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Batavia City Council

June 19, 2020 - 4:20pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia City Council, city of batavia.

dr._martin_moore_1.jpgEffective Saturday, Martin Moore is out as City of Batavia manager.

The City issued a press release minutes ago, stating as follows:

The City of Batavia and City Manager Martin D. Moore, Ph.D., have mutually agreed that he will be leaving on June 20, 2020, to pursue other opportunities.

The City would like to thank Marty for his service to the community since October 2018 and wish(es) him the very best in future endeavors.

In accordance with the City’s Charter, the Assistant City Manager Rachael Tabelski will assume the role on the departure of the Manager.

Specific reasons for the parting of ways were not immediately disclosed.

A call to Moore's cell phone of record was not answered.

Contacted by telephone, City Council President Eugene Jankowski said that “it’s a personnel matter and therefore I am unable to make a public comment.”

When asked if Council will be discussing the situation publicly during Monday night’s Conference and Special Business meeting, he said, “I don’t believe so.”

Earlier this month, there were indications that Moore’s tenure was about to come to an end.

In a June 9 story on The Batavian, Council Member Robert Bialkowski commented in connection to a 90-minute executive session of City Council following its June 8 meeting.

“As usual, in politics there’s always something going on, but I can’t comment. You’ll know soon enough,” Bialkowski said.

Jankowski, when advised of Bialkowski’s statement at the time, also refused to comment.

Moore reportedly caused the City some embarrassment recently when he made a commitment to racial justice advocates that the City would support a BBQ for Equality on June 7 at Williams Park without going through Council for proper authorization.

The event was cancelled, setting the stage for the March for Justice protest in Downtown Batavia on that day.

City Council hired Moore in August 2018 and he began his duties two months later.

His contract stipulated for a starting salary of $110,000, with increases of $2,000 annually. He also received retirement benefits, paid family medical insurance, three weeks’ vacation, life insurance and a relocation reimbursement up to $10,000.

Moore had been the city manager of Eunice, N.M., for seven years prior to relocating to Batavia.

He replaced former manager Jason Molino, who left in January 2018 to take the Tompkins County administrator position. Public Works Director Matt Worth filled in as the interim city manager during the search for Molino’s successor.

Novak Consulting Group of Ohio, the firm utilized in the search for a new manager, reportedly guaranteed that person would stay on the job for at least two years or else the next search would be at no charge.

While there was no official word, Moore's contract stipulates that he will receive some type of severance pay.

When Moore was hired, Jankowski praised his professional record, which included being voted “City Manager of the Year” in 2015 by the New Mexico Municipal League for his “handling of the city’s finances and progress of the community and how it operates.”

“He is articulate and personable,” Jankowski said, “and all of us have been very impressed by him.”

At the time, Jankowski said Moore’s wife had family in North Tonawanda and that they had been looking to relocate to Western New York.

Moore's previous executive management experience includes a four-year stint as a consultant, census 2010 crew leader and general manager in Timberon, N.M.; county manager for Otero County, N.M.; executive director of Eastern Arizona Counties, and director of development and community services for Apache County, Ariz.

An Eagle Scout, he was a member of several professional associations and president of the Eunice Rotary Club. He and his wife, Joanne, have seven children.

June 9, 2020 - 3:01pm

Batavia City Council members are united in touting Sunday’s March for Justice as a huge success, but declined to shed much light upon the miscommunication over a proposed City-supported BBQ for Equality that failed to materialize.

However, The Batavian has learned that the snafu over the barbecue at Williams Park – which was cancelled and set the stage for the March for Justice outside of the City Centre – may have triggered some far-reaching repercussions.

When contacted today about his reaction to the protest and comments on the ill-fated BBQ for Equality, Council Member Robert Bialkowski said that a significant discussion took place during a 90-minute executive session following Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Asked if there was more to the post-meeting debate, he said, “As usual, in politics there’s always something going on, but I can’t comment,” he said. “You’ll know soon enough. When things are going smooth, sometimes people have to rock the boat. And when they fall in the river, then they cry.”

JANKOWSKI: 'NO COMMENT'

Council President Eugene Jankowski, when advised of Bialkowski’s statement, said “that since this is a personnel matter, I can’t comment at this time.”

Calls to City Manager Martin Moore's office and cell phone were not returned at the time of this story's posting.

Problems arose on June 1 after published reports indicated that the City of Batavia (in conjunction with City Church) would be providing food at no charge at the Williams Park barbecue, and that Police Chief Shawn Heubusch would be the guest speaker.

Jankowski acknowledged there was a disconnect between organizer Macy Paradise and the city manager’s office.

“Speaking for myself as an individual council member, when I heard about the BBQ I contacted the city manager,” he said. “I was told there was miscommunication between the organizers and the manager’s office – and I acted upon that information.”

At that point, Jankowski said he posted on Facebook the process for groups to have an event in the City – that it had to go through City Council first with an event application and insurance in place.

“That had not been done at the point,” he said, “because the next Council meeting wasn’t until the day after the scheduled barbecue.”

BIALKOWSKI: 'CONFUSION, HEARSAY'

Other council members said they weren’t clear about the “negotiations” between the city manager and organizers, with Bialkowski mentioning that he has heard several stories but none of the facts.

“There was a lot of confusion and a lot of hearsay,” he said. “It’s really easy to point fingers that somebody did something but … unless you were there.”

Rose Mary Christian emphasized that the request did not come before City Council and that no one had the authority to say that the City would purchase food. She contends that the event organizer misunderstood Moore.

“We’re in a financial bind with this COVID-19, and have lost VLT money and sales tax revenue, and many people are still unemployed,” she said.

Regardless, the situation put the City in a tenuous position, with many people commenting on social media that City officials reneged on a promise.

PROTEST ACCOMPLISHES GOAL

Concerning the March for Justice, Council members agreed that it was a worthwhile and momentous occasion.

“I am very pleased that it was peaceful and glad that they did because they need to get their point across,” Paul Viele said. “Everyone needs to be treated equal and fairly.”

Viele and the other council members mentioned health reasons for not being able to attend, citing COVID-19 concerns, but all said they wish to engage in further conversations.

Patti Pacino called the march “fabulous.”

