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January 16, 2016 - 3:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

There are ample reasons to be optimistic about Batavia's future, City Manager Jason Molino says in his annual budget message delivered yesterday to City Council Members along with the proposed 2016-17 budget, even though the coming year will be hampered slightly by an uncertain sales tax picture.

Downward pressure on oil prices is likely to mean a decrease in sales tax revenue for the City as gas prices remain low and could fall further, according to Molino's projections.

Meanwhile, some expenses continue to go up and the city's property tax base is seeing only modest growth. Therefore, Molino said, the city probably needs to raise property taxes by 13 cents, putting the rate a $9.29 per thousand of assesses value. The tax levy would increase by $55,621, or 1.10 percent.

For a home assessed at $80,000, the proposed increase adds $10.40 to the annual tax bill.

While sales tax on gas is only 18 to 20 percent of total sales tax receipts for the city, sales tax is the city's largest general fund revenue source at 39 percent of the city's general fund.

"We project a slowdown in the coming year," Molino said, "but how much is hard to project."

That's why the city needs to continue its focus on economic growth, which will expand the city's most stable revenue source -- property tax, Molino said.

The budget calls for the continuation of programs that will help, and are helping, to drive the city's growth, such as brownfield redevelopment, as well as capital investments in sidewalks and roadways, along with the ongoing, multi-year effort to invest $22 million in upgrades to sewer and water infrastructure. All of these programs will have a significant impact on the willingness for businesses to locate or expand in and around Batavia, Molino said.

There's already been progress in the city on brownfield redevelopment, such as the conversion of the former Carr's warehouse into a business and residential complex as well as the work under way to start a brewery and restaurant in the former Newberry's building. There are other projects in the works, Molino said.

"These areas didn't become blighted overnight and we won't correct the blight overnight," Molino said. "It will take time, it will take people and it will take energy."

Over the past decade, the city has made tremendous budgetary progress, Molino noted, going from a city operating at a deficit with little credit to one with a $8 million fund balance and an A-1 credit rating.

At the same time, the city has managed to replace nearly $3 million of antiquated equipment.

While the budget will use reserves for capital improvements, Molino notes that the projected decline in sales tax revenue will inhibit the city's ability to replenish those funds this year, but he sees the current economic environment as temporary and expects the economy to pick up, especially locally, over the next couple of years.

A potential bright spot on the sales tax picture is the planned construction of a plant for 1366 Technologies in the STAMP project in Alabama, Molino noted. It's hard to project the potential impact of that project, but Molino noted in his budget message that the construction of two yogurt plants in the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park helped the city realize 4 to 6 percent sales tax growth in 2012 and 2013.

Another positive note coming out of 2015 is single-family home sales reach 122 closed escrows, up from 80 in 2013.

The city is also benefiting from a slight uptick in the assessed value of properties, as a couple of properties that were previously exempt from property taxes because of PILOT guarantees are now getting those increased assessed values taxed. Some of the additional revenue, however, is offset by the loss of PILOT payments from property owners. (PILOT = payment in lieu of taxes; taxes are exempt at a pre-defined formula on the increase of assessed value on a redeveloped property, but the property owner pays a fee to receive that benefit. That fee is split among the taxing jurisdictions that would otherwise receive the abated property tax.)

With the city facing ever escalating workers compensation insurance costs, Molino is also proposing the city adopt a self-funded insurance program, which will result in about a $250,000 cost savings. The assistant city manager and HR director would administer the new program.

The proposed spending from all funds for 2016-17 is $24,798,158. The general fund expenditure is proposed at $16,204,570. That's an annual increase of $499,806.

It's critical, Molino said, that the city continue to invest in its future, because only through economic growth can it meet future financial challenges and continue or improve city services.

There's a lot of positive momentum, a renaissance, in Batavia, in Genesee County and throughout the region, from Rochester to Buffalo, Molino said. Batavia needs to be a part of that positive trend.

"Let's stop with the negative perceptions about what Batavia can't be and talk about what Batavia can do," Molino said.

Molino ended the intro to his budget message on a similar high note, sounding a bold and ambitious vision statement for the city:

We need to become a community where employers don’t think twice when considering expansion. Our government services must strive for excellence and foster cooperation. It’s imperative our organizational culture and physical assets reflect immense pride in our City. We need to become a community where people of all ages truly enjoy life. Our vision is simple, to make Batavia the community of choice, in which the quality of life is unmatched and opportunity is around every corner.

March 6, 2015 - 4:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget, bdc, Vibrant Batavia.

It takes money to run a city, and economic growth is what allows a city to provide services for its resident, City Manager Jason Molino believes.

As the City Council wraps up its 2015-16 spending review, Molino is hoping council members will take some time for a serious and in-depth discussion of the revenue side of the budget picture.

"The revenue side of the budget needs focus and we need to understand how to grow that so we enhance and sustain the local economy so that we can provide quality services to residents," Molino said in an interview today. "To sustain a budget we need to ensure a consistent and steady revenue stream. This means the tax base is growing and people have more disposable income."

