact of the agreement during the first year would be $72,100 -- $84,000 in wages, retirement and Social Security benefits minus $11,900 in savings from the uniform allowance changes.

The police officers’ allowance would go from $700 per year to $650 per year and the current reimbursable stipend of $300 per year would be eliminated.

The contract runs from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2023.

“There is a lot of give and take (during collective bargaining negotiations) and in all of that give and take, never once does the City of Batavia take for granted what the police department does for us,” Council Member John Canale said immediately following the board’s vote.

In other developments, Moore reported that he expects the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency to announce its decision on funding for the Ellicott Station project sometime in April.

Moore also said that the Theatre 56 project in the mall is coming together with “most of, not all, of the interior gutted and waste materials removed, and the MRI machine is gone.”

Regarding the deer population control committee’s work, he said the group wishes to update Council at its March 23 meeting, having completed a third draft of a deer management plan with ongoing assistance from the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Wildlife Division.

Canale said that he has been impressed with the committee’s work ethic.

“I’ve never served on a committee like this one,” he said. “It is truly unbelievable. They go out in the woods, checking where the deer are. They’ve taken the ball and ran with it. It is something when community members get involved in solving problems that affect them.”

In other action, Council:

-- Approved sending a resolution to Albany seeking amendments to the state’s recently passed criminal justice reforms, which states that “several of the drastic changes in the law pertaining to discovery are overly broad and vague and are having unintended consequences at the municipal level.”

The resolution outlines increased costs of the mandated measures and restrictive deadlines that hamper the work of attorneys and judges.

“This has been a banner year for Albany pushing things down our throat,” Council Member Robert Bialkowski said.

Council President Eugene Jankowski then shared statistics compiled by New York City’s police department showing that of the 1,482 persons charged with crimes and then released (no bail), 846 of them went on to commit new crimes.

-- Approved resolutions transferring $100,000 from the committed fund balanced to the unassigned fund balance following the completion of the City’s Comprehensive Master Plan, and $27,711 in leftover money from the former Vibrant Batavia program from the committed fund balance to the unassigned fund balance.

-- Referred to the City Planning & Development Committee for review a request by Eric Biscaro, owner of property at 653 Ellicott St., to change the zoning in that area to permit an auto repair shop.

-- Appointed Caroline Hosek to the Historic Preservation Committee through Dec. 31, 2022, and Council Member Patti Pacino to the Batavia Business Improvement District through March 31, 2022.

-- Signed off on GO ART!’s Picnic in the Park event scheduled for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 4 at Centennial Park.

March 9, 2020 - 10:51pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Batavia Downs Gaming, Gov. Cuomo.

Viewers of the country-flavored television variety show "Hee Haw," a popular offering in the late 1960s and early 1970s, may remember the musical bit that featured the line “gloom, despair and agony on me; deep, dark depression, excessive misery.”

Batavia City Council members left tonight’s Business Meeting at City Hall with similar feelings, mixed in with anger directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after reluctantly overriding the state’s 2 percent property tax cap and then passing a 7.5 percent property tax increase as part of the City’s 2020-21 budget.

“Regretfully,” said Council Member Patti Pacino as she joined Robert Bialkowski, Kathleen Briggs, Al McGinnis, John Canale and Council President Eugene Jankowski in casting a “yes” vote on overriding the tax cap. Paul Viele and Rose Mary Christian cast dissenting votes.

After that, the same five voted to adopt the $17.8 million general fund spending plan, with Paul Viele and Rose Mary Christian again voting “no.”

The third piece of the budgetary puzzle – raising water rates by 3.5 percent – came next, with six votes in favor of passage to more than offset Christian’s “no” vote.

Council member Jeremy Karas did not attend the meeting.

The property tax rate increases to $9.60 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value – a jump of 7.5 percent -- and about $67 more per year on a house assessed at $100,000.

“It was very disappointing to have to pass such a large tax increase,” Jankowski said following the meeting. “It was very disappointing to have to exceed the tax cap that the governor himself set upon all the municipalities. And then he turns around and his budget makes it very difficult for us to not exceed the tax cap. It’s very confusing and very disappointing.”

Jankowski said Council did the “best we could under the circumstances.”

“We’re working really hard in the next 12 months because now that money is not going to be there going forward,” he said. “And it’s not going to go away, and I’m not in favor of raising the taxes again.”

Calling it a “nightmare,” Bialkowski placed the blame squarely on Cuomo for taking about $440,000 in video lottery terminal money generated by Batavia Downs Gaming from the City and leaving the City no choice but to draft (and pass) a resolution asking Cuomo to give the VLT funds back to Batavia.

Canale, McGinnis and Jankowski also expressed their disdain for Cuomo’s action, while City Manager Martin Moore simply stated that “we need that money restored.”

“Assemblyman (Steve) Hawley and Senator (Michael) Ranzenhofer are both calling for the restoration of the funds and this (resolution) supports that,” he said.

Before acting on the budgetary resolutions, Council heard from a pair of City residents – Nancy Ewert, who felt the board could have cut more administrative expenses, and John Roach, who blamed the governor and the Democratic party in Albany for the City’s financial dilemma.

“I think you need to go back to the drawing board,” Ewert said. “For you to raise money for your projects on my back is unacceptable."

In response, Bialkowski said Ewert’s contention that there were closed-door meetings was not true, and justified Council’s use of the VLT money as revenue in the budget.

“Some say we shouldn’t have used the VLT money,” he said. “Should we have put it in the basement or put it under our pillow? Of course, we used it for our budgetary reasons.”

Canale agreed with Bialkowski and noted that the City used to keep the VLT money in a separate fund before New York State “demanded that we start using the VLT money toward operating costs.”

“That’s why we’ve enjoyed a level tax rate the past few years … and have maintained services,” he said. “This was an event that wasn’t expected. The tax increase was .97 percent. But if you all want services that you enjoy, there’s no other way around it. Cuomo said ‘I need it and you guys figure out what you’re going to do.’ ”

Following the meeting, Ewert called out Council for a flawed budget process.

“They say that they have to break the tax cap in order to fund the City government, and yet they can explain away $400,000 in increases – and they’re increases in administration,” she said.

“They’re not increases in police work; they cut the police budget. They froze the fire department budget and they absolutely, I mean annihilated, the youth budget. It’s like down to around $8,000 for the year.”

Ewert said youth services in the City leave a lot to be desired.

“We have a problem in Batavia for our youth. We don’t have alternatives to keep these kids off the street,” she said. “The ice rink is great but it’s not the only answer. We do we not have an indoor basketball court that’s available for free to these City kids. I know the Y exists; it’s not free.”

She also questioned the water rate increase.

“And the whole issue with the water. Now they say we have to pay another 3 point something percent because we need an infrastructure backup plan. Where is our guarantee they’re not going to spend that somewhere else, because that’s what they’ve done in the past?”

Roach said he wasn’t happy with the 7.5 percent tax increase but admitted there was “no wiggle room now.”

“Don’t fault the Republicans on City Council or Batavia Downs,” he said. “It’s strictly the fault of the Democrats and Governor Cuomo.”

Bialkowski said he despises property taxes on homeowners but added that “we need to navigate through this.”

“I wish you were here during some of our workshops,” he said. “We dissected every single line item. There are no winners … we are all losers. But I didn’t hear any solutions (during the workshops) so now’s the time to set aside personal prejudices (and vote).”

Christian responded by informing the board that she gave a list of things to cut to the city manager last week, and Viele shot back at Bialkowski for trying to dictate to the rest of Council on how to vote.

“It’s not a political thing or a Ward thing,” Viele said. “I’ll vote the way I want to vote.”

March 9, 2020 - 10:49pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

City Council President Eugene Jankowski is keeping his fingers crossed that Batavia’s financial picture will become much brighter over the next year.

Speaking to The Batavian following tonight’s City Council meeting, Jankowski didn’t hide his disappointment (see main story) but is encouraged by several state-funded Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects that are finally coming to fruition.

“We were caught off guard this year, and we really didn’t have time to do anything other than patchwork,” he said. “Next year, we’ll have 12 months to plan ahead for not having that money in the budget and hopefully we can find some real things that we can trim that aren’t going to cause any major impact on the services or doing business with our core values of police, fire, public works and snowplowing and various things like that that are important."

Jankowski said voting to override the tax cap and for the large tax increase was “one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make as a council member.”

“But I understand the whole process of it and I understand why we’re doing it, and it’s the best we can do at this point – and it’s still not good enough in my mind – and we better fix it for next year for sure.”

He said having the Batavia Development Corporation in the mix is essential to the City’s economic success.