“They were peaceful and they cared and they meant what they said,” she said. “I’m all for it and I’m very proud that it went off so well in our city. I know many people who were there, and they said the feeling was good.”

She added that people’s feelings cannot be taken lightly.

PACINO: 'THIS IS SERIOUS'

“I think it brought the point home to a lot of people that this is serious; this is a real thing. It’s not just people griping,” she said.

Christian said the “Black Lives Matter march was really, really good in the City of Batavia” but didn’t think many people are being treated unjustly here.

“If you break the law, you have to pay for that – one way or another,” she said. “As for the protest, it was very well organized and very well participated by people.”

Bialkowski said he was pleased that the protest was peaceful.

“I am glad the whole thing went off without any hitches – only one arrest,” he said.

As for the other Council members, Al McGinnis said he did not want to comment, Jeremy Karas could not be reached and John Canale and Kathleen Briggs did not return phone messages. 

Jankowski reported his positive thoughts at Monday’s Council meeting, and pledged to do whatever he could to foster a better relationship between Council and Batavia’s people of color.

June 8, 2020 - 10:16pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia City Council, March for Justice, covid-19.

While Batavia City Manager Martin Moore focused on the professionalism of local law enforcement during the “March for Justice” outside of the City Centre on Sunday, City Council President Eugene Jankowski zeroed in on the protesters’ “genuine love of the community.”

Speaking at tonight’s City Council Business Meeting at City Centre Council chambers, Jankowski said he was impressed by the passion and positive attitudes that were exhibited during an event marked by chants and signs calling for racial equality.

“One of the things that I really took home from that event yesterday is that everybody there was in a good positive mood … and there’s really a genuine love of the community there,” Jankowski said in a brief report to his colleagues. “They were shocked, at least that’s what they told me, … that people thought they might hurt the community because they love it.”

Prefacing his remarks by noting that he was invited by organizers to attend, Jankowski said people of color are looking for more community involvement by the police department, more police accountability to a higher authority (New York State) and fair treatment in the community.

“They feel uncomfortable in businesses, and I’m not sure how we can address that, but some of the members of the march feel like they are looked at differently when they go into a business,” he said. “They (say they) are treated like a drug dealer or a criminal because maybe someone of color at one point was a drug dealer or a criminal. And they feel like they get followed around, and that makes them uncomfortable.”

Jankowski said some other comments included the desire to see more minorities in local jobs, such as in the police and fire departments and school system, which may include civil service exams.

“We can get that information out and encourage people to participate,” he advised.

He encouraged citizens to contact City Council with concerns but did note that the City’s email server has been out of operation for a few days and should be fixed by the end of the week.

Moore, on the other hand, commended fire, police and public works personnel for coming together “seamlessly when it came to actually implement this plan.”

“It was clear, it was well thought out, it was well designed," he said. "Our thanks go out to our state and federal partners, and our county partners. They did a lot of work; a lot of hard work. There were a number of moving parts going on throughout the City during this event and every one of them came off, as far as we can tell, pretty seamlessly.”

The manager went on to say that City police and others from several communities and state and federal agencies “conducted themselves extremely well.”

“It was good to see us not have to bring some of the resources in that were ready to come in if they needed to. That was a relief, and it was also a relief to know that they were there,” he said.

Moore thanked everyone who participated and those who “were there to protect and serve.”

“I got to watch it from many different angles and it was very refreshing to see,” he said. “It was good to see the aftermath, which might have been a concern but, again, our law enforcement was well prepared and ready for it. Things that could have been challenging or serious weren’t.”

On another front, Moore said he spoke with a representative of the Federal Emergency Management Administration this morning and is setting up a meeting to go over COVID-19-related expenses incurred by the City as it seeks reimbursement.

He said department heads have been documenting expenses they believe will qualify to be reimbursed.

In another development, Council voted in favor of a resolution to increase the level of the City’s unassigned fund balance from 10 percent to a range of 15 to 25 percent of the general fund’s operating expenditures.

Moore pushed for the fund policy change in light of the coronavirus and its impact upon municipal governments.

“An event like COVID-19 that hammered the economy the way it did is not sufficient,” he said. “Fifteen to 25 (percent) does two things. We wanted to set ourselves a higher floor and we also want to set a ceiling to shoot for.”

He said the increase “sends a signal” to the state Comptroller’s Office, residents and auditors that the City is prepared for a worst-case scenario on the revenue side.

Council members discussed this resolution at length at its Conference Meeting last month, but for only a few minutes this time before approving it.

In other action, Council:

-- Approved an appropriation of a $554,112 grant from the state Department of Health to replace up to 75 lead service lines on Swan, Hutchins and Otis streets;

-- Approved an $18,750 contract with LaBella Associates PC of Rochester to provide administration/engineering services for a $750,000 Downtown Revitalization Initiative project to improve Jackson Square.

Council’s first face-to-face (or more appropriately, space-to-space) meeting since early March was beset by audio problems, especially on Zoom and also on Facebook Live. It did get easier to hear on Facebook Live as the meeting progressed, however.

June 8, 2020 - 2:00pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, March for Justice, Batavia City Council, batavia.
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Batavia City Council President Eugene Jankowski said he plans to continue the conversation started by speakers at Sunday’s Downtown “March for Justice,” assuring people of color in the community that city leaders will be open to their concerns.

“What I can say is ‘get your council person involved; we’ll help you,’ ” Jankowski said today as he prepares comments to be shared with other council members at tonight’s Business Meeting.

Council members will gather at City Hall for the first time since early March, but the public and media will not be allowed to attend – instead having to view it via Zoom videoconferencing or Facebook Live.

Jankowski said he wasn’t aware of the hesitancy among African Americans and other minorities to contact City Council.

“There are certain members of the community that apparently didn’t feel comfortable calling us, and they didn’t know why they didn’t feel comfortable calling us,” he said. “So, they want to call us now and I say, ‘Please do.’ ”

Jankowski said organizers of the protest, which drew hundreds of residents to gather in front of the City Centre and march on Main Street, invited him to attend. He and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch stood quietly by as speakers with megaphones addressed the crowd.