Molino has written a memo for council members titled "Budget Sustainability (pdf)." It lays out the case for ensuring the city takes steps to improve the economic health of Batavia.

The budget discussion so far has focused mainly on cost containment. The council has taken little time to focus on revenue, Molino says in the memo, but the reason the budget reflects a $250,000 reduction in spending isn't because of cost containment goals. It's because of anticipated declines in revenue.  The city is being forced by local economics to cut spending.

That should give council pause as it considers how to handle programs meant to improve the economic vitality of Batavia, such as the Batavia Development Corp. and Vibrant Batavia.

"Public revenue needs an employed community, so the right question is not necessarily where should we be trimming the City workforce budget, but rather, the right question is: Are City resources optimally structured to reposition Batavia as a great place to raise a family, start and operate a profitable business, and in general, appeal to families," Molino writes in the memo.

There are troubling signs in Batavia's economic outlook, Molino notes.

  • The city's taxable assessed value of property is not growing;
  • Median family income is below average and poverty is high, according to Moody's Investor Services;
  • Three of the city's six census blocks are classified "highly distressed areas";
  • Five of the city's six census blocks are deemed "low-income."

"A balanced approach to the city budget needs to include strong initiatives that will provide cost containment, but also strategic direction that will improve the quality of life," Molino writes. "Growth in the tax base and resident income are the lifeblood to supporting municipal services, as well as improved quality of life for City residents. All of our focus must be on retaining our households and repositioning Batavia in the coming years to attract more households and businesses."

There are those who believe it's not the role of government to "create jobs" or focus on economic growth. Molino disagrees.

"If you look at the past 10 years, the amount of economic growth, the big job growth, has been the result of public-private partnerships," Molino said. "The ag park, seven years in the making, is the first industrial development in Genesee County in the last 50 years. That came about because of cooperation between the city, county and town, all of us working together."

A local government that is focused on streamlining the process and marketing a community's assets is going to have more success than one that doesn't, Molino said.

"I think the attitude needs to be what are the reasons we should be doing this and not what are the reasons we shouldn't be doing it," Molino said. "It's the responsibility of a municipal government to reposition the community. If you're completely absent from funding economic growth, the community is going to be absent from opportunities for economic growth."

The city's budget is roughly $16 million and that spending, which provides all of the municipal services residents have come to expect from their local government, is entirely dependent on how well the local economy does. Without investment, not only is growth difficult, but a precipitous decline is a real possibility.

While there's no portion of the property tax levy going into funding Vibrant Batavia or the Batavia Development Corp., the amount of money needed to keep those growth projects going is less than 2 percent of the city's planned spending.

"Sure, we can reduce spending by another 10 percent, but if you don't have a vibrant community and a vibrant business base, all you're going to have is a more depressed Batavia with less capacity to provide services to residents," Molino said.

If you've downloaded the Reacht App for your smart phone, at some point within the next day, we'll ask you this poll question: Should the city fund economic growth initiatives? To download the app, click here. Those who download it will be eiligible for a chance to win a $5 gift card from Southside Deli.

February 24, 2015 - 11:13am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Councilman John Deleo opposes including money for an assistant city manager in Batavia's budget for 2015-16 and wants his vote on the record.

In what one of his colleagues characterized as an 11th-hour plea, Deleo asked near the end of Monday's City Council meeting how he goes about proposing a budget amendment.

Deleo said his constituents don't want him to drop the issue.

"We talked about it at budget time, but it never came up," Deleo said. "It was never put on the agenda here, but I made a promise to the voters that they wouldn't grease the rails and slide this though. I would make sure I would bring it up."

The council approved the addition of an assistant city manager position in the 2014-15 budget and over the summer, local resident Gretchen Difante was hired to fill the role. Since then, she's worked on a variety of issues for the city, including flood insurance, problems with the emergency communications system, administrative services, including finance, the clerk-treasurer, personnel, information technology, the youth bureau and assessment. She's even been called on to help city residents deal with feral cats.

Her annual salary is $75,950.

While Deleo maintains the majority of the people he's heard from say the city should eliminate Difante's job, Councilman John Canale said he is hearing a completely different message.

The feedback he's getting, he said, is the job is needed.

Couching his words with phrases like "in all due respect" Canale was critical of Deleo's request for a vote after the council has already been through budget work sessions and a public hearing on the budget.

The budget needs to be approved by April 1 and making a substantial change at this stage would require a second public hearing, which could potentially jeopardize timely passage.

At any point in the process, Deleo could have made a motion to eliminate the job, but didn't. 

"This is a knee-jerk reaction," Canale said. "We had this discussion many, many times. We had several budget sessions and nowhere did you ask Mr. Molino to take it out of the budget."

Canale called on Deleo to show some leadership and do what's right for the city.

