Anyone who follows the activities of the Batavia City Council is fully aware of the fact that longtime Council Member Rose Mary Christian – in her unique brusque and outspoken style – strongly advocates for her Sixth Ward (the Southside), fully supports the city’s police and fire department, and constantly looks out for the taxpayer.
On Wednesday, she contacted The Batavian to share her views on a few items currently on Council’s docket, starting with the management situation at the Batavia Ice Rink on Evans Street.
Christian said she is not on board with a recommendation before the city’s governing body to allow Firland Management, the company that operates the rink, to make a lease payment nine months after the original due date and to contribute a reduced amount to the rink’s capital improvement fund.
Council, at Monday night’s Conference Meeting, agreed to forward the proposal to its March 8th Business Meeting for a formal vote.
A memo from Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski to Council spells out a reworking and extension of the lease agreement with Firland, reducing and deferring the firm’s payments due to the impact of COVID-19 upon its bottom line in 2020. The rink was closed for most of the year and just recently has welcomed back youth league and high school hockey teams.
Christian said she doesn’t buy that reasoning.
“There are numerous businesses in the City of Batavia that are hurting,” she said. “Are we going to defer anything for them – property taxes, school taxes, anything? I don’t think so, and that’s why I’m not voting for the resolution coming in two weeks.”
Tabelski, through negotiations with Firland, introduced a plan to let Firland make its next lease payment of $25,000 on Jan. 1, 2022 instead of the current due date of March 1, 2021, and also to reduce its contribution to the rink’s capital fund for 2020-21 from $32,958.30 to $5,000.
She also is proposing to extend the contract from its current ending date of March 31, 2021 for two years through March 2023.
Therefore, Firland’s lease payments will be $20,000 annually for 2021-22 and 2022-23 and its capital fund contribution will be $5,000 annually for the next two fiscal years.
Christian said the city has seen its revenue decline and, noting the costs involved with maintaining the rink, feels it would be unwise to go this route.
“Rachael sent me an email stating that the annual cost for keeping the refrigeration system at the rink is $11,500, and the city pays for that,” Christian said. “So, in reality, taxpayer money is used to cover that expense.”
Tabelski explained that the intent of the lease and capital payments (paid to the city by Firland) covers the costs of maintenance at the facility and contributes to the Ice Rink Reserve for Capital Improvements.
The city currently has $370,000 in ice rink reserves. If the refrigeration system was to fail, it could cost up to $750,000 to purchase and install a new one.
“That’s a far cry if it comes to $700,000 and we have to replace it,” Christian said. “And that becomes another burden upon city taxpayers.”
In a story posted on The Batavian on Tuesday, Tabelski suggested the manager’s office – within a year or so -- conduct an analysis and study, and present a strategy to Council “with the goal of bringing it back to full capacity and to potentially attract a buyer.”
Christian said she hopes someone or an organization would purchase the facility.
“We do not belong in business. I, myself, would like to privatize that all the way so someone can own it and take care of the responsibility,” she said. “Not every child in Batavia is afforded that ice rink. They can’t afford the fees charged to play hockey; it’s just the elite.”
Christian sounded off on a couple of other recent City Council agenda items:
-- On having vacant public safety positions in the 2021-22 budget:
“I’m sorry that we have to not fill a couple positions with the police department and the fire department. Safety is my No. 1 concern,” she said.
Christian said city funds used to support the Batavia Development Corp. should go back into the general fund, and potentially could be used to hire public safety personnel.
Tabelski, in response to an email from The Batavian, stated that the city is paying $95,000 to the BDC this year – down from the usual amount of $110,000 -- “via an agreement that was established years ago to provide economic development services in the City.”
She explained that the BDC is a public authority and has its own budget and operating costs, and can bring in its own revenue at times from grants, project fees or real estate sales. Recently, the entity has been successful in obtaining New York Main Street grants and money from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative for several building renovation projects in the city.
The BDC employs a full-time director of economic development at a current salary of $65,000.
Christian said the corporation should be at a point where it can sustain itself.
“Do you know where that salary belongs? It belongs with the BDC. They should be paying for it,” she said.
-- On the strong possibility that the city will contract with the Genesee Area Family YMCA for its after-school and summer recreation programs:
“I’m happy that (District Executive Director) Jeff Townsend is going to be in charge of it for the YMCA. I think they are going to do an outstanding job for the kids,” she said.
Christian said the $1,100 rent payment to City Church for the use of the Liberty Center for Youth (the former St. Anthony’s School building) on Liberty Street is fair.
“It’s a good fee for that building. It will serve the kids well and also it will be used on Tuesday nights for their open gymnasium.”