What the two men heard were impassioned pleas for city officials to “hear our cries … this is my community … we are uncomfortable … Black Lives Matter.”

They also heard from speakers who said they have been harassed by police, don’t feel welcome in restaurants and other public places and are fearful for their children’s safety.

“This is very emotional. I didn’t realize some of the pain that the members of our community were feeling. It definitely sparks me to work a little harder to try to drill down and find out what we can do to make everyone who lives here feel that they’re included and welcome here,” Jankowski said when interviewed by The Batavian during the event.

Victor Thomas, the protest’s key speaker, said he believes the peaceful protest was a good beginning.

“We got our message across," Thomas said. "You can see that Batavia is standing with us today – and that’s a beautiful thing. But it doesn’t stop today. Today is just a start. We’ve got to continue the conversation." 

He issued a call to “push this agenda to prove that this is our community.”

“It’s not what they said. Not with these boards on these windows. Not this negative vibe that they were sending around town about buses coming in here. This is Batavia. This has always been Batavia,” he said. “We thank you for listening to us, but we need to see some action. We will continue to march for justice.”

Jankowski said he plans to stay in touch with organizers and bring their issues to City Council.

“My belief, from what I’ve been told by the organizers, is that they are reaching out to all members of Council to create a path of communication going forward,” said Jankowski, who apparently was the only council member to attend the protest.

Heubusch acknowledged that “this is a conversation that is long overdue for all of us, I think.”

“We’re certainly going to start that conversation,” he said, calling the protesters “a bunch of good guys here and a bunch of great women that want to do the right thing. So, we’re here to help in any way we can. We want to help keep the peace and move this community forward.”

Batavia City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr., a person of color, also spoke on Sunday.

Afterward, he pointed to the “pain and hurt” across the nation.

“It’s no different here in Batavia. There’s been lack of visibility of people of color in various positions,” he said, noting that 22 percent of Batavia students are either African American or Latino. “But it is important to be unified – just to let them know we’re in this together. This we have to address, and the best way to solve this is to get engaged and get involved.”

May 26, 2020 - 10:12pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia City Council, covid-19, Jackson Square.

Batavia City Council tonight took a step toward changing the municipality’s fund balance policy to give it more muscle and flexibility in dealing with financially stressful circumstances.

Council members agreed to forward a resolution to their June 8 Business Meeting that increases the unassigned fund balance level from 10 percent to a range of 15 to 25 percent of the City’s general fund operating expenditures.

Tonight’s meeting was conducted via Zoom videoconferencing; the June 8 meeting is scheduled to return to the City Hall Council boardroom.

Deputy Director of Finance Lisa Neary, in a memo dated May 18 to City Manager Martin Moore, wrote that she is recommending the revision “in consideration of the current economic situation the City is facing and, in an effort, to create a healthier financial outlook.”

The proposal triggered a 24-minute discussion that touched upon fund balances and reserves as well as restrictions that come with the different types of accounts.

MOORE: TIME HAS COME TO MAKE A CHANGE

“Last August, when we had our financial report we were at approximately 11.3 percent,” Moore said. “Well, we think that it’s time, particularly because of the challenges we’re facing and the impact on the unassigned fund balance, that we need to have an additional amount of unassigned in there to be able to face significant situations.”

Moore said the change is being requested to give the City a lower target to shoot for at 15 percent in unassigned funds but also to have a goal of up to 25 percent in case revenues dried up for several months or if the City faced a “significant challenge” such as a large health insurance claim.

In effect, the move could buy the City some time, with Moore stating that the 10-percent level equates to about five weeks’ worth of unassigned fund balance and that 25 percent moves the bar to three full months.

Neary said the fund balance policy “needs to be a policy that meets our best interests.”

“It seems as though coming into this COVID issue, that 10 percent really doesn’t suit our purposes," she said. "That’s not to say that we’re going to get to 15 or 25 (percent) overnight. We’re going to need a number of good years in order to hit those kind of percentages. But we need at least a policy to do that."

JANKOWSKI: GIVES US A CUSHION

Council President Eugene Jankowski said he thought it was a reasonable request, adding that bumping up the percentage would give the City a cushion if the “market drops or something wild happens like this experience.”

Jankowski mentioned that Council previously budgeted to put money into reserves, but, in light of what has transpired with the coronavirus, it would act differently now.

“Maybe we didn’t want to put that money into reserves because we needed it for everyday operating expenses,” he said. “There really is no mechanism for us to pull money out of reserve and say, ‘never mind we’re going to not use it for reserve, we’re going to put it over here.’ The reserves are reserves because they’re protected; they’re locked (for specific purposes) for a reason.”

Moore said that a conversation is taking place with local and state leaders about reserve fund options and that he plans to reach out to Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer “to allow us to deal with operating expenses and give us a reasonable time to be able to repay the reserve.”

VAN NEST: RESTRICTIONS ABOUND

City Attorney George Van Nest said the problem with reserve funds under Article 6 of the General Municipal Law is that each type of reserve fund is very restrictive as to what it can be used for, and if there’s any leftover balance as to how that can be used.

“When you get into a financial situation like this, you just don’t have the statutory flexibility that you’d hope for or want to be able to access some of those funds …,” he said.

Van Nest then mentioned a bill in the State Assembly (A10492) relating to bond anticipation notes issued from 2015 to 2021 that authorizes the expenditure and temporary transfer of reserve funds for expenses related to COVID-19, and gives an extension of repayment of interfund advances made for expenses related to COVID-19.

“This legislation is something that NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors) has obviously been supporting on behalf of municipal members and something that they are tracking very closely,” he said.

Council Member John Canale asked Van Nest if the board would be able to “borrow our own money … and then pay that fund back?”

Van Nest said that a capital reserve fund could only be used for capital expenditures and that a transfer from any type of reserve could be used for COVID-related issues as long as it is repaid, with interest, within a five-year period.

Jankowski said he puts a lot of stock in reserve funding for specific projects, but it’s not a priority at the moment.

“If we would have known in January when we were doing our budget that we were going to take a hit, I don’t think any of us would have put any money into reserves,” he said. “We would have said let’s hold off in reserves this year and keep the money in our fund balance or in our fund, not in reserves, in the event we go short somewhere, then we have the money.”