"I voted against this job from the get go," Deleo said, "because that's what the people said. I still work for the people. I'm still against this and I want to get it on the record that I'm still against it and that's what I'm asking for."

At one point, after much discussion, Deleo made a motion, seconded by Briggs, to schedule a budget workshop session for Friday evening.

At such a session, Deleo could make his motion and if it passed -- and even Deleo conceded it wasn't likely to pass -- a public hearing on the amended budget could be scheduled.

After further discussion, City Manager Jason Molino said he had run some calendar calculations, and if the council waits until its March 9 meeting for a vote on Deleo's proposed budget amendment there would be a day or two of wiggle room to get in a public hearing before a final budget vote.

With that, Deleo withdrew his motion for an early meeting.

At several points during the discussion, Molino told council that at no point has the council expressed a request for him to do a budget analysis on the impact of removing the position, both for its impact on the tax rate and its impact on city operations.

By the end of the meeting, no council member made that request.

January 21, 2015 - 5:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

A budget that drops spending by $300,000, even with a tax increase, is a little more palatable than a budget proposal that increases spending and raises taxes, Councilman Gene Janokowski offered near the end of a budget workshop in City Hall on Tuesday night.

There's an element of the council that agrees with Janokowski's balanced take on the administration's proposed budget, with its property tax increase of 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, said Council President Brooks Hawley after the meeting.

There are also those who side with Councilman John Deleo, who is having a hard time accepting the thought of any tax increase.

His senior constituents, many on fixed incomes, and his working constituents who haven't had a raise in pay in years are telling him to say no to a tax increase, he said.

"If I want to keep my seat, I've got to answer up to them," Deleo said.

In response, City Manager Jason Molino said the proposed budget continues the conservative revenue and expenditure projections that have been part of his administration's strategies for the past several years and have helped guide the city into calmer fiscal waters.

"We've stuck to the core fundamentals of budgeting," Molino said. "As long as there are no outliers, no huge unexpected expenses and no big dips in revenue, over a 10-year period, you can expect taxes to fluctuate within 3 percent, up to a 3-percent increase or a 3-percent decrease. Generally, residents can live with minor fluctuations in either direction, but what gets you into trouble (are) 4- and 5- and 6-percent increases."

He cautioned against using reserves to balance the budget because that's what puts municipalities in a bad spot and eventually leads to those big tax increases.

The proposed budget anticipates a continued slump in gas prices, cutting heavily into the 18 percent of the city's sales tax revenue that comes from fuel sales, and doesn't assume growing consumer confidence and greater buying power will necessarily lead to sales tax growth in the retail sector.

For the average homeowner, the tax increase and higher water rate will add up to only $27 a year in added expense, Molino said.

Deleo said he knows that doesn't sound bad, but his constituents want no tax increase under any circumstances.

Hawley said it's too early to predict how the council as a whole will direct Molino to modify the budget, if at all.

"I think the administration as a whole did a good job on the budget, but it's just a proposed budget and this is just our first meeting during the session," Hawley said. "We've still got a couple of months yet to look at it. There are some good things and there are some things we might want to change. For right now, I appreciate the administration coming here tonight and laying everything out in front of us."

The budget workshop is a chance for the city's department heads to explain expenditure requests and for council members to ask questions. The session went from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and included all departments except police and fire, which the council will hear from after Monday's regular meeting.

The proposed budget can be downloaded here (pdf).

Here are some highlights:

  • Proposed $318,558 on sidewalks for Redfield Parkway, Allen Street, Holland Avenue, North Street, Olyn Avenue and 27 curb ramps at these locations;
  • $201,800 on road resurfacing;
  • $217,050 on legal services, including $57,550 prosecutorial services;
  • Six upgraded computers and support subscriptions for city computers at $23,544;
  • Wireless service for City Hall and citywide IT support, $50,625;
  • The summer recreation program, $68,000;
  • New roof on the youth center, $25,000;
  • Total Youth Services spending, $194,715;
  • Budget for the Bureau of Inspection, $329,965;
  • In Public Works, a purchase of cab and chassis, $20,000;
  • The total street maintenance budget is $607,115;
  • Fuel costs, $66,500 for diesel and $21,020 for gasoline;
  • Total budget for the Public Works garage, $495,345;
  • The total cost of snow removal, $541,830, with $150,360 for sodium chloride, $20,800 for parts and equipment;
  • Powering the city's public lights, $220,000, plus another $16,000 to power traffic lights;
  • Replacing vandalized park equipment will cost $10,500 for Austin Park slides;
  • Tree removal and trimming parks, $25,000; tree replacement, $13,900;
  • Total parks budget, $217,150;
  • Street cleaning, $39,270;
  • The fire department proposed budget is $3.9 million, with $2 million in base salaries, $125,000 in overtime, $139,390 in holiday hours, a $35,000 one-ton utility vehicle, $21,000 in professional development and training, a $549,190 contribution to the state retirement fund, $188,430 for Social Security taxes;
  • The police budget is $4 million -- $2.1 million for base salaries, $220,000 for overtime, $12,000 for the emergency response team overtime, $85,000 for holiday pay, $63,360 for two patrol vehicles, $61,000 for gas, $44,870 for uniforms and body armor, $19,000 for travel and training, $38,000 for new officer training, $539,980 for the state retirement fund and $194,340 for Social Security tax, and $434,610 for medical insurance.
January 13, 2015 - 9:41am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

A conservative look at sales tax revenue for the city is driving a proposal to raise property taxes by 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, City Manager Jason Molino told City Council members Monday night during his 2015-16 budget presentation.