“Our goal, and that’s the big value of having BDC, because they are generating development and they are managing all of these DRI projects, expediting them and fast-tracking them to get them started,” he said. “When those buildings – Save-A-Lot building, Ellicott Place, Ellicott Station – the Savarino property – become up and running, some of them may have tax breaks, but they’re not at zero. They will be paying – in Savarino’s case I believe it’s approximately 30 percent in the first year.”

Jankowski foresees a great deal of income generated by converting the empty lot into a multimillion dollar piece of property.

“That will help us, but we have to get it built and we have to do something in the meantime while it’s being built as it will take a couple years to get done.”

He said he is banking on investors to step up to the plate.

“The other DRI projects are the same way. When people invest two million dollars into their property, it’s going to increase their value. It just happens. So, that will increase that commercial tax income and hopefully will bring in more commerce, which will increase the sales tax revenue,” he said.

The council president said he wished the City could have had one more year of VLT money to have that “cushion” while the DRI projects are under way.

Despite the current setback, he said he has to keep focusing on the future.

“I’m hoping that projected income is going to help and I hope these projects get off the ground when they need to and I hope that the governor could restore some of that money back as well,” he said. “If all that combination happens, we’re going to be in much better shape the next year. Otherwise, (there are) a lot of cuts we’ve got to think about for next year.”

February 28, 2020 - 8:36am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

Earlier this week, The Batavian asked Batavia City Manager Martin Moore to explain the $700,000 shortfall in the 2020-21 budget, considering that the loss of VLT (video lottery terminal) funds from Batavia Downs Gaming amounted to much less than that at $440,789.

The current budget proposal calls for a 7.48 percent property tax increase to City residents and has City Council considering a vote to override the state's 2 percent tax cap at its March 9 meeting.

Prior to Councll learning about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's intention to take the VLT money from municipalities and include it in the state budget, Moore's budget called for a 0.97 percent tax hike.

Moore sent back the following email in Q&A form on Thursday evening:

Q. How short are the City’s revenues compared to its expenses?

A. $700,000 (This figure is rounded. The actual amount is $698,329).

Q. Why $698,329? I thought the amount of VLT funds the State is trying to take is $440,000.

A. The City is facing two (2) hits to its revenue:

-- The loss of VLT funds: $440,789.

-- A reduction in the use of unassigned funds (Workers’ Compensation unassigned funds): $257,540.

-- Total shortfall: $698,329 

Q. What are unassigned funds?

A. Unassigned funds: Funds in City accounts that are not approved for use in the budget, but are still accounted for. Unassigned funds are monies left over after a previous fiscal year(s), that are either kept in reserve to pay for cost overruns in the next year or are used to pay for capital improvements, replenish reserves, or to balance the budget.

Q. How many years has the City been using unassigned funds to balance the budget?

A. I have verified the use of unassigned funds for the use for at least the past eight (8) years.

Q. What is the original amount of unassigned funds that the City Manager was asking approval to use in the General fund budget?

A. In order to avoid overriding the tax cap, the City Manager originally recommended that the City use $741,640 of uncommitted funds. These funds would have come from:

-- $259,100 of General unassigned funds;

-- $225,000 of Water unassigned funds;

 -- $257,540 of Workers’ Compensation unassigned funds.

Q. Why is the City reducing its use of unassigned funds by $257,540?

A. The City of Batavia is self-insured with both our Workers’ Compensation and Health Insurance programs. As a result, major illnesses or accidents can require the City to pay for claims out of City funds. While this is less expensive than buying prepackaged insurance, it does require the City of Batavia to maintain a reserve of funds in the case a major illness or accident happens during the fiscal year. 

With the City being hit by the loss of VLT revenue, it is highly important to avoid any more cuts to other General Fund programs should we be hit with a large worker’s compensation claim(s). Therefore, I have strongly recommended that we leave the Workers’ Compensation funds alone and not use them.

February 25, 2020 - 12:08pm

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Batavia Development Corporation Executive Director Andrew Maguire borrowed a line often used by his counterpart at the Genesee County Economic Development Corporation on Monday night as he outlined accomplishments and goals of the City-funded agency charged with attracting and facilitating investment.

“Economic development is a marathon, not a sprint,” Maguire said, echoing to a certain extent the message conveyed by Steve Hyde, GCEDC president, in his public addresses.

Maguire, a lifelong Batavian and former clerk-treasurer for the Village of Oakfield, was named to the post on Nov. 18.

He has had to absorb much information in that time as the City of Batavia is in the midst of negotiations to advance several projects that are part of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative, along with other business-friendly loan and grant programs.

Over the past few years, Batavia has come up with different strategies to spur new development and investment, including remediation of Brownfield Opportunity Area districts, Revolving Loan Fund and Grant programs, New York Main Street Grant program, and the Batavia Pathway to Prosperity Fund PILOT*-- repurposing agreement forged by the five taxing jurisdictions (City of Batavia, Genesee County, Batavia City School District, GCEDC and BDC).

“New development is about what will make Batavia attractive to all entrepreneurs,” Maguire said, adding that the success of these programs can bring about a “Live, Work, Play” lifestyle that young professionals are seeking.

Maguire said the City’s population of 14,396 is projected to decrease considerably over the next 20 years, with about 5,000 less citizens in the 25 to 64 age range. But, he said, that effective economic development could turn things around for a community that has 2.3 million people and 67 colleges within a 60-mile radius.

“HP Hood is set to hire 200 to 250 50 employees, which will double its workforce,” Maguire said, adding that about 75 percent of those who work in the City don’t live in the City.

He also pointed out that the housing situation in Batavia is less than optimal as more than half of housing units are more than 50 years old and “in need of substantial rehabilitation.”

“Industrial growth is outpacing housing (construction),” he said, factors not conducive to attracting millennials who are opting for a “more simplistic lifestyle.”

Maguire said he believes the City is poised for a burst of economic development as long as the DRI projects reach the ground-breaking stage in the near future and the Business Improvement Fund Grant investment reaps a projected three-fold harvest.

“The $10 million DRI projects (including Ellicott Station, Mall/City Centre, Healthy Living/Campus, Creek Park and Batavia Players theater) will result in $64.6 million in investments and the $600,00 BIF will generate another $2 million,” he said. “All programs combined are expected to bring in $72 million in capital investment to the City.”

Maguire, the lone paid employee of an independent agency governed by a board of directors and financially supported by the City, said “it is critical to not let this momentum stop … to increase the quality of life and attract new talent. More than ever, the City needs boots on the ground.”

* The acronym for Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

Photo -- Batavia Development Corporation Executive Director Andrew Maguire during Monday night's City Council meeting. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

February 24, 2020 - 10:47pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

If the Batavia City Council votes to not override the state’s 2 percent tax cap at its March 9 meeting and send the 2020-21 budget ordinance back to the city manager for further cuts, it will serve only to make a bad situation worse.

That is the steadfast opinion of Manager City Martin Moore, who spoke out against further reduction in services and/or personnel during an emotionally charged City Council Conference Meeting tonight at City Hall.

“I can tell you in the strongest terms that our City employees do not deserve another $350,000 in cuts,” said Moore, responding to City Council President Eugene Jankowski asking what further cuts could be made if the board decides not to authorize a budget that currently calls for a 7.48 percent property tax rate increase -- from $8.92 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $9.59 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

At that new rate, property taxes on a house assessed for $100,000 in the City, for example, would be $959 -- an annual increase of $67 from a year ago.

The City is facing a $700,000 shortfall this year due to the loss of potential loss of more than $440,000 in Video Lottery Terminal funds generated by Batavia Downs Gaming.  The VLT money has always been part of the City’s budget. Things could change this year, however, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s has included those funds in the state budget.

Moore said that programs not critical to public health and safety would be the first ones on the chopping block. Those include youth and recreation programming, equipment replacement, travel/training seminars, and the elimination of temporary and part-time employees.

“We would look at cuts in the Batavia Development Corporation and even the K-9 (police dog) unit may not survive (being cut),” he said.

Moore defended the work of his department heads for finding $350,000 in expenses to slash, noting that youth bureau funding has been cut and an additional school resource officer, computer replacement programs and purchases, and vehicle replacement for the fire, police and public works departments already have been put on hold.

My personal feeling is that I think the City has struck the right balance between cutting expenses and asking the people in the community to step up with us and help us with the property tax levy," Moore said. "I know it's difficult -- it's difficult for all of us -- and it's very unfortunate that the state has a proposal (to take the VLT money) but it order to keep quality services, I think we need to stay right where we're at."

Jankowski said he put forth the “what if” scenario to “let the public know the gravity of what we’re facing. We’re looking at every line item.”

Initially, Moore’s budget came with a 0.97 percent property tax hike, a figure in line with the previous two budgets that had no tax increases. That fact wasn’t lost on Council Member John Canale.

“I always say, ‘get it under 1 percent and then we’ll talk,’ ” Canale said. “But now our wonderful leader in Albany has decided to steal some money from us.”