NEARY: RESCINDING MAY BE AN OPTION

Neary said that she believes that Council has the power to rescind a prior authorization to fund reserves in the 2020-21 budget, leading Van Nest to say that he would look into such a measure.

Canale wrapped things up by saying he wanted to know “for a fact what our options would be.”

“It’s about being prepared for the worst,” he said. “And I think at this point we really need to. I’m doing it on a personal level as well. I’m preparing for the worst and making sure that I have funds available if I need to during a second wave of this thing.”

In other action, Council approved a resolution amending the City’s investment policy to add BankonBuffalo (formerly Bank of Akron) as a designated depository. The resolution was immediately forwarded from the Conference Meeting to a Special Business Meeting set up tonight exclusively for this item.

In explaining the reasoning for the move, Moore said that the City has a chance to get a “more favorable” interest rate of around .75 percent from BankonBuffalo by investing liquid funds that aren’t immediately needed but could be accessed if necessary.

City Clerk Heidi Parker said the resolution was expedited to get BankonBuffalo “in there so we can move quickly in investing this money.”

Future policy changes would allow investments to be made without having to wait “for a Council meeting to come up in case it is a bank that is not listed as one of our designated depositories,” she said.

Jankowski said he had no problem with the resolution, but asked for additional modifications in the wording of the policy that included “some kind of checks and balances” to make sure that more than one person is involved in the process.

He suggested that Parker, Moore, Neary and Assistant Manager Rachael Tabelski all have a say in these types of investments and the financial institutions to be utilized.

Also, as previously reported on The Batavian, Council moved to the June 8 meeting a resolution that spells out a $554,112 grant the City received from the NYS Department of Health’s Lead Service Line Replacement Plan.

The grant will enable City crews to replace up to 75 lead service lines on Swan, Hutchins and Otis streets on the City’s Southside.

DPW Director Matt Worth said the grant requires no match from the City and the only cost a homeowner would incur is if crews were unable to make a connection from the curb shut-off into the house likely due to a deteriorating pipeline.

(Click here to see the previous story.)

Another resolution forwarded to the June 8 meeting was a motion to obtain a firm to provide administration/engineering services for a $750,000 Downtown Revitalization Initiative project to improve Jackson Square.

Worth said the deadline for firms to respond to the City’s request for quotation is Wednesday.

He also reported that the City Centre mall roof replacement project is about 35 to 40 percent complete and he expects it to be done within 30 days.

“Hopefully, the buckets will be gone by the end of June,” Jankowski quipped.

May 26, 2020 - 2:33pm

The City of Batavia has tapped into a New York State program designed to help municipalities “get the lead out.”

Batavia City Council members, at their Conference Meeting via Zoom tonight, are expected to hear from Public Works Director Matt Worth about a $554,112 grant the City has received from the NYS Department of Health’s Lead Service Line Replacement Plan.

Worth said he and his staff have developed a work plan that is designed to replace 75 lead service lines on Swan, Hutchins and Otis streets on the City’s Southside.

“We suspect that 20 to 30 percent of our residential services may still be lead -- from the water main to the curb shut-off,” Worth said. “We have never observed it from the curb shut-off into the house.”

He said that City crews will be conducting vacuum excavations this summer in anticipation of construction starting as early as this fall and no later than next spring. The City awarded the engineering contract to GHD of Buffalo.

Worth said about $500,000 will be available after subtracting engineering costs.

“We’ll try to preserve as much as we can because every dollar we save on that side is maybe one more service we can do,” Worth said. “The vacuum excavation on the front end is being done all out of City costs – we’re not trying to use the grant money – so we can preserve as much of that grant money as possible to do as many services as we can.”

Lead was commonly used in the 1940s and ‘50s, Worth said, before giving way to galvanized pipe, copper, plastic and lead-free brass.

“Nothing that we use now contains any lead in it in the water industry,” he advised.

Worth said lead isn’t a significant health issue in water systems because the “water system creates a coating on the inside of the lead service, so the water does not come into contact with the lead. So, we don’t typically see concentrations of lead in people’s water when we test it.”

He said the City’s treated water is a little higher on the pH scale, and that tends to make it less corrosive.

“If you have water that is on the lower side of the pH scale, it can be more acidic and corrosive, and that’s where you will have a bigger issue with lead coming into people’s homes through the water,” he explained.

The NYS Lead Service Line Replacement Plan identifies grant recipients based on criteria included in the state’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017.

According to the DOH website, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that drinking water contaminated with lead can contribute to 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead, and infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their total exposure to lead from drinking water.

Funds from the grant can cover engineering fees (planning, design and construction), legal fees, municipal administration fees, construction (materials, equipment, workforce) and site/property restoration.

May 11, 2020 - 10:49pm

The Genesee Country Farmers Market Inc. suddenly has become quite a lightning rod for discussion at Batavia City Council meetings.

City Council tonight gave its go-ahead for the market to conduct business again this year at the east side of the parking lot on Alva Place and Bank Street, but not before a 25-minute debate that focused on the practice of allowing food truck vendors to conduct business on the market grounds and at other downtown locations.

Council members, at their April 27th meeting, tabled the nonprofit’s application to operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from June 5 through Oct. 30, citing the need for clarification of the organization’s address and financial arrangement.

The next day, Beth Kemp, executive director of the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District, which supports the GCFM, provided an email from Sharon Brent, the market’s treasurer, which appeared to answer Council’s questions.

Fast forwarding to tonight, several Council members brought up other issues concerning the market, with the subject of food trucks dominating the talking points.

“I don’t know if any of you have received any comments from local restaurateurs but I have in the past in regard to the food vendors that are allowed to come into the farm market and sell food there as far as prepared food like the food truck, things of that nature,” John Canale said. “Some of our restaurants that are in the BID district are concerned that these people are coming in and they’re able to sell food at lunch time, which is actually taking away lunch business from a lot of our downtown restaurateurs.”

Canale said restaurant owners, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, are “fighting for business” and food trucks will just make it that much more difficult for them. He went on to say that the farmers’ market is “a wonderful thing” but still called for eliminating food vending trucks at the market.