The drop in fuel prices benefits consumers, but plays havoc on local government, which derives 18 percent of sales tax revenue from fuel sales.

Sales tax accounts for 40 percent of the city's overall general fund revenue.

Molino projects $15,848,884 in general fund spending for 2015-16, a 1.08-percent reduction (or $253,001) in spending from the current fiscal year.

Even with the reduced spending, the projected shortfall in sales tax means local property owners will be asked to help pick up the slack.

The new city tax rate would be $9.30 cents.

On a home assessed at $90,000, the property owner would pay $69.75 per month, up $1.20 over this year. 

For property taxes that are roughly half what many households pay these days for mobile phone service, residents receive a bevy of city services, including police and fire protection, road and sidewalk maintenance and parks. The value, he suggested, was just as great or greater than mobile phone service.

"I thought it (the analogy) would help put things in perspective," Molino said after the meeting.

While the local economy is improving, and by some measures is stronger than the state or national economy, there is a lot of room for improvement, Molino noted.

There is the potential for even better job growth, especially if plans for the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and WNY STAMP continue to come together, but in the here and now, the city needs to be conservative in its budgeting process, Molino said.

The city also needs to take a close look at its aging sewer and water infrastructure.

He is proposing a revised rate structure -- one that does away with the current two-tier system -- and includes a projected $1 per month increase for the average consumer to help pay for maintenance and upgrades to the system.

The proposal calls for $22 million in capital investment in sewer and water over a 10-year period.

Without the changes, not only will needed replacements and upgrades not take place, the city's sewer and water system will soon start losing money.

As modern, water-saving appliances become more common in local homes, local water consumption has decreased. That's a trend, Molino said, he expects to see continue.

However, it costs just as much to deliver two million gallons of water as it does three million gallons. The reduction in consumption doesn't reduce the cost of the system that delivers the water, but reduced consumption does decrease revenue.

The city will need to increase water rates, he said, to keep pace with water delivery costs.

What Molino presented Monday is a budget proposal. It will now be up to the council to go through the budget, ask questions and potentially suggest changes. There will be a public hearing on the budget before it is adopted.

The proposed budget will be posted on the city's Web site later today.

March 10, 2014 - 9:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Story by Dan Fischer, WBTA:

By the slimmest of margins the Batavia City Council Monday night approved a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes the hiring of an assistant city manager.

The budget approval process nearly derailed when Ward 6 Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian withdrew her support of the budget and voiced opposition to the assistant manager’s position.

The budget was approved by a narrow 5-4 margin.

Joining her in opposition were Ward 5 Councilwoman Kathleen Brigs and Councilmen-at-large Eugene Jankowski and John DeLeo.

Christian said that after “dozens of telephone calls” she learned that the federal government would soon step in to address the rising cost of FEMA flood insurance.

The study of flood insurance, and how to control rising premiums, would be the primary responsibility of the new assistant, according to City Manager Jason Molino.

“We really don’t need an assistant now that the federal government is stepping in,” Christian said.

Molino took exception to Christian noting that federal intervention into the flood insurance issue was only a proposal and not a certainty.

Still, it was enough for Christian to change her vote and touch off a lengthy debate among council members to table the budget.

Councilman-at-large John DeLeo favored a delay in the budget vote and remove funding for the assistant’s position. “My constituents have told me ‘hell no’ on this assistant manager issue,” DeLeo declared.

When a vote to table the budget failed by a 5-4 vote it was clear the budget, with funds for the assistant manager, would pass.

Council President Brooks Hawley, who had stated his opposition to the assistant manager’s position in early budget debates, said his objection did not rise to the level of scuttling the entire budget. Hawley voted in favor the budget along with council members Kris Doeringer, Patti Pacino, Pier Cipollone and John Canale.

The $24-million budget calls for a reduction in the tax rate of 13-cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. A separate measure to increase water rates passed unanimously. The increase will cost the average city water customer another $10 per year.

CORRECTION: The tax rate is 13 cents less per thousand. The original store misstated the amount.

February 25, 2014 - 3:50pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Story via WBTA:

Only one person spoke in opposition Monday night to the proposed 2014-2015 City of Batavia budget. The $24 million financial plan is scheduled for a vote on March 10.

John Roach of Batavia questioned the need for an assistant city manager, a position eliminated several years ago by City Manager Jason Molino in a budget-cutting move. Molino now wants the post filled at an annual salary of between $64,000 and $78,000 plus benefits.