Canale then, respectfully, called out Council Member Rose Mary Christian for objecting to the revised budget despite the board sifting things out during several budget sessions.

Christian, along with Council Member Paul Viele, voted no to sending three resolutions to the Council’s Business meeting next month -- overriding the tax cap, the budget itself and establishment of new water rates (3.5 percent increase), meter fees and capital improvement fees. They all passed by a 7-2 margin.

Earlier in the debate, Christian said she didn’t think Council took enough time to discuss potential cuts, believing that it was left in the hands of the department heads.

“That’s b--- s---,” she said, not holding back.

Jankowski took offense to Christian’s view and, a bit later, Canale questioned her motives.

“It’s almost our final meeting and now we’re doubting the budget … after hammering out $350,000 in cuts,” he said. “Now we’re second-guessing that budget. We have to do it (override the tax cap). Our people see what Governor Cuomo did; they’re not idiots.”

Council Member Kathleen Briggs agreed.

“We can’t go down that road (of finding more to cut),” she said. “We can’t do that to these departments, and I don’t think he (Moore) has to give us a scenario.”

Jankowski reiterated that it is possible that Council votes to not override the cap, but said that in any event, the citizens of Batavia realize the board’s dilemma.

“They’re angry, but they understand and they are with us,” he said.

Previously, Council Member Robert Bialkowski took a jab at Cuomo and then gave credit to his colleagues and city officials for finding a way to close the monetary gap.

“I’m proud of Council and administration,” he said. “We got the first budget done but then threw it in the trash and started over. The manager and department heads made this happen.”

Bialkowski said the board is “not happy about raising property taxes on ourselves, but the budget now puts the least financial burden on taxpayers.”

During the budget public hearing, City residents David Twichell and John Roach spoke, with the former asking Council to reconsider cutting funds to the youth bureau and the latter suggesting that Council should use money earmarked for the Batavia Development Corporation to instead restore the school resource officer position.

“We have a brand-new youth center on Liberty Street … with 400 (kids) registered to use the facility – twice as much as before,” Twichell said. “What better way to invest our hard-earned tax dollars than to the youth of our community?"

Roach said he understood that Council didn’t see the loss of the VLT money coming and raising taxes by more than 7 percent is “not how you gain popularity.”

He said he is disappointed that the SRO was cut.

“You give $100,000 to pay the salary of a person who is not a city employee (BDC executive director) and not for a second SRO who is going to protect kids,” he said. “I’d rather see a police officer to protect the schools.”

Council Member Al McGinnis, the board liaison to the youth bureau, also said he was against cutting youth programming but said all (departments) have to take the cuts equally.

Bialkowski responded to the BDC suggestion by noting that it would difficult to find a volunteer to work the hours needed to coordinate development projects in the city, singling out the much-anticipated Ellicott Station mixed-use redevelopment initiative.

“Once you start down that road, you might as well leave the community,” he said. “It will be a ghost town.”

February 11, 2020 - 9:17am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, video lottery terminal.

Batavia City Council Member Robert Bialkowski took a swipe at the state governor Monday night as he voted “yes” to setting a public hearing on Feb. 24 to override the property tax cap.

“I’d like to thank Governor Cuomo and his cronies for doing this to us,” Bialkowski said, referring to a proposed state budget that includes revenue generated by video lottery terminals at Batavia Downs Gaming – money that has always gone to municipalities, such as the City of Batavia, that host VLT gaming.

City leaders are scrambling to come up with ways to plug the gap caused by the potential loss of more than $440,000. A recommendation from City Manager to cut expenses and raise taxes in the 2020-21 budget (see Monday’s stories in The Batavian) currently is on the table.

Discussion during last night’s Special Conference Meeting centered on Moore’s recommendation and the governor’s action that, according to City Council President Eugene Jankowski, came as a surprise.

“Three years ago, we started using it (VLT money). “We were going to use it to offset taxes again this year and it got pulled from us without any advance warning,” Jankowski said.

He said that he hoped that pressure from state senators and assembly members would be able to change the governor’s mind about the VLT funds, but if not, thought the city would be in a better position to budget properly in 2021-22.

Moore said the loss of the VLT money is “fairly substantial” and credited the City’s department heads with delivering ways to cut expenses.

He warned against using unallocated cash tied to the workers’ compensation fund.

“We’ve got to be careful with that,” he said. “There’s a strong determination on my part … I needed to listen to them (staff) and to the data. We can not use those funds. They need to be there in case of claims, which could be $100,00, $200,000 or $500,000 in a single shot, and they come unexpected.”

Jankowski emphasized that Monday’s vote was just to schedule the public hearing – not to override the tax cap at this juncture.

He also made it a point to explain that the City was holding back on hiring an employee to handle additional paperwork caused by the state’s bail reform and discovery law changes and an additional school resource officer.

“We have no choice other than to take it out of reserves … and that is not a good idea,” he said.

On another front, Council members heard from Richard Unlauf, a city resident, who sought approval from the board to construct a skate park in the City and “hopefully within a City park.”

Umlauf said he has been in touch with the Tony Hawk Foundation and Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, which offer grants – one for $250,000 (a matching dollar-for-dollar grant) and another for ecological studies in the amount of $50,000.

“It’s a project that is close to me as I am one of the kids that benefitted from the previous park,” Umlauf said. “It kept me free and clear (of trouble).”

Umlauf volunteered to head a committee to look into such a project, adding that several residents have reached out to him to express their interest.

In response, Council Member Paul Viele asked about the liability to the City. Jankowski called for more information and Kathleen Briggs wanted to know more about the grant possibilities.

Moore said a skate park brings a number of different factors into play as far as insurance is concerned and was backed by City Attorney George Van Nest, who said that a skate park could add “different layers” to the insurability process.

“You need to make sure there is ample insurance and analyze the risk and cost associated with taking that on,” he said.

Council Member Rose Mary Christian suggested that Umlauf continue with his efforts and report back to Council next month.

On another matter, Moore reported that a committee formed to look into the deer overpopulation problem in the City has met twice and is looking at eight different areas or zones.

“They are looking at which ones to tackle first … to get the best bang for the buck – or probably the doe at this point,” he said, pun intended.

February 10, 2020 - 8:52pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

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The Batavia City Council tonight voted to schedule three public hearings for 7 p.m. Feb. 24 dealing with the 2020-21 budget ordinance, including a resolution introducing a local law to override the state’s property tax cap.

The tax cap has become an issue in light of the possibility that the municipality could lose more than $440,000 in Video Lottery Terminal money from Batavia Downs Gaming as proposed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tentative state budget.

City leaders are considering a 7.5 percent property tax increase (much greater that the 0.97 percent increase that was part of City Manager Martin Moore's original budget) along with spending cuts to close a projected $700,000 gap.

If adopted, the tax rate would go from $8.92 to $9.60 per thousand assessed valuation.

The other public hearings are on the budget itself – a $17.8 million general fund spending plan – and to establish new water rates (3.5 percent increase), meter fees (66 cents per quarter increase) and capital improvement fees.

Watch for more details on the discussion over the VLT and tax cap issues on Tuesday.

In other action, Council passed the following resolutions:

-- Adoption of the Genesee County 2019 Hazard Mitigation Plan to serve as the City’s Hazard Mitigation Plan, a measure that would permit the City to receive federal pre-disaster mitigation funds.

-- Acceptance of a $25,481 STOP-DWI grant from Genesee County to be utilized throughout the year and a $22,500 with LaBella Associates of Rochester to facilitate the acceptance of a $300,000 New York Main Street grant as a match for private investments to undertake proposed building improvements within the Batavia Business Improvement District.

-- Sale of a 12- by 50-foot parcel of property next to Eli Fish Brewery Co. in Jackson Square for the company to expand their offerings to include outdoor dining. The sale price was $840.

-- Appointments of Lois Gerace to the Board of Assessment Review, and Council members Rose Mary Christian and Paul Viele as marriage officers to have the authority to perform wedding ceremonies.

Photo: City Council President Eugene Jankowski reads a proclamation commending retired Assistant Police Chief Todd Crossett for his 21 years of "dedicated service" and for being a "positive role model." Crossett said it always was his dream to be able to serve in law enforcement in his hometown, stating that it was an "honor and a pleasure" to be a part of the Batavia City Police Department. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

January 27, 2020 - 10:26pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Ellicott Station, Falleti Ice Arena.

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Public comments concerning the condition of Falleti Ice Arena on Evans Street, the prospect of the City losing out on Video Lottery Terminal funds generated by Batavia Downs Gaming, and the lack of progress on the Ellicott Station project took center stage at tonight’s Batavia City Council Conference Meeting at City Hall.

“We need to invest in this facility to make the next 40 years as successful as the past 40 years,” said Batavia resident Michael Reich, who said he has been involved with programs at the ice rink for more than 25 years.