Robert Bialkowski then asked a series of questions about the farmers’ market operation – How much of the parking lot can they use, what does the $50 membership fee cover, who is the president and vice president, and how much is spent on advertising?

He also suggested that Council should treat event applications in the same way they do resolutions.

“I really feel that we should handle it like any other business item,” he said. “If we all agree to move it from conference to business, then at the business meeting we would vote on it. That’s just my personal opinion."

City Attorney George Van Nest said he was of the opinion that Council might be imposing stricter requirements upon the farmers’ market compared to other requests.

“Traditionally, it’s been a situation where the City has looked at a limited set of information,” he said. “I just have a slight concern that we’re going fairly far afield here for a particular event application and treating this one a little differently than we would other event applications.”

The conversation returned to food trucks with Council President Eugene Jankowski mentioning that he received an email from Kemp on March 11th asking about the possibility of restricting food trucks from downtown on specific days of the week -- with the exception of the farmers’ market. He shared news that Buffalo and Rochester have recently passed a measure designed to limit food trucks parking near restaurants.

After Rose Mary Christian noted that food trucks have to pay sales tax, Jankowski suggested putting the issue back into the BID’s hands.

“That to me would be more of an internal BID issue than it is for Council to get involved,” he said. “These (applications) are a way to give us a heads-up so that we can provide a service to all the people who are going to be there as well as the community to make sure that we’re not conflicting … that we’re not blocking their progress.”

Canale agreed that the matter should be handled through the BID.

“I think it’s a matter of the BID realizing that a lot of these downtown restaurants are challenged by having more food vendors come downtown and be able to sell food downtown at the lunch hour that aren’t having to pay the BID assessment (as well as property taxes),” he said.

Patti Pacino, who along with City Manager Martin Moore serves on the BID board, said “if these owners are concerned, I’d rather they take it to the BID board than try to take it to City Council, because we’re only going to turn around and take it back to the BID board.”

Jankowski then suggested that Moore contact Kemp to define the areas of concern and discuss it again at a future Council meeting.

“Maybe (we need to) modify the City Code for the food vendor truck to not be right in the middle of the BID area where they’re paying taxes or the assessment, and on top of that, they’re parking right in front of a restaurant,” he said.

That prompted a sharp response from Christian.

“Actually, it’s called competition. Center Street Smoke House has a food truck and he’s all over. He not only pays sales tax but he pays property tax …,” she said. “I think you’re opening up Pandora’s Box if you decide to do this. Like I said, it is competition and I know about the food truck because I had the first one in Batavia.”

She added that the City could face a lawsuit “if you’re going to continue on with this nonsense.”

“Nobody makes anyone go to those trucks; nobody makes anyone go to a restaurant. It’s a choice – freedom of choice,” she said, prompting Al McGinnis to respond in agreement.

"We should stay out of it," he said. "I think Rose Mary is right.”

In the end, Council approved the application but instructed Moore and Pacino to address Kemp’s email as a courtesy to the BID, an entity with close ties to the City.

May 11, 2020 - 8:28pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia City Council, T.Y. Lin International.

City of Batavia officials are recommending a familiar face, so to speak, to handle the engineering and design work for the federally funded pavement rehabilitation of Richmond and Harvester avenues.

Public Works Director Matt Worth reported at tonight’s City Council Business Meeting via Zoom videoconferencing that T.Y. Lin International Group of Rochester has been selected from a pre-approved state Department of Transportation list of engineering firms, with the expectation that preliminary and advanced designs will be completed by early next year.

Worth said the contract has yet to be reviewed by the DOT or the city attorney, but noted that it should be ready for Council to move forward at its next meeting on May 26.

“T.Y. Lin presented a well thought out approach to the project with a very good project team,” said Worth, who headed a selection committee that included City Manager Martin Moore, Maintenance Superintendent Ray Tourt and Water Superintendent Bill Davis. “Their last large project with us was the Walnut Street Reconstruction Project and they also were used for the Ellicott Street streetscape project and all of the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District streetscape projects.”

Batavian Robert Radley, PE, is the company’s senior vice president and U.S. East Region director.

“We were very pleased when we heard the good news that TYLI had been selected," Radley said. "It has always been our great pleasure to work with the City of Batavia DPW team, and we look forward to rehabilitating Richmond and Harvester Avenue(s)."

The scope of the project is the renovation of Richmond Avenue from State Street to Oak Street and for the entire length of Harvester Avenue (from East Main Street to Ellicott Street). Following the design phase, the schedule lists solicitation of construction bids in the winter of 2020 and into 2022 and overhaul of the roads in the summer of 2022.

While the total cost is anticipated to be $2,040,900, the City will be responsible for only 5 percent – around $102,000 – after applying the CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) and Marchiselli funding streams, Worth wrote in a memo to City Council.

Worth said he is confident in T.Y. Lin’s ability to successfully complete the necessary design work, based on previous experience, qualifications and project understanding. He said that terms of the contract come into play following the selection process.

Council did vote on one resolution related to the renovation -- unanimously approving an agreement with the state DOT to appropriate $358,000 up front to cover 100 percent of the federal and non-federal share of preliminary engineering, design and right-of-way incidentals.

“The fees and contract are negotiated once the firm is selected based on the scope of work and estimated hours,” Worth said. “It is not just the budget amount of $358,000 but the final number will likely be close. Billings are done on actual hours charged.”

Dennis Kennelly, T.Y. Lin’s project manager, said his street design team of about eight professionals is finalizing its strategy, with initial tasks to include contracting with a surveyor and analyzing the core of the pavement.

“Our work will focus on getting the pavement in shape, checking out the sidewalks and bringing ramps at intersections up to standards and codes, per ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), providing for bike lanes and any other condition that is substandard,” said Kennelly, who also played a lead role in the previous City of Batavia projects.

The plan calls for a 3-inch milling and overlay treatment with fibers, along with milling and resurfacing with a hot mix asphalt course. Additional work includes miscellaneous spot pavement repairs, curb repairs, ADA compliant curb ramps, and shared bicycle lane pavement markings.

Kennelly said that once the design work is done, his firm will set up an informational meeting for the public.