Ward Six Councilwoman Rosemary Christian asked if there would be “another opportunity” to discuss the budget prior to a vote. She was told by Molino that comments could be made prior to the vote on March 10.

Christian said she had “a very important matter” to discuss concerning the budget but she declined to elaborate.

No one spoke during a second public hearing Monday night on a proposed increase in water rates. The proposed rate per 1,000 gallons of water will go up by 9 cents to $4.62. Molino estimated the water increase would cost the average homeowner another $10 per year.

While the budget is scheduled to be voted upon at the next council business meeting on March 10 there would still be an opportunity to vote on the budget during the March 24 meeting. The budget must, by law, be adopted by March 31.

February 11, 2014 - 1:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

The City Council found $54,000 to trim from the proposed 2014-15 city budget Monday night, reducing the proposed tax rate to $9.17.

There will be no free Wi-Fi Downtown and no electric car charging station.

There will be a new assistant city manager, and Jason Molino said that may be the most strategically critical component of the budget.

"For the first five or six years I was here, we focused on creating a good financial foundation and establishing good financial practices," Molino said. "That doesn't go by the wayside, but now we're broadening our horizon and saying what are the issues we want to focus on and that comes down to quality of life, economic development and community development. I think having another executive in the manager's office to help contribute to bring some of those goals to fruition will be a benefit."

The council rejected a proposal to remove the new position from the budget by a 4-5 vote.

Voting to remove the position were John Deleo, Brooks Hawley, Gene Jankowski and Kathy Briggs.

Voting to keep the position in the budget were Kris Doeringer, Patti Pacino, John Canale, Pierluigi Cipollone and Rose Mary Christian.

Deleo said he didn't think the position was necessary, that any additional duties falling into the city manager's lap could be outsourced or handled by part-timers. Hawley and Jankowski said they favored waiting at least a year to see if the position was really needed.

Jankowski also argued that the list of duties for the new manager will take somebody of super human knowledge and training.

The new duties of the new job will include:

  • Assist with the police facility needs assessment;
  • Prepare for negotiations with Genesee County regarding the water and sewer maintenance agreement and sales tax agreement;
  • Negotiate a new CSEA contract;
  • Work with Vibrant Batavia and Batavia PD on community and neighborhood engagement efforts;
  • Assist in infrastructure planning;
  • Support HR in reviewing and analyzing healthcare and workers compensation programs;
  • Act as the city's network administrator;
  • Monitor the city's insurance program and act as a risk manager;
  • Assist in preparing for the bond rating review; and,
  • Assist in coordinating the neighborhood engagement effort (the project formerly known as neighborhood sweeps), including overseeing the collection of data, interpretation of date from multiple city departments and outside agencies, establish priorities, milestones and performance metrics for determining the success of the program.

"When I read over the list, it paints a picture of so many talents and duties that will take so much time that the person won't have time to do much of anything," Jankowski said.

He then read through several of the times of the list and added, "I think this person is going to be so overworked with just the duties in the first year that next year he's going to need an assistant to help him."

The long list of duties that Jankowski read off, countered Cipollone, is exactly why the position is needed. The hard working city staff has been stretched thin by seven years of budget restraints, but for the city to move forward the staff -- and particularly Molino -- is going to need some help pursuing some of these initiatives.

"The city has come out of a dark place where we were in a hole and we were able to fight our way back," Cipollone said. "We want to make this place a city where people want to live and want to do business and to do that we need to focus on the things we want to get done to provide the quality of life we want here."

Jankowski argued that some of the duties slated for the new position are best handled by existing staff. The project formerly known as "neighborhood sweeps," Jankowski said, is the police chief's job, not some staffer in City Hall.

"As a former police officer I can say nothing aggravated me more than somebody coming in who doesn't know anything about police work and trying to tell me how to do my job," Jankowski said.

In an interview after the meeting, Molino used the neighborhood program as an example of an initiative that needs high-level supervision. It's not just a single-function job, but moves across departments and disciplines to coordinate the effort.

The project will require somebody who can crunch data, marshal resources, communicate with all department heads and help guide a team of city staff to effective decisions.

"That doesn't happen from just a police chief's perspective," Molino said. "It doesn't happen from a fire chief's perspective. It doesn't happen from a director of public works perspective. It happens with a team of people working together, critical thinkers who have the ability to understand these issues from a complex perspective and say 'how do we work together as a group, as a team?' "

From a community development stance, one of the most strategically important jobs of the new assistant city manager will be working on a FEMA program that should lower the cost of flood insurance for homeowners in designated floodplains.

That was the issue Christian zeroed in on and said that's why the residents of her district support creating the position.

"I really need somebody to come in and help with the flood insurance issue," Christian said. "Flood insurance is already so high and now they say it could go 25 percent higher. We have people who aren't able to sell their homes, they won't invest in their homes because the cost of flood insurance is so high. If they have to pay 25 percent more, who is going to buy a home there?"