Reich mentioned the efforts of Jack Porter and Ronald Setzer in helping to make the rink a reality and bringing “a lot of smiles under that roof.”

“Thousands of families have gone through there … lifelong connections there and (a notable) economic impact,” he said. “But it’s 40 years old and it needs some work.”

He mentioned that the goal of the management company, Firland Management, was to make it “self-financing in the long term” and said there is $300,000 in a reserve fund.

“We’re in a strong position going forward,” he said, adding that he would be willing to be a part of a group or committee to work on a number of necessary improvements. “The time has come to do these things, (to make) incredible investments in our youth. It’s a phenomenal facility. Just help us.”

Council Member Paul Viele, who also is a hockey enthusiast, agreed with Reich.

“What can we do to help the rink? We can put money into Dwyer Stadium, why not the rink?” Viele asked.

Council President Eugene Jankowski suggested forming a group to clean and make minor repairs.

“A lot of things are just cleanup and maintenance things,” he said. “We’re compiling a list. We’ve got a long way to go … but we have some possibilities here.”

Council Member Rose Mary Christian asked how much was in the reserve fund – City Manager Martin Moore said that the amount would be addressed in the budget sessions – and Robert Bialkowski asked if Firland was meeting their obligations, to which Moore replied that Firland has one more year left on its contract.

Batavian John Roach spoke about Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to take the VLT money away from the municipalities, suggesting that the City should look to the Batavia Improvement District or Genesee County Economic Development Center to fund the Batavia Development Corporation if that comes to pass.

“The $70,000 (for the BDC) was supposed to be funded by VLT money,” he said. “If lost … I think the GCEDC could pick it up easily.”

He also questioned why the City gives $4,000 annually to GO ART!, when it used to be $2,500 to conduct the Picnic in the Park on July 4th.

“Let’s take back our $4,000,” he said. “It was never meant to be a permanent subsidy to a private group.”

He also asked Council to consider “getting a little more aggressive to clean up Ellicott Station,” the mixed-use development project that has seen little progress.

On the GO ART! situation, Council Member Patti Pacino said she didn’t have a problem with a $4,000 contribution – “It’s not like giving $24,000" – and noted that GO ART! leadership makes a request for funding every year.

The Ellicott Station state of affairs generated more comments from the Council and management, with Moore informing the board that code enforcement personnel have a “green light” to make sure code issues are addressed.

He said the developer, Savarino Companies of Buffalo, is on “a very short leash” but acknowledged that not much can be done until he finds out whether a New York State Homes and Community Renewal grant of several million dollars is approved (likely to take place in April or May).

Council Member Kathleen Briggs said the community’s patience is wearing thin.

“Put up or shut up,” she said, directing her comments to Savarino. “What is this short leash?”

Understandably, Council members are worried that the project might fall through.

“If he doesn’t get the grant, does he just walk away?” Bialkowski asked.

Moore responded by stating that Savarino said he has $800,000 to $900,000 invested in predevelopment, and is working with the GCEDC and BDC on the funding.

Jankowski said he thought the initial announcement by the BDC (made in 2016) was premature since funding streams had yet to be put into place, but said he remains optimistic.

“If he (Samuel Savarino) does come through, it will be well worth it,” he said.

In another development, Council heard a request from Eric Biscaro, owner of Classic Home Improvements and Armor Building Supply at 653 Ellicott St., to construct an auto service station on his property.

Currently, the location is zone I-1 (Industrial) and does not allow the operation of a motor vehicle repair shop. Biscaro went to the Genesee County Planning Board, where his request for a use variance was rejected, and now he's hoping that the City can come up with a way to make this happen.

“We’re looking to put up a small two-bay garage behind the Armor side (of the facility),” he said. “You won’t even be able to see it from the street.”

Public Works Director Matt Worth suggested that City officials conduct an internal review of the proposal to see if a zoning change is in order – “We’ve done a couple zone changes in the not-too-distant past,” he said – and report back to Council before its next meeting.

Because a zoning modification may be the only route, it would take several months since it means adopting a Local Law, which requires a public hearing. Any zoning change would affect all I-1 zones and expand the scope beyond a singular project.

Viele, speaking in elevated tones, expressed his disdain for the process.

“We should be able to help the guy out … why drag our feet,” he said. “It’s baloney.”

After a short discussion, Council agreed to let City staff conduct the review and report back before the next meeting. As it stands now, all service stations in the City are in areas that are zoned Commercial.

In other action, Council approved moving the following resolutions to be voted upon at its next Business meeting on Feb. 10:

-- Adoption of the Genesee County 2019 Hazard Mitigation Plan to serve as the City’s Hazard Mitigation Plan, a measure that would permit the City to receive federal pre-disaster mitigation funds.

“This allows us to piggyback (on Genesee County) and garner more funding with more people in the mix – in the event that monies become available,” Fire Chief Stefano Napolitano reported. “It gives us greater buying power by working with the county and other municipalities.”

Napolitano said the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan has been reviewed and approved by the State Emergency Management Office and by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and was adopted by the Genesee County Legislature in October.

-- Acceptance of a $25,481 STOP-DWI grant from Genesee County to be used throughout the year and a $22,500 with a professional services firm (to be announced) to facilitate the acceptance of a $300,000 New York Main Street grant as a match for private investments to undertake proposed building improvements within the Batavia Business Improvement District.

-- Sale of a 12- by 50-foot parcel of property next to Eli Fish Brewing Co. in Jackson Square for the company to expand their offerings to include outdoor dining. Matt Gray represented AGRV Properties Inc. at the meeting. The parcel has been appraised for $840, which is the price offered to the City by AGRV Properties.

-- Appointments of Lois Gerace to the Board of Assessment Review and Council Member Rose Mary Christian as marriage officer to have the authority to perform wedding ceremonies.

-- Tentative public hearing on the 2020-21 budget, including water rates, sewer rates and capital improvement fee, for 7 p.m. Feb. 24. The amount to be raised by taxes is $5.4 million, resulting in an increase in the property tax rate of less than 1 percent.

Photo -- Christopher Camp has his assistant police chief badge placed on his uniform by his wife, Stefanie, as Chief Shawn Heubusch looks on during promotion swearing-in ceremonies at Monday's City Council meeting. Matthew Lutey (detective sergeant), Mitch Cowen (sergeant) and Marc Lawrence (sergeant) also were sworn in.

January 13, 2020 - 10:58pm

swearing_in_1.jpg

In preparing for his State of the City and 2020-21 budget presentation tonight, Batavia City Manager Martin Moore likely didn’t have to “dig” too far to come up with a theme for his report.

With numerous projects relating to the City’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award from New York State in the pre-construction stage, Moore said he is designating 2020 as the “year of shovels in the ground.”

“This needs to be the year of shovels in the ground – a year where we complete the downtown renovation projects, incentivize private investors to reclaim Brownfield sites (and) move some City Centre properties back into private ownership for redevelopment,” he said during City Council’s Business Meeting.

Moore previously had expressed a measure of frustration over the lack of movement on key DRI projects, especially the mixed-use redevelopment of Ellicott Station by Savarino Companies of Buffalo (which was announced in 2016).

He also pointed to other priority projects, notably fixing the City Centre Mall concourse roof and situating Theatre 56 into its space in the mall.

“We want to see the mall roof project (completed),” he said. “It’s under contract; the contractor is scheduled to be here in the spring, so we’re looking forward to seeing them on the roof and getting it fixed.”

He reported that Theatre 56 has paid its rent for the first six months and is working with architects, the Department of State and the Batavia Development Corporation on designs for “rehabbing the space that they are leasing from the City Centre.”

Moore also said at least two “storefront grants” stemming from the DRI are close to getting their permits from the state.

“We look to those moving forward and construction starting, so I think we’re going to see some shovels in the ground in different areas of the city … in addition to what (the Department of) Public Works is already going to be working on.”

The city manager said the preliminary 2020-21 budget calls for a tax rate increase of .97 percent – from $8.92 per thousand of assessed valuation last fiscal year to $9.01 per thousand.

That means that a house assessed at $70,000, for example, would have an annual City tax bill of $630.70.

Moore also said water rates will increase by 3.5 percent and the meter fee would go up by about 66 cent per quarter for “the typical customer.”

He said he was optimistic that the assessed value in the City would increase as more and more development comes to fruition, and supported his belief with a chart showing that more than $140 million in economic projects are in the pipeline from the $100 Million I’m All In! campaign initiated by former City Manager Jason Molino.

In connection to that program, he listed several primary DRI projects that are in varying stages of completion:

-- Ellicott Station (housing grant application submitted);
-- Carr’s/Genesee Bank (design underway);
-- Ellicott Place (design near completion);
-- Healthy Living Campus, YMCA (design near completion);
-- Theatre 56 (lease fully executed);
-- Downtown Building Improvement Fund (projects in design);
-- City Centre Revitalization (feasibility study underway);
-- Jackson Square (grant agreement executed; RFP creation underway).