On another front, Council members discussed the possibility of returning to City Hall for the May 26th meeting, but decided to stay with the Zoom videoconference setup for at least one more time. They are hoping to return to face-to-face conferences on June 8th, utilizing "social distancing" protocol.

April 28, 2020 - 11:38am

The treasurer of Genesee Country Farmers’ Market Inc., has responded quickly to the Batavia City Council’s request for more information about the organization as it looks to operate the market at the Alva Place parking lot beginning in June.

GCFM Treasurer Sharon Brent, of Schwab Farm Market in Gasport, sent an email to City Council this morning after being advised by Beth Kemp, director of the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District, of issues that arose at Monday night’s Council meeting and were reported on The Batavian.

Brent wrote that she has been treasurer of the corporation for 15 years and uses the mailing address of P.O. Box 303, Gasport, NY, 14067 because that is the post office closest to her residence. She also said that the previous treasurer lived in Oakfield, and that’s why an Oakfield mailing address was listed.

She said all money collected from “stall rent” is used to pay a market manager, advertising, supplies, permits, postage and insurance.

Total income in 2018 was $28,526.65 and expenses were $27,406.32, leaving a net income of $1,120.33.

In 2019, the numbers were $25,857.05 and $25,946.05 for a net loss of $89.

“Any profits stay with the corporation and are used the next year for more advertising or other increased costs or saved for unknown expenses in the future,” she wrote, adding that the GCFM files IRS form 1120 each year.

Brent also pointed out changes in the operation of farmers’ markets this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic as issued by the state Department of Agriculture.

The current requirements are:

-- No forms of entertainment; no cooking demonstrations or sampling; no craft or non-food vendors, except soap or hand sanitizer; space out vendors as much as possible; minimize amount of food on display with customer access; increase the number of handwashing stations and make hand sanitizer available.

-- Manage customer traffic within the market to eliminate congregating and to promote social distancing. At this time masks must be worn by vendors and customers if social distancing cannot be kept.

-- Prepackage raw agricultural products such as apples, potatoes, onions, etc. to the extent possible. All baked goods must be prepackaged.

Brent wrote that board members are working on how to implement these guidelines and any changes that come.

The market is scheduled to be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from June 5 through Oct. 30.

April 27, 2020 - 10:27pm

Update: April 28, 12:30 p.m.

City Manager Martin Moore specified that the $40,000 sales tax loss referred to in the story is for the full fiscal year and only related to reductions caused by sales tax revenues directed to NYS hospital payments.

-------------------

Without getting into specifics, City Manager Martin Moore tonight said he and departmental leaders are crafting a multilevel plan that “protects core services” and, hopefully, jobs while bracing for what could be jarring hits to the municipality’s bottom line in the coming weeks.

Speaking at Batavia City Council’s Zoom Videoconference Meeting, Moore said lessons he learned from previous economic slumps are guiding his approach to managing City income and expenses in this time of uncertainty fueled by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“(This is) based on personal experience in dealing with oil boom and bust cycles, but it applies somewhat here,” Moore said. “That is to have the ideas and the things in place, so that when we see we’re going to hit certain revenue reductions, we’re not scrambling around figuring out what we’re going to do. We’re going to have it already laid out.”

Moore compared the current situation in Batavia (as well as Genesee County and its towns and villages) to “the last time that I went through a three-year time period at a previous location, where revenues went way down,” he said.

“We set up a four-stage at that particular incident, and we ended up in stage three of four,” he recalled. “That taught an important lesson that when you get a deep cycle type of downturn like we’re dealing with here … not just planning for what we have now but planning for what we could be looking at (if it goes to) B, C, D or E. We’re protecting our core services by doing it this way -- our core business services and our core services to the public.”

Moore said the “good news” is the City has received about $1.5 million in state Aids and Incentives to Municipalities funding thus far, with another $250,000 due in September. The bad news is that sales tax revenue is estimated to be down by about $40,000 “that was over and above the AIM aid reduction on the sales and use tax that goes to towns and villages.”

He also said the City’s immediate cash flow is in “pretty good shape,” payroll is being met and bills are being paid.

“With that said, we are still being cautious with our future purchases,” he said. “If something is going to happen, it needs to be paid for with grants; it needs to be paid for with donations. … We’re looking for cost savings.”

He also said there are no plans at this time to furlough or lay off employees.

“One question that has been asked quite often, is the City going to be furloughing or laying off any employees right now? Is there an announcement tonight? The answer is no,” he said. “We are taking a look at the part-time employees’ side. When do we need to start capping that? When would we need to start having conversations with union bodies if we got below a certain level of reduction (20-30 percent range)?”

Moore said he will be meeting (by videoconferencing) with department heads on Wednesday to discuss strategies at various levels of reduced revenue.

“If it looks like we’re going to hit a 15 percent revenue target reduction, we’ve got certain things we need to do. If we’ve got 30 percent reduction in revenue, there’s certain things we need to do,” he said, noting that he pledges complete transparency to Council and the public. He also said that planning for different scenarios now will help the City develop its budget for 2021-22.

Moore warned that all state aid is subject to being recalled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with the first of several decision-making dates set for the end of this month.

“So, we’re watching this week to see where the hammer, so to speak, is going to drop as far as holding back on aid to municipalities,” he said.

Council President Eugene Jankowski said he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the picture isn’t as bleak as some are predicting.

“I’m hoping their estimates are overzealous and that we’re going to be closer to even line than we are going to be in debt,” he said.

Richmond, Harvester road work projects move forward

In other action, as reported in a preview story on Saturday on The Batavian, Council discussed two resolutions pertaining to the rehabilitation of Richmond and Harvester avenues, scheduled for the summer of 2022 – an agreement with the State Department of Transportation to pay $358,900 for preliminary engineering, design and right-of-way incidentals and the procedure to select an engineering firm.

Following the brief discussion, the resolutions were forwarded to the May 11 Business Meeting for a formal vote.

Public Works Director Matt Worth said this is the “first step” in a $2 million, multifaceted process to fix the entire length of Harvester, and Richmond from State Street to Oak Street.

Richmond is the street “we get the most comments on as far as condition issues,” Worth said.

With the application of federal and state funding, the expense to the City would be slightly more than $102,000 – or about 5 percent of the total cost.