Reversing the trend on the Southside of declining home values, Molino said, is critical to community development. It's not good for anybody in Batavia when homes go into disrepair and become hard to sell. That brings down everybody's property values.

"I think it has a real negative impact on real estate values on the Southside," Molino said. "I think any realtor would probably agree that it's a hindrance to selling a home in the floodplain because people see that they've got this other bill, really it's like another tax bill, and at times it's a larger-than-your-tax-bill payment on a home that's assessed at less than others averaged out through the rest of the city, and when you look at the census tracks, these are the lowest moderate income houses. That's a recipe I think we want to change."

The city's $16.6 million spending plan was originally proposed with a 3-cent property tax cut from the current $9.30. With the items removed from the budget proposal last night, another 10 cents will come off the tax rate.

A public hearing will be held on the budget proposal at 7 p.m., Feb. 24. The council will vote on the budget at its following business meeting.

January 28, 2014 - 11:49am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Free Wi-Fi and free electricity for electric cars were all but shot down Monday night during a budget work session at City Hall.

Meanwhile, Council members remain divided on whether to hire a new assistant city manager.

The argument for: There are too many tasks on City Manager Jason Molino's plate and after years of budget cuts, the rest of the city staff is overloaded as well.

The argument against: The money shouldn't be spent. If something is worth doing, current staff can handle it or it can be outsourced.

An assistant city manager would take on numerous tasks in the city, but one of the primary focuses of the job would be handling the complex array of tasks and regulations associated with lower flood insurance premiums for local residents in floodplain areas.

"If we're going to get any of these things done, we have to put forward the effort and we have to put forward the focus to get these things done," Councilman Pierluigi Cipollone said. "We can't ask the other departments to pick up the slack. We've already cut back to get out of the financial hole we were in. We cut back personnel and I think we've cut back as far as we can. We've gotten out of the financial issues we were in. Now we need to build the quality of life we all want."

Councilmembers Patti Pacino and John Canale both expressed support for the assistant city manager position.

"We really, really need this extra person," Pacino said.

Council members Rosemary Christian, Kathy Briggs and Eugene Jankowski spoke against the position.

"We can't do everything at once," Briggs said. "Prioritize and contract out the rest."

Christian said she thought Molino was budgeting too high a salary for the position.

Molino was originally hired as assistant city manager eight years ago at $59,000 a year.

"I'm opposed unless we can come up with the position for less than $60,000 a year," Christian said.

Molino said if the position had existed for all of the last eight years, the regular pay increases granted to non-union staff would have brought that salary up to $63,000, which is at the low end of the range proposed for the potential new hire. The top end is $77,000.

Jankowski said he doesn't think it was communicated clearly when the new position was first proposed exactly why a new assistant city manager is needed. The opportunity to clearly communicate the need has been lost, he said.

"There is a misunderstanding (in the community) for some reason," Jankowski said. "I've gotten numerous complaints about the proposal. Even though it may be justified, that ship has sailed. The public has made up its mind. We don't have time to correct that in a reasonable budget period this year."

While the assistant city manager position may be up in the air, there is not likely to be any extra free Wi-Fi signals floating through Batavia's ether any time soon.

And if you own an electric car, forget about stopping in Batavia for free juice.

Christian was ready to kill both proposals flat out last night and tried to drum support for a vote. Only Canale spoke in favor of the electric car charging stations and there was no support for free Wi-Fi.

"I'm in marketing," Canale said. "The attention we could get, the publicity we could get would be good for Downtown at a very minimal cost."

Briggs said taxpayers shouldn't subsidize free electricity for electric car drivers.

"The electric companies are looking to do this sort of stuff," Briggs said. "Let them do it on their own and see if they can make a dime on it. I don't think the taxpayers should pick up the tab."

Added Christian, "I think BID should handle it. I don't see why taxpayers should handle it."

The opposition to free Wi-Fi included the notion that most people who want always-on Internet have smartphones and tablets now, and that if businesses think free Wi-Fi will bring in customers, then businesses should pay for it (the city's proposal, to be clear, doesn't include putting free Wi-Fi in business locations, but in public spaces such as Jackson Square).

Pacino said, and Council President Brooks Hawley agreed, that the council shouldn't rush into any decision on either item, so council members decided to hold any vote on scrapping the proposals for another day.

In another part of the budget discussion, Christian said she would like to see at least half of any VLT money that comes in this year used to lower taxes next year.

VLT funds are sporadically distributed by the state and comes from profits generated by the video lottery machines at Batavia Downs.

Molino said that really wouldn't be a very good idea.

"I would not recommend using that money to offset your taxes, because while you may use $150,000 of it to offset your tax rate next year, what happens when you don't get that money in a future year?" Molino said. "Now you've got a $150,000 hole in your budget. So now you're increasing taxes or cutting services to make up for it.