Additionally, Moore said the RFP (request for proposal) process for a new police station on Alva Place will be starting soon.

Budget revenue projections show $17.8 million in the general fund, $5 million in the water fund, $2.8 million in the wastewater fund and $213,000 in the City Centre fund, for total revenues of $25.9 million. Property taxes are projected to bring in $5.4 million.

During a State of the City address prior to the budget report, Moore reflected upon some highlights in 2019, including the opening of the Liberty Center for Youth, successful completion of police academy training by several new recruits, purchase of the MRAP armored vehicle, awarding the Key to the City to Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia and City employees' work at the Community Garden during the United Way Day of Caring.

He also said he is committed to maintaining the City’s high standards in financial record-keeping and budgeting -- noting that it once again received an award for its budget presentation in 2019 -- and to improving customer service.

“Frankly, the business of the City is a moot point if nobody is living in the City,” he said.

In other developments:

-- DPW Director Matt Worth reported that the City will be getting state and federal funding to rehabilitate Richmond Avenue and Harvester Avenue in 2022, adding that the City’s share of the $2 million projects could be as little as $50,000.

He also said the City received a $554,000 grant to replace lead service water lines on selected streets, with the work scheduled to start in the fall.

-- Council approved a $20,000 revolving loan fund grant to GO ART! to help support repairs and renovations of the building’s foundation, roof and drainage, windows, fence, interior and elevator at 201 E. Main St. The total project cost is $218,300, with much of it to be funded by several grants.

Photo -- Batavia City Clerk/Treasurer Heidi Parker, left, performs swearing-in ceremony for Council members John Canale, Rose Mary Christian, Kathleen Briggs, Patti Pacino and Paul Viele. Eugene Jankowski will continue as president while Viele will serve as president pro tempore. Photo by Mike Pettinella. 

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December 11, 2019 - 8:52am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Falleti Ice Arena, CSL, Batavia City Council.

Imagine a state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar multipurpose sports and recreation facility attached to a renovated Falleti Ice Arena on Evans Street.bill_krueger_csl.jpg

Batavia City Council members on Monday night had the opportunity to do just that as they absorbed details of a grant-funded feasibility study presented by Bill Krueger (inset photo right), principal, of CSL (Conventions, Sports & Leisure International) of Minneapolis, Minn.

All agreed that such an attraction would be a great thing for Batavia and the surrounding area. And all agreed that the cost and the timing of such a project are major issues, especially as the City looks to build a $10 million police station and Genesee County prepares to construct a $60 million jail.

Krueger, who said he has conducted about 500 of these studies over his 25-year career, outlined three options for what is now known as Creek Park, with all three tied to refurbishing Falleti Ice Arena.

Option 1, an indoor turf and hardwood facility featuring two soccer fields, four batting cages, three full-sized basketball courts and six full-sized volleyball courts, carries a price tag of $27.5 million and would operate at an annual deficit of around $200,000.

Option 2, a large indoor turf facility with a full-sized turf field, would cost around $26.6 million, with an annual operating deficit of $133,000.

Option 3 is a small indoor turf facility with a couple soccer fields and four batting cages, but no cost projections were offered.

All would include bleachers, scoreboards, locker/team rooms, fitness/wellness equipment, play areas, food court/café and walking track.

Falleti Ice Arena improvements costing $3.7 to 4.9 million would be a prerequisite to either of the options, Krueger said.

“The Falleti arena is showing its age and its usage is below average,” Krueger said. “The trend is flexible multipurpose types of buildings.”

In his assessment of the Falleti Ice Arena, which was built in 1978, Krueger pointed out that total use hours by the four primary groups – Genesee Amateur Hockey Association, Batavia Men’s Hockey League, Batavia High School and Notre Dame High School – have declined over the past 10 years.

He also noted that there are an “increasing number of repair, replacement and maintenance items that need to be addressed … to sustain safe, operating conditions” and that the arena “lacks many of the amenities, seating and service/support areas that are present in modern facilities throughout the country.”

“As a bare minimum, you should make Falleti improvement the top priority,” Krueger said, adding that moving forward beyond that hinges on the project becoming a group effort.

“It doesn’t have to be all on the shoulders of the City,” he said. “The private sector, grants and state and/or federal funding (should be explored). “Certainly, Option 1 or 2 would elevate sports tourism in Batavia.”

Krueger estimated the economic impact of either Option 1 or 2 between $11.8 and $16 million per year, with attendance topping 200,000 annually.

Following his PowerPoint presentation, City Council members and officials had their say, with Rose Mary Christian kicking things off.

“We desperately need a new police department … City residents don’t need more taxes from the city, county or school district,” she said.

Public Works Department Director Matt Worth said that the demands for more recreation are there, but “the approach has to be regional” with the county and town getting involved to avoid duplicating efforts.

Christian agreed that it could be “very feasible if the county and town got in it.”

Council President Eugene Jankowski brought up the expense of the new county jail and the expense to families involved in hockey, surmising that a turf facility “could be a better fit” as far as individual costs are concerned.

“Maybe we could partner with the (Genesee Community) college and other agencies that could use it,” he said.

Council Member John Canale acknowledged that there hasn’t been an increase in usage at the Falleti arena because of its poor condition.

“We have a terrible reputation” in terms of the facility, Canale said.

A public hearing on the matter ensued, with Batavians Sam DiSalvo and John Roach addressing the board.

DiSalvo said he is an avid long-distance runner and a participant in three soccer leagues in Buffalo and Rochester who would forgo his driving if such a facility were in Batavia.

“If you’re telling me that I could walk five minutes and save 45-minute drives in both directions, you better believe I would,” he said. “I’m in favor of this – turf and hardwood. It’s a great idea if you could make it work financially.”

Roach offered a contrasting viewpoint.

“No, a big surprise,” he said, sarcastically. “It sounds like what we heard with the (Dwyer) baseball stadium … build it and they will come. Now we will have a baseball stadium that we won’t know what to do with it.”

He also said projections show a population decrease of 9 percent over a 10-year period of the younger demographic and “then you’ve got to look at that tax burden,” mentioning the police station, Falleti Ice Arena and the county jail projects.

“Unless the county decided to go into it, I’d say absolutely not. And I know what the county will say,” he concluded.

Canale agreed that “we couldn’t take this on ourselves” but suggested exploring grant opportunities and looking to the private sector to help “so the taxpayer would not be burdened with the entire (cost).”

After Council Member Patti Pacino said the priority should be to “make a decision to fix the (Falleti) facility,” Jankowski said that since the Creek Park property is part of the Brownfield (Opportunity) Area, it would be “ripe for grants.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to let our economic development people look into this and get public feedback,” he said.

Gregory Hallock, executive director of GO ART!, was in attendance as well and he said that by including figure skating, dance and cheering competitions it could lead the way to additional grant funding.

Council Member Robert Bialkowski urged his colleagues to proceed wisely.

“This is one thing we can do right for a change,” he said. “The ice rink shouldn’t have been part of the fire department.”

Worth said that the City will be reimbursed the $54,000 cost of the feasibility study by a Community Development Block Grant.

December 10, 2019 - 3:19pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

Way too many tractor-trailers and not enough single-family housing.

Those two topics were brought up by a trio of Batavia residents during the public comments segment of Monday night’s City Council Conference Meeting at City Hall Council Chambers, and prompted some vigorous discussion among Council members.

First it was Rachel Curtin and her husband, Jacob Bodway, of Richmond Avenue expressing their dismay over the constant and heavy flow of semis either heading from or heading to the Thruway exit on Route 98 (Oak Street).

The truck traffic is “limiting our promise and potential,” Curtin said, adding that they pass by the Peace Garden (on Main Street) that “we can’t really see” (due to the big rigs blocking it) as they head down to Route 63.

Calling it a “major issue” that adversely affects people living in the vicinity of Route 98, she said the noise can be heard early in the morning and goes on throughout the day.

Her husband agreed, noting that he counted 30 semis in a 10-minute span, which translates to “150 in an hour, thousands in a day.”

“I’ve seen traffic stopped from Main Street past Richmond (Avenue),” he said. “I don’t feel safe going downtown as I ride my bike; I’m worried about getting hit by a semi.”

Bodway said he wished that something could be done to reroute the trucks to create a “safer environment.”

“The cost of my home value has gone down, I think, and the noise is obnoxious,” he said. “I urge you to keep this in your mind.”

City Council response: What can we do?

Council Member John Canale said he feels the couple’s pain, noting that several residents in his Third Ward have contacted him about not only the amount but also the speed of the trucks on Route 98.