Worth said the City can not move the date of construction forward since funding is controlled by the federal government, but did mention, in response to a question from Council Member Robert Bialkowski, that City crews are ready to patch and repair “to hold the street together” until then.

“We have been waiting for the hot mix asphalt plants to open up, which they have, and we’ve been looking forward to days when it doesn’t rain all day,” Worth said. “Richmond Avenue will receive a more intensive patching or crack repair, if you will.”

Worth, in conjunction with the Moore, said he reduced the 50 percent (of the workforce) requirement and we are looking to reallocate the highway crew, and whether we bring that up or move that around to make it more efficient, that’s something we’re looking at right now.”

Jankowski said the state is giving municipalities “leeway” when it comes to getting highway and construction crews back to work.

As far as the project engineer is concerned, Worth did not disclose the name of firm that has been selected but did say that 10 companies responded and the pick will be shared with City Council prior to the next meeting.

Moore noted that the 10 who submitted bids were “high-quality firms hungry for the work.”

In other developments:

-- Council members agreed to table an application from Genesee Country Farmers Market to run the market this year on the parking lot at Alva Place and Bank Street after Bialkowski asked why documents submitted listed an Oakfield address and Schwab Farms of Gasport.

Beth Kemp, director of the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District, said the BID supports the GCFM, which she said is “its own entity (operating) in collaboration with the BID.”

Kemp serves as secretary on the GCFM board and filled out the application for the farmers market, which is set to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from June 5 through Oct. 30.

The BID receives no revenue from the endeavor, Kemp said, adding that proceeds from vendor fees go to GCFM to cover the cost of running the market. She also said the GCFM recently hired a new market manager.

Jankowski picked it up from there, stating that the farmers market is using City property and that he “thought it (proceeds) were going to the BID.” He also asked if the GCFM was making a profit.

The discussion was put on hold until the May 11 meeting, with expectations of ironing out any issues prior to opening day.

-- Bialkowski also had questions about insurance coverage for the “Beertavia” event, a craft beer festival promoted by the BID that is scheduled for 2-6 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the same location.

“I’m not for it or against it, I just have concerns about liability,” he said, adding that the only way to full indemnify the City was to have all vendors submit a certificate of insurance listing the City of Batavia as an additional insured and showing dram shop coverage in order to serve alcohol.

Kemp said the BID applies for a one-day permit and holds its own liability insurance plus pays for an additional endorsement, plus each vender supplies a certificate of insurance listing the BID and the City of Batavia as additional insured.

She also said all of the brewers provide dram shop documentation.

“We have turned away vendors in the past” (that have not had proper insurance), she said. “We also put up perimeter fencing and provide additional security to check IDs.”

April 25, 2020 - 8:53am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, CHIPS, Marchiselli funding.

The City of Batavia is getting its ducks in a row in anticipation of a $2 million rehabilitation of Richmond Avenue and Harvester Avenue in the summer of 2022.

Memos from Public Works Director Matt Worth to City Manager Martin Moore provide backup to a pair of draft resolutions:

-- The first one authorizing an agreement with the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to appropriate $358,000 up front to cover 100 percent of the federal and non-federal share of preliminary engineering, design and right of way incidentals;

-- The second one approving the selection of an engineering firm to oversee the preventive maintenance project.

Both resolutions are earmarked for discussion at City Council’s Conference Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday via the Zoom videoconferencing service.

In a memo dated April 17, Worth wrote that the City was awarded federal highway funding through the Genesee Transportation Council for the renovation of Richmond Avenue from State Street to Oak Street and for the entire length of Harvester Avenue (from East Main Street to Ellicott Street).

The project is expected to cost $2,040,900, with the City’s share at 20 percent of the total expense.

Worth went on to explain that the City’s final share will drop to around $102,000 (5 percent) due to the utilization of two funding streams -- CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) and Marchiselli, the primary state aid match to Federal Highway Administration-funded projects.

The proposed schedule shows the awarding of an engineering contract this spring, preliminary design completion by the fall, advanced design completion in 2021, solicitation of construction bids in the winter of 2021 (into 2022) and the actual work in the summer of 2022.

Work will include a 3-inch mill and overlay treatment with fibers and milling and resurfacing with a hot mix asphalt course. Additional work includes miscellaneous spot pavement repairs, curb repairs, curb ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and shared bicycle lane pavement markings.

In a memo dated April 20, Worth wrote that the City solicited NYSDOT-approved engineering firms last month and accepted proposals through April 21.

A team of City employees, headed by Worth, is prepared to make a recommendation to Council at Monday’s meeting, with the expectation that it will be approved by the board at its May 11th Business Meeting.

April 14, 2020 - 10:41am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Zoom, covid-19.

Reaction to a dog barking in the background and a couple minor technical glitches couldn’t prevent a successful first foray into videoconferencing for the Batavia City Council on Monday night.

“I thought for the initial meeting, Council was a little less talkative than they normally would be, but other than that I thought everything went well,” said Council President Eugene Jankowski, about 14 hours after he presided over a Zoom videoconference that was shown on Facebook live and livestreamed on The Batavian.

Jankowski said that the board conducted a couple of trial runs on Zoom prior to the meeting. As it turned out, every Council member except for two was hooked up to video.

Early in the meeting, a comedic moment occurred when participants, viewers and listeners were distracted by the loud barking of a dog in the background. The owner, a Council member who will not be named in this account, let his feelings be known in harsh terms to quiet that dog down.

Other than that, Council Member John Canale lost his internet connection toward the end of the proceedings, but after a few minutes delay, he was back online and able to cast his votes on a pair of resolutions.

Jankowski said he and Lisa Casey, the City’s confidential secretary, had a plan in place for a situation such as that.

“If someone got kicked off, when we noticed it we would call (that person on the phone) and we will wait for you and try to get you back online,” Jankowski said. “I didn’t mind taking a minute or two recess and that’s exactly what happened. When someone got kicked off and it was noticed, we went into that plan and it took a few minutes longer, but we got him back online and he was able to cast his vote.”

Overall, Jankowski said he found it a bit difficult to make sure people didn’t talk over one another and that he missed the public input part of the meeting.