"That is the exact reason, in a different format, why the city's financial position worsened over time. It was using things like the sale of property, assuming you were going to sell property and make $200,000 a year off of that. That's a lot of property to sell and you budgeted that year after year after year. In order to do something like that, you need to ensure you're going to have a steady stream of revenue."

January 14, 2014 - 1:07pm
posted by Bonnie Marrocco in City Budget, City Council Meeting.

It seems clear from the discussion at Monday night's city council meeting that resurrecting the assistant city manager position, which had been axed to save money in the past, would be a hard sell.

Springing for free Wi-Fi Downtown wasn't eagerly embraced either. Buying a neighborhhood surveillance camera, also part of the 2014-15 spending plan, got mixed reviews.

“The budget focuses on issues of priority by helping to improve the quality of life in Batavia,” City Manager Jason Molino said. “We're talking about neighborhood initiatives. In order to provide these services, you've got to have staff to do it.”

A portion of the 4.4-percent spending increase in the proposed budget would go to hire an assistant city manager to help make Batavia more vibrant and less flood-prone.

A primary duty would be to try and improve the city's flood insurance rating by culling from a 600-page guideline book for ways to mitigate flood issues as specified by the National Flood Insurance Program.

But not everyone wants to pay an annual salary of $63,000 to $77,000 for someone to do that.

“The city does not need an assistant city manager; it has done fine without one," said resident Lisa Whitehead. "City employees do the job and we don’t need to spend about $65,000 for a position that current employees already fill."

Councilwoman Kathy Briggs said the job can be done by the current staff members and hiring another administrator is not necessary.

“The City Manager and department heads need to prioritize in order to get the job done of assistant city manager,” Briggs said.

Other council members also balked at the expenditure.

“Looking over the budget, I am worried about whether we could afford to pay that salary,” Rose Mary Christian said.

Councilman Eugene Jankowski Jr. echoed the concern.

“Instead of going out and spending the money the city has saved on services in the past year, I think we should save it in order to keep the taxes down first,” he said.

The $16.6 million spending plan's offer of free Wi-Fi Downtown was viewed as a slippery slope by Whitehead.

“Once you set the precedent, where does it stop? Should our taxpayers be responsible for making Batavia a free Wi-Fi center in Western New York? I don’t think so,” Whitehead said.

Technology to bring vibrancy Downtown can also help improve neighborhood safety, according to Molino's plan, which pencils in $7,500 for a "neighborhood video surveillance camera.” Where the camera might be installed is not addressed.

Christian strongly supports the surveillance camera and suggested that it be put on her street first, then relocated to others.

“I really like the video surveillance and think we need that drastically,” Christian said.

Jankowski is concerned about the right to privacy for law-abiding citizens.

“I think we need to protect the privacy of people who are not committing criminal activity in the neighborhood," Jankowski said. "The video should only be used when there is justification to put it on the street, not just used randomly to video people on the street."

Of course, no one took issue with the plan to cut city property tax by 3 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value.

A budget session discussion is set for 6 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Resident Jim Rosenbeck urged the Council to take more risks, encourage public participation and embrace transparency -- not to duplicate services and manpower.

"The city has come a long way, although there are challenges ahead. I think our best plan is to dramatically rethink the size and role of city government,” Rosenbeck said.

Council has until April 1 to adopt a final budget.

March 2, 2011 - 12:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

All along the process, the city's 2011/12 budget had its detractors, from the 1.4-percent property tax increase to the $13 per household water and sewer rate increase and its creation of an economic development position.

But in the end, there were only two no votes among the nine Batavia City Council members as the budget passed muster Tuesday night.

"Batavia is in pretty good shape," said Councilman Frank Ferrando. "That took a lot of work the past three or four years. We've made cuts, we did away with the ambulance service, we did some things that weren't too easy and worked ourselves into a position from where I thought we could go bankrupt or 'where are we going to get the money?' to where we are today. This budget keeps that going. I think this is a sound budget."

Council members Sam Barone and Rose Mary Christian both voted "no."

The biggest objection raised by council members -- and by John Roach (top inset), the only citizen to speak to the budget -- was the creation of an economic development position.

The position will be funded by $10,000 from the city and money from the revolving loan grant fund.

"Nobody (from the GCEDC or BID) has come forward to say they want this position," said Councilwoman Kathy Briggs (bottom inset). "I question whether we can even use the revolving loan money. What did the original grant say about what percentage of the money can be used for administration? I think we need to put this on hold until some future time -- strike it out of the budget."

Councilman Bill Cox said at a time when the city's young people are moving elsewhere for jobs, and none of the critics of the plan have offered a better alternative for creating economic opportunity in the city, he supports creation of the position.

"We need take action," Cox said. "We need to take a step forward if we don’t take action on this we’re going to lose another year and we're going to go down even further. This is the only thing anybody has recommended that makes sense and is doable."