“Since it’s a state highway, maybe if we enforced the speed limit dramatically on that street it might discourage truck traffic,” he said.

Canale added that he’s hearing this from predominantly “young couples and young families, and that’s who we’re trying to invite to live here … that demographic.”

“We have a deer problem and we’re looking into it, and we have a truck problem, so let’s look into it,” he said.

Council Member Paul Viele called out state Department of Transportation engineers for changing Route 98 from a four-lane to a two-lane highway – “whose bright idea was that to have one lane? That’s a disaster,” he said, but Jankowski and Bialkowski noted that it was done to slow traffic down.

“It (one lane per direction) does work,” Jankowski said. “It’s the Jake brake that rattles your windows when it comes through. It is a state highway. How do we divert them away from a road that originally was built for truck traffic?”

Suggestions made included: reaching out to state lawmakers Steven Hawley or Michael Ranzenhofer; having police write more speeding tickets; asking the state DOT to hold a public information meeting; and charging a fee for using Route 98 in the City (which is not possible since the City has no jurisdiction concerning a state road).

Much of the semi traffic in the City boils down to a dollars-and-cents issue -- truckers take routes 98 and 63 in Batavia to avoid the high tolls on the Thruway from Buffalo to Rochester.

If only New York State would waive the tolls for the big rigs getting off the Thruway between exits 46 and 50 …

Batavia becoming a tenant-based city?

The couple was followed by Sam DiSalvo, a resident of Main Street, who surmised that high closing costs for single-family homes and a declining selection of the same are making it “very difficult for a young person to get housing (in the City).”

DiSalvo said that he has learned that 58 percent of housing in the City is rental property.

“If that increases by another 8 percent, it will be 2 to 1 (ratio),” he said. “Batavia is turning toward a tenant-based city.”

He suggested three ways that Batavia can, in his words, “turn it back around and combat the housing issue”:

  • Have City officials offer a landlord training class, similar to what Buffalo does;
  • Offer a tax break to first-time homebuyers to buy a house downtown, similar to what has been done in Rochester to attract people to move into the city;
  • Give a tax break to those who have owned and lived in their home for a certain number of years (20, for example).

Council Member Robert Bialkowski agreed that 58 percent of the living spaces in the City are not single-family homes, but explained that the number includes apartment complexes that could have 150 living spaces.

Council Member Rose Mary Christian mentioned that PathStone has a landlord program and that the City allows background checks for landlords while Council President Eugene Jankowski said he hoped that landlords have legal advice as he was “worried about the cost” of a City-sponsored landlord course and about the dissemination of wrong information.

“If erroneous … we’re liable for that,” he said.

December 9, 2019 - 10:40pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Batavia City Court.

david_saleh.jpgLongtime attorney David Saleh was appointed as part-time City of Batavia Court judge tonight, filling the vacancy created by former part-time justice Durin Rogers’ election to the full-time post in November.

City Council members, at the close of their Business Meeting at City Hall Council Chambers, unanimously voted in favor of Saleh’s hiring, which takes effect on Jan. 1, for a six-year term.

“First of all, I’m honored and very grateful to the City Council for having selected me to this position,” said Saleh, who noted that he will preside over the court primarily on Wednesdays and Fridays. “I am very excited to work with Judge (Durin) Rogers and to follow the direction this court has been going for many years under Judge (Robert) Balbick and Judge Rogers.”

Saleh, 66, has been a lawyer for more than 40 years and has experience in various disciplines, including being both a defense attorney and prosecutor as well as practicing corporate and municipal law.

He lived in Corfu for many years before relocating to the City in 2013.

Saleh, vice president/general counsel for Inlighten Inc., of Clarence, also has been involved in community and civic organizations, most notably as president of the Batavia Lions Club.

He has served as the City Republican Committee chairperson in recent years, a position that he will have to relinquish to avoid any conflict-of-interest issues. It is believed that Richard Richmond will assume the committee chair post.

Saleh said fairness and professionalism are the cornerstones of a successful judge.

“I think the main thing that has always been my focus -- and I’ve had a lot of experience in the courts – is to be very fair and professional with the people that come in front of me,” he said.

“I have a lot of experience and I hope to impart some of that to the attorneys who come to court with their clients to seek justice and deal with various problems that come up to people who are using the system.”

In other action, Council unanimously approved resolutions:

-- Authorizing an additional police officer position that will allow for the new hire to be trained in light of the January 2020 retirements of Assistant Chief Todd Crossett and Det. Sgt. Kevin Czora, and the City’s agreement with the Batavia City School District to provide a School Resource Officer beginning with the 2020-21 school year.

-- Appropriating $50,000 from the Facilities Reserve Fund to conduct a feasibility study – including predesign work – for a new police station at the northwest corner of Bank Street and Alva Place. Currently, the reserve fund has a balance of $298,000.

-- Acceptance of a $1 million Empire State Development Corporation Downtown Revitalization Initiative reimbursement grant to renovate the City Centre concourse, with improvements to be made to the roof, floor tiles and entrances.

City Manager Martin Moore said the state will reimburse the City at the end of the project, which means that short-term bonds may be needed to cover the ongoing costs.

“This is a major piece of the City’s efforts to upgrade the concourse and create positive economic opportunities for micro-business enterprises,” Moore wrote in a memo to City Council.

-- Ratifying the new 40-year sales tax allocation agreement with Genesee County, per requirements set by the state Comptroller’s office. The amended contract begins on Jan. 1.

-- Appointing citizens to the Youth Board (David Twichell, Paula Fischer and Kathryn Fitzpatrick) and Deer Management Committee (Russell Nephew Jr., Kent Klotzbach, Frederick Gundell, Samuel DiSalvo and Gus Galliford).

-- Contracting with Genesee County for prosecutorial services with the City paying $73,719 for 2020 and $76,219 for 2021.

Additionally, Public Works Director Matt Worth reported that crews are targeting this Thursday and Friday, depending upon the weather, to continue residential leaf pickup. Worth also said that the City yard waste station will remain open through Dec. 16.

law_enforcement_in_standoff.jpg

City Council President Eugene Jankowski, right, reads a proclamation commending local and regional law enforcement personnel for their cooperative efforts during a 20-hour standoff on Nov. 18-19 on Liberty Street in the City.

The proclamation thanked all agencies that assisted City Police and for resolving the situation in a safe manner.

From left are City Fire Chief Stefano Napolitano, Monroe County Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Wagner, NYS DEC Officer Fay Fuerch, DPW Director Matt Worth, Genesee County Dispatch Deputy Director Frank Riccobono, State Police Capt. David Forsythe, State Police Sgt. Ben Fasano, City Police Sgt. Chris Camp, City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and Jankowski.

Photo by Mike Pettinella.

November 12, 2019 - 9:52pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

Rejected in his bid for a landlord’s assistance, a Ross Street man tonight appealed to City Council to help him resolve an ongoing situation with his next-door neighbors.

“I’ve never been the squeaky wheel, but I’m hoping for a little bit of grease,” said Robert Cook of 172 Ross St. as he spoke during the public comments portion of the Business Meeting at City Hall Council Board Room.

Cook, who said he purchased the house last June, said he and his children have been subjected to intoxicated, verbally abusive and combative neighbors at 174 Ross St. (on the southeast corner of North Street). He added that he has learned that police have been called to that address more than 24 times since 2014.

“My children aren’t comfortable sitting on the porch or playing in the front yard,” said Cook, who noted that two or three families are renting at 174 Ross St.

Furthermore, he said that the property owner, Duane Preston, not only was unwilling to assist but sent Cook a letter that “was very dismissive and condescending.”

That left him no choice but to come before City Council, where he said he “humbly is asking for guidance to resolve this” and to set the wheel in motion to hold landlords responsible for their tenants’ behaviors.

His predicament spurred varied responses from council members and City Manager Martin Moore, ranging from Moore’s touting of the success of neighborhood watch groups in the City, to Council Member Paul Viele’s pointed words: “It looks like Mr. Preston doesn’t give a crap about Mr. Cook and that’s a shame.”

Council Member Kathleen Briggs asked if Moore had contacted Preston, who owns numerous properties in the City, (Moore answered "No") and urged someone to talk to the tenants and tell them that they’ve “become a disturbance.”

Council Member Patti Pacino confirmed that City police officers have been there many times, while Rose Mary Christian -- putting the blame on the tenants -- called for increased police surveillance in the area.

Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said his department’s efforts have been hampered by the lack of complainants to go on the record and by the fact that there hasn’t been an issue when police have arrived.

“We will reach out to him (Preston), but we can’t put a car there 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “We are aware of the property and have increased our presence there.”

Council President Eugene Jankowski suggested that several neighbors band together and also noted that if Cook’s neighbors are under public assistance, the bad behavior could put them “in jeopardy of losing the apartment and being moved out.”