“Due to the circumstances, we just don’t have the room on the screen to have a lot of people get involved in the meeting,” he said. “We’re going to try to address that by emails and other ways, and hopefully this will only be a couple times and we’ll be back in person in a few weeks.”

At least one regular City Council observer agreed that the videoconference was effective.

“For a first time, it worked well,” said Batavian John Roach, in a comment on The Batavian.

The meeting also was shown on the Batavia News Service YouTube channel later last night and will be televised on Spectrum channel 1301 at 9 a.m. Wednesday and at 8 p.m. Friday.

City Council’s next meeting at 7 p.m. on April 27 has been set up as a Zoom videoconference.

In another development, Jankowski applauded a local business for offering to sew 200 to 250 masks for City employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We’re supplying some of the materials to the local business and they are providing all the labor – free of charge, I guess,” Jankowski said. “They don’t want to be named right now; they are trying to do this anonymously.”

He said the homemade masks are more for others’ protection, “not necessarily the ones who are wearing them.”

“If you’re sick and you don’t know it, you’re not going to infect other people that you’re around … that’s what the governor is saying, anyway.”

April 13, 2020 - 10:34pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, covid-19, video lottery terminal.

City Council members are proceeding with caution after learning the Video Lottery Terminal money generated by Batavia Downs Gaming has been restored to local municipalities.

Last week, Assemblyman Steven Hawley announced that $440,000 in VLT funds will be returned to the City of Batavia – a reversal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's last-minute proposal that drove Council to pass a budget with a 7.48 percent property tax increase.

Council members discussed the new development at tonight’s joint Conference/Business videoconference that was live streamed on The Batavian.

Rose Mary Christian, reflecting the collective view of the board, said she will believe it when she sees it (in the City’s bank account).

“We can’t count on any of this unless we have it in our hand," she said. "We’re going to be hurting for quite a while because they (state lawmakers) are going to need it.” 

Responding to comments made by City Manager Martin Moore on the need to start planning now for next year’s budget – a spending plan certainly to be dealt a harsh blow by the coronavirus and its affect on sales tax revenue, Christian said she feels the residents’ pain.

“Marty, I really do not want to count on that money whatsoever at this point," she said. "I really feel our area is going to be hurting for taxes, property taxes, county taxes, water. I really feel sorry for the people throughout our community at this time, and I really don’t want to count on anything. People are having a very difficult time.”

Moore informed the board that a provision of the state budget is that “at certain times of the year they can take aid back that was approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.”

“That’s why we need to hold off on spending right now … looking at capital projects on a piece by piece basis,” he said.

Moore said it is too late to rework the budget, adding that there is no guarantee the (VLT) money will be received.

“If the money does show up, we will be very careful with that,” he said. “A most likely scenario is that our sales and use tax are going to take a hit and because of that fact, it may have to help fill some of the hole … for some of that loss in sales and use tax revenue.”

Council President Eugene Jankowski emphasized that “serious budgeting” is in store.

“We need to start planning next year for that money not being in our budget, and we need to not be surprised,” he said.

He said he does not want to have to exceed the (2 percent) tax cap again, either.

“I would like to keep it within our means and below the tax cap," he said. "That’s going to mean serious budgeting. We have 11 months to figure it out and we need to start today to plan ahead."

Jankowski also mentioned the state’s decision to fund (distressed) hospitals and nursing homes by taking sales tax before distribution to municipalities.

“The governor’s budget is taking money out of the sales tax revenue to supplement hospitals before they give it back to the county,” he said. “Not only are they taking AIM (Aid and Incentives for Municipalities) funding out of sales tax revenue then giving it to us, now they’re adding $50 million for hospitals, and then next year it’s going to be less. But this year they’ll take the biggest hit at the time we’re at the biggest hit ourselves.”

He said if the VLT money is available, the City will use it for one-time purchases or “maybe bring back some of the cuts we made this year.”

“But we’re not going to use it for the budget anymore; we can’t count on it and they’ll pull the rug out from underneath us,” he said.

Council passed two resolutions:

-- Taking $30,000 from the facility reserves to cover unexpected construction costs pertaining to the City Centre roof alternations and replacement project.

A recent design change with the skylight roof covering resulted in an additional expense of $13,040. The remaining nearly $17,000 will be available in case of a condition change that needs to be addressed right away once the main roof construction work starts.

-- Approval of the sale of foreclosed property at 697 E. Main St. to Joshua Doll for $10,000.

Doll was the highest bidder at an auction on March 14. The City’s Inspection Department reviewed the property and did not object to the sale.

April 4, 2020 - 3:06pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Zoom, Video News Service.

Batavia City Council, as is the case with other Genesee County municipal boards, has decided to “zoom” into the world of electronic meetings.

City Council President Eugene Jankowski told The Batavian today that his group’s next Business Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on April 13 via the video conferencing service, Zoom – with all council members remotely joining the proceedings by using a specific meeting ID and password.

Zoom Video Communications, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., provides a remote conferencing service that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration.

“We’ve been experimenting with Zoom – testing it and getting instruction about the software – and everyone seems to be on the same page,” said Jankowski, noting that city lawmakers need to meet to “keep things moving forward,” especially since the March 23rd meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Jankowski said he expects some logistical glitches at first, but is confident that the expertise of Alecia Kaus of Video News Service will go a long way in making the board’s first venture into the electronic age a successful one.

“We’re going to televise it through Video News Service so the public can watch, but they won’t be able to interact … there will be no public (question-and-answer) session,” he said. “We will, however, definitely allow for the public to send questions by email afterwards (to City Manager Martin Moore or to any council member).”

When contacted about the setup, Kaus said that she plans to post the meeting on her Facebook page and YouTube link – something that she normally does – and is open to putting it on other Internet sites as directed by City Council.

“I will be recording it live and airing it not long afterwards,” she said. “I am currently doing that for Spectrum (on its Community Access Channel) for the City and for the Town of Batavia, and I also have been recording the (Genesee County) Health Department meetings and putting them up for everyone to see.”

The Genesee County Legislature also is utilizing Zoom for its full legislature and committee meetings and posting them to YouTube. Its next meeting (a regular session) is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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

maguire_bdc_1.jpg

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.”

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