“We need to let the police handle it and work with other agencies – parole, probation, HUD,” he said. “(Speaking with) the landlord is the other avenue.”

Following the meeting, Cook said he was disappointed in Preston’s response.

“He (Preston) said he was taking the same position as other landlords in the City – he’ll keep the properties up to code and let the police handle the tenant issues,” Cook said. “He said that I should have done more research before buying the house. I say that he should have done more research before renting to these tenants.”

November 12, 2019 - 8:59pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, city of batavia, genesee county, Batavia City Council.

Approval of a 40-year water supply agreement between the City of Batavia and Genesee County is a win-win situation for both municipalities, according to a City official who has played an integral role in the negotiations.

Speaking after tonight’s Batavia City Council meeting – at which council members unanimously approved the amended agreement through the year 2059, Public Works Director Matt Worth said the new pact equally benefits both entities.

“The important parts of it are, from the City point of view, is the City (last month) entered into a 40-year agreement with the sales tax with Genesee County -- which gives it stability as a financial revenue long-term – and, in addition, the City now does not have to build a new water plant,” Worth said.

Worth estimated the cost of a new water plant at $35 million, expressing relief that the city no longer has that responsibility.

From Genesee County’s perspective, Worth said the agreement’s additional 60-cent surcharge (per 1,000 gallons) gives the county the long-term stability to fund necessary improvements.

“Over the 40 years, the county can go for long-term bonds and has the ability to say ‘Yes we have the revenue stream to pay for those bonds’ (and that leads to) better rates and long-term stability to do those improvements and bring the additional water in,” Worth noted. “Hopefully that spurs all the economic development and growth that usually comes along with public water.”

Worth said the prior agreement -- an extension of the original contract from 2000 -- runs through Dec. 31 and included a 60-cent surcharge to help pay for water improvements. This new agreement goes out to Dec. 31, 2059 and tacks on another 60-cent surcharge to the City.

He said it could provide the impetus to get water into other areas of the county.

“It could mean getting public water into some of those towns and areas that have not had it – Bethany being a prime example,” he said. “Alabama didn’t have water for quite a while, now they’re starting to get water into that town as well.

“That’s kind of the avenue that has been put forward for long-term stability financially and long-term stability as far as providing safe, public drinking water to an awful lot of the county.”

City Council also passed, by 9-0 votes, a restated lease with Genesee County for water treatment facilities that would transfer the plant to the county once it is no longer being used, by mutual agreement, and a restated operations and maintenance agreement for the water treatment plant that takes into account actual costs compared to budget costs, with the City and County equally splitting any surplus end-of-the-year funds.

Both of these agreements are for 10 years.

October 29, 2019 - 3:37pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council.

Traffic congestion at Richmond Avenue and Union Street – adjacent to the new Van Detta Stadium – and along the S-curve between Jefferson Avenue and Main Street has struck a nerve with at least one Batavia City Council member.

Speaking at Monday night’s meeting at City Hall, Council Member John Canale said he has firsthand knowledge of the current situation at both locations, and requested city management and the police department to explore ways to rectify it.

Canale said he expected “fine tuning” of the traffic flow and parking plan at Van Detta Stadium, but he said that leaving the parking lot along Union Street proved to be “very difficult” since cars are parked right up to the corner of Richmond Avenue.

“It’s congested with no line of sight to the intersection,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous situation.”

He said he turned right out of the parking lot to head south on Union Street to avoid the intersection, and then was suddenly met with a couple of young people who darted out in front of his vehicle.

Canale suggested a parking ban from Richmond to the end of the parking lot.

“I think it’s something we need to look at,” he said, which prompted Council President Eugene Jankowski to hand the ball off to City Manager Martin Moore and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch.

Council Member Robert Bialkowski said there was a “no parking” sign near the Richmond intersection but he thinks that the sign is gone.

Turning to the S-curve behind Wendy’s and Tim Hortons, Canale said he wondered if a reduced speed limit would help prevent the “near misses” of broadside crashes, maybe dropping the limit to 20 or 15 mph.

He said he negotiated the curve at both speeds and “felt that 15 miles per hour was a comfortable speed to react to a pedestrian or vehicle” – and added that he saw two cars in front of him almost get broadsided before his car almost was hit as well.

Canale also spoke of the number of cars and children at Austin Park during the summer months, and asked if the police department could “at least look at changing the speed limit there.”

Moore said the City did a three-day speed assessment of vehicles traveling south along the S-curve and found that the average speed of the 1,467 vehicles was 18.6 mph, with a maximum of 29 and a minimum of 10.

Heubusch then reported that there have been two traffic accidents there in the past five years, and that NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law allows officials to limit the speed only to 25 mph within the City limits.

Jankowski asked to see more data and for management to make recommendations to Council, adding that maybe a flashing yellow light or caution sign would be beneficial.

In other developments, Council:

-- Heard an update from DPW Director Matt Worth about the National Grid Light Conversion program that he has been exploring for the past several months.

Worth said the City is investigating whether to purchase the entire street lighting system of about 1,600 lights from National Grid at a cost of $113,000. He said that it would cost another $800,000 to $1 million for a complete conversion to LED lighting.

“We would have to weigh the (upfront) costs against the savings that would be realized,” he said. “The City would receive a $45,000 rebate in addition to the energy savings and better light quality.”

He also mentioned new technology that is available, features such as individual monitoring of lights, the ability to reduce light strength during non-peak times and measures to help law enforcement.

“This has become complex very quickly,” Worth noted. “We’re looking at the best long-term solution.”

-- Conducted a public hearing for the purpose of amending the zoning code to include self-storage facilities in I-1 and I-2 zones. No one from the public spoke.

The hearing followed several meetings in response to a request by Peter Yasses (54 Cedar St. LLC) to erect a self-storage business on Cedar Street, across from the DeWitt Recreation Area. County and city planning boards both gave the go-ahead for the zoning change.

October 28, 2019 - 10:12pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, genesee county.

With New York State’s blessing in hand, the Batavia City Council tonight wasted no time in approving an amended sales tax allocation with Genesee County.

By an 8-0 vote (Council Member Rose Mary Christian was absent), the board OK'd the 40-year contract that, in City Manager Martin Moore’s words, “provides a level of stability as we move forward in budget planning and strategic planning.”

Just as importantly, the agreement – which was passed by Genesee County legislators in January – gives the county the necessary time to fund a new jail and to manage the long-term debt payments associated with the building of the jail and other capital projects.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law Bill S4247 that allows Genesee County and the City of Batavia to enter into a sales tax allocation agreement not to exceed 40 years.

As part of the process, bonds will be issued to fund construction with a term of up to 40 years. This means that both the County and City will have assurances that, for the duration of the bonds, they can count on a distinct sales tax revenue stream.

Terms of the City/County agreement have Batavia receiving 16 percent of the county’s 50 percent share of the 8-percent sales tax – with provisions for that amount to grow in future years by a maximum of 2 percent per year.

In future years, the City’s share will depend upon sales tax revenue growth, eventually being no less than 14 percent.

The new agreement will take effect on Jan. 1, a day after the current one-year contract expires.

The vote came during a Special Business Meeting convened immediately after the regularly scheduled Conference meeting.

Three related joint agreements dealing with water supply, water treatment facilities lease and water treatment plant operation and maintenance were moved to the Nov. 12 Business Meeting.

October 28, 2019 - 9:50pm

nephew_deer.jpg

Deer are taking up residency in the City and the time has come to do something about it.

That’s the message conveyed by City Manager Martin Moore, Ph.D., at tonight’s City Council meeting as he outlined potential steps to reduce the number of deer and the difficulties they are causing for homeowners.

“Indicators are showing that deer are establishing residential ‘homes’ in the City and its seems to be increasing,” Moore said at the end of a report to Council about his discussions with officials of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and his call to form a new committee develop a plan of action.

Moore said he has received a “verbal commitment” from a DEC wildlife management specialist to come to a Council meeting next month to advise the board on the best way to proceed in culling the deer population.

“There are specialty types of controls (to ensure) a plan approved by New York State,” he said.

At the outset of the meeting, Council heard from Pat Cooper and Russell Nephew, residents of State Street in the vicinity of Batavia High School, who both said they have been confronted by deer recently (with the latter stating that she was actually chased into her apartment by a deer).

Nephew noted that the City has had an issue with an overabundance of deer for the past five years and said the predicament “is getting worse and has actually elevated to a new level of concern.”

“The City’s past Council has done investigations and surveys and they concluded there was a problem and agreed that action must be taken, as you do now,” he said.

He reported that the Town of Amherst had a similar situation between 2015 and 2017, and by virtue of special out-of-season hunting permits issued by the DEC, reduced the herd by 571.

“This is just one example of a possible solution to the problem,” he said. “By all of us working together, we can solve this problem.”

Nephew then took a local print media outlet to task for its publication of a satirical column last week, equating the deer to a West Side Story-like gang intimidating the residents of State Street.

“Instead of making an editorial joke of a situation that occurred, just report it as it happened,” he said. “I know all about your First Amendment rights, but your first responsibility is to your readers to bring them an unbiased representation of the event.

“Jumping right into an editorial opinion gathered from second- and third-hand information is unprofessional and unethical. Your quest to garner readers through your attempt at humor slid by this time, but will it lead to tragedy if the problem is ignored?”

Following the meeting, Moore elaborated on the steps going forward, adding that he hopes to have it in place within six months.

“Our exact steps right now is that tomorrow I will be asking the City Clerk to put out for applications for the public to be able to be on a deer committee -- it’s open to the public,” he said. “We’re going to ask them to get their applications in in a reasonably timely manner because as soon as we have enough qualified applications we will be getting them to a committee with the City Council for review – and as long as the individuals meet the residency requirements … they’ll be a recommendation that goes to the Council.”

Moore said that should Council vote to approve the establishment of the committee, they will set a first meeting right away and nail down a date (likely Nov. 12 or Nov. 25) for officials of the DEC’s Wildlife Management Division to address the board.

“They (the DEC) will look at how are urban structure is, they will look at some areas and ideas for dealing with the proper population-control measures – things that are safe, things that don’t either endanger or cause excitement at the public, but at the same time are effective,” he said. “Nothing is 100-percent guaranteed, obviously, when you take steps to control population.”

The city manager said an effective deer management plan is the goal – a strategy approved by City Council and then approved by New York State.

“Once that plan is approved at the state level, then we’re in a position to start talking about implementation,” he said. “And then we will be talking about the steps and timelines for implementation of ideas that come forward and are ultimately approved.”

As far as the extent of the deer population is concerned, Moore said he has “photographic evidence of fawns being born in people’s back yards … of deer coming out in the daytime as well as at night. We’re seeing them in every part of town.”

Moore said the wildlife specialists told him that other indicators of too many deer are when disease starts to come in and when deer show signs of being malnourished.

“But I don’t think we’ll see a nourishment issue in the City because, honestly, for deer it’s like coming to the supermarket,” he said. “We apparently grow some great stuff for wildlife. That’s going to be the challenge … how we balance this knowing the (number of) deer here and bringing it down to a manageable level.”

Photo: State Street resident Russell Nephew urges City Council to find a solution to the deer problem in Batavia. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

October 1, 2019 - 5:09pm

Press release from the City of Batavia Republican Committee:

With election season here, Batavia’s Republicans are gearing up for five City Council races this fall. Stressing their ability to work together in promoting the City’s interests while keeping local taxes in check, Batavia’s Republican City Council members are all seeking reelection.

They aim to provide much needed continuity in City Government, especially as new City Manager Martin Moore has settled into his position and is working with Council to set priorities and programs in place to continue to improve the City’s finances and development for the benefit of local residents.

Kathy Briggs -- Fifth Ward

Educator and Fifth Ward Councilperson Kathy Briggs has had a valuable long-term presence on City Council during her five terms as councilperson.  Her knowledge about the City’s ongoing needs and her commitment to Fifth Ward residents have helped accomplish many positive developments throughout the Fifth Ward and the City.

“I’ve fought hard for the people living in the Fifth Ward," Briggs said. "My recent success in getting additional cameras placed in this Ward and my work along with Councilperson Al McGinnis to bring the residents of the Fourth and Fifth Wards together with our City leaders to listen to their concerns at our regular “town hall” meetings at the Holland Land Office are recent examples of my commitment to the residents.

"I also plan to continue my efforts to improve the sidewalks, water lines and sewer lines throughout the Fifth Ward. I look forward to sharing concerns with the residents of my ward this election season and seek their support in my effort to continue to work for them as their elected representative.” 

John Canale -- Third Ward

Businessman, local music instructor and Third Ward Councilperson John Canale is seeking a third term on Council.

“Being on City Council for the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to be part of a group of city leaders that have accomplished monumental achievements," Canale said. "We have worked to increase our bond rating to A1, secured more than $20 million in grants to improve existing industrial areas, upgrade infrastructure, improve our downtown area, including settling the Mall issue and moving forward with redevelopment, and studying ways to improve our longtime stagnant community.

"Most importantly, we’ve turned a multimillion dollar deficit into a balanced budget with capital reserves for future city improvements. All this and more has been accomplished, while keeping the city property tax rate level, over the past seven years. My plans are to continue moving the city forward in redevelopment and revitalization, in order to create a ‘Better Batavia.' "

Paul Viele -- First Ward

First Ward Councilperson, local developer and businessman, Paul Viele said his focus in his upcoming term, if reelected, will be to: work with City Administration and his fellow Council members to continue their efforts to reduce crime in the City; revamp infrastructure throughout the City; focus on our local youth; and continue to keep taxes down.

“I encourage all the residents of the First Ward to continue to reach out to me with their concerns," Viele said. "I’m firmly committed to make the First Ward and the entire City of Batavia a better place for all of us to live, work and raise our families."

Viele is seeking a second four-year term this November.

Patti Pacino -- Second Ward

Second Ward Councilperson Patti Pacino, who is retired and an active volunteer with local organizations, including being a past president and current director of the local Zonta Club, stresses several ongoing issues that she will be focusing on if elected to a third full term on Council. She has been on the Council since 2010.

“Safety is my first concern for City residents," Pacino said. "We have had some real trouble (stabbing, etc.), which needs to continue to be addressed. Happily, the Police Department and the City are working together to get a handle on how to best deal with this. I am aware of two neighborhoods that are in the process of organizing groups similar to the Summit Street Neighbors who work together to keep police and each other in the know about trouble on their streets and what they can do about it. I will continue to support these efforts.

"Second, we need to continue to work on the ‘Zombie House' problem in the City, (caused by absentee landlords), to ensure our neighborhoods are not on a downfall. We have proportionately too many rentals compared to homeowner-held houses, often by landlords not willing to take responsibility for their properties.

"Third, I will continue to work with the BID organization to upgrade the business district, organizing community activities and work with business owners to upgrade our downtown area, hopefully bringing in more businesses to fill those empty buildings and make Downtown a more welcoming and prosperous area.

"Fourth I will continue to promote fiscal responsibility throughout City government. All these ideas that we’ll continue working on require financial support; my hope is to improve our area without burdening the area taxpayers.” 

Al McGinnis -- Fourth Ward

Retired military veteran and Fourth Ward Councilperson Al McGinnis is seeking a second four-year term. If reelected, Councilman McGinnis has expressed his commitment to continued efforts to enhance the quality of life for Batavia’s residents.

“We need to continue our efforts to make Batavia’s streets safe for our residents, to do all we can to increase and encourage home ownership, to renew our efforts to enforce our local codes and to continue our sidewalk and street replacement programs," McGinnis said.

"I will also continue to work with Councilperson Kathy Briggs to bring the residents of the Fourth and Fifth wards together with City Administration on a regular basis at the Holland Land Office to give our local residents an enhanced opportunity to be heard and to air their concerns to local officials.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5th. All eligible residents are encouraged to vote.

September 24, 2019 - 12:45pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, trash pickup schedule, Batavia City Council.

City Council members on Monday night took a defensive stance after a resident inquired into why his trash pickup schedule had been changed.

John Roach, speaking during the public comments portion of the Conference Meeting at City Hall, said his trash day was moved from Wednesday to Monday and when he asked the (Waste Management) driver, he was told that the change came from City officials.

“Whose idea was it to mandate (change)?” Roach asked. “Did City Council direct anybody to do this? What did they mean by required or made to do it?”

Since he was the only speaker from the public, Council’s response came quickly.

“Since we privatized garbage pickup, people complain that there is trash pickup every day of the week,” John Canale said. “We charged the city manager (Martin Moore to look into it) so we don’t have garbage picked up every day.”

After Council President Eugene Jankowski noted that this issue was discussed at a public meeting, Moore provided additional details.

“We were approached with concerns that several streets had pickups four to five days a week,” he said. “The public works director and I sat down (to see) what schedules can help reduce that down to a couple days per week.

Moore said his communication with the four trash companies was positive with three of them indicating that something could be worked out.

He said that Waste Management stated they “will handle it with their customers, and hopefully other companies will be contacting their customers. The closer we get to one or two days a week on each street, the better off we’ll be.”

Jankowski said that the people on the trucks may not be aware of what their company has done.

“At this point, the complaining will continue and we’ll address them as we can,” he said. “We’d rather not have to make an ordinance … let them (trash collection businesses) manage themselves.”

Following the meeting, Roach seemed to be taken aback by the abrupt response, telling this reporter that he wasn’t really complaining but was looking for an explanation.

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