Councilman Bob Bialkowski raised concerns about increasing taxes at a time of economic distress. Bialkowski pointed to the situation in the Middle East and rising oil prices, rising grocery prices, and said -- along with the lack of cost-of-living adjustments for seniors on fixed incomes -- a tax increase is going to hit many people pretty hard.

Barone suggested there was still fat to be trimmed from the $22 million spending plan.

"I still think there are places we can cut," Barone said. "It's only 1.4 percent, but the economy is still in bad shape."

The tax hike amounts to about $70,000 in additional revenue for the city.

January 25, 2011 - 11:58am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Councilman Bill Cox called the proposed 2011/12 city budget a work of art.

Council members Patti Pacino, Kathy Briggs and Frank Ferrando all congratulated the city manager and his staff for presenting a budget proposal that retains current city services and protects cash reserves at a time when pension costs are skyrocketing and sales-tax revenue is down.

The council then approved a resolution adopting a revenue plan totalling $5,578,355 with a 1.39-percent property-tax increase, down from the original proposal of a 1.59-percent increase.

The new increase is less than $12 per year for a home assessed at $80,000.

"I'm afraid if we reduced (the tax increase) it would come at the expense of our reserves," said Cox. "I think we need to continue to build our reserves and this is just a modest increase."

Councilman Bob Bialkowski also spoke in favor of protecting reserves, especially in a time when major cities and the state of New York itself are facing severe financial distress.

Members Rosemary Christian and Sam Barone said they would like to see a zero-percent increase, but Council President Marianne Clattenburg said that anybody who wants to see zero should suggest how they would reduce spending without threatening the reserves or eliminating staff or services.

"If we go to zero, what we're talking about are staff cuts and cuts in services," Clattenburg said. "We're talking about the possibility of getting rid of a police officer -- I mean, we're talking about cutting into the bones of what the infrastructure of the city is."

The proposed budget also calls for water-rate hikes that will add about $13 a year to the typical residential bill.

Before the vote on the revenue resolution, Cox called on the council to give City Manager Jason Molino a round of applause for his work on the budget, and all the council members joined in.

The city council set the public hearing on the proposed budget  for 7 p.m., Feb. 14.

January 19, 2011 - 8:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

A proposal to license home improvement contractors who do work in the City of Batavia is being put on hold while further research is done into how the proposed law should be implemented.

The matter has been referred to City Attorney George Van Nest.

City Manager Jason Molino told the City Council about the change in direction during the budget review meeting at City Hall tonight.

While Councilman Bob Bialkowski spoke out against the proposal and Councilwoman Rosemary Christian said she's received a lot of calls on the matter, Council Bill Cox said given the trouble he had with a contractor last year, he leans toward support the proposal.

The proposal was included in the 2011/12 budget. The plan was to impose a $125 annual license fee for contractors doing a variety of home improvement projects, from painting to driveway paving and several other types of improvements.

Christian said there was a lot of confusion about the proposal, such as some people calling her expressing concern that the kid who mows lawns during the summer would have to pay the city $125 per year.

Molino said it's those kinds of definitions that the city attorney will clear up in the research and review process.

There's no timeline for when the proposal might be brought back to the council for consideration.

January 11, 2011 - 11:52am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Home improvement and building contractors wishing to do business in the City of Batavia may soon have to pay an annual $125 license fee.

The new contractor licensing proposal is contained in the city's 2011/12 fiscal year budget.

It would cover electrical contractors, painting contractors, flooring contractors, insulation contractors, driveway sealers and subcontractors employed by other contractors who are not required to file for building permits.

The proposal says the proposed licensing law is an attempt to protect citizens from uninsured contractors and generate additional revenue.

The proposed law would require licensing and proof of insurance.

The fee is intended to be adequate for development, maintenance and enforcement of the licensing program.

Annual revenue is expected to be $25,000.

When formally presented with the proposal, the Batavia City Council will be asked to adopt a resolution covering three fees associated with the law -- a license fee, annual renewal fee and replacement fee.

No further details were contained in the budget report.

January 11, 2011 - 11:32am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

As we reported previously, the proposed 2011/12 fiscal year budget for the City of Batavia contains a 1.59-percent increase in the property tax levy.

Below are some highlight's from City Manager Jason Molino's annual budget message, released yesterday:

  • In 2006, the city council embraced a "Road to Reconstruction" plan that outlined three steps to "slow the bleeding," "stop the bleeding," and "recovery." The plan combined cutting expenses, raising taxes, improving fiscal management and, finally, developing a plan for going forward.
  • At the time, the city had a lingering $2.2 million general fund deficit. The city responded by eliminating 35 staff positions and raising taxes by 19.5 percent in 2007 and 8.2 percent in 2008. Prior fund balance deficits were eliminated.
  • Inter-fund loans, taking money from one revenue bucket in the city budget and using it to fund other operations, were eliminated by 2010, improving the fiscal health of the city.
  • The undesignated fund balance -- cash reserves -- moved from a deficit of more than $2 million in 2006 to a positive balance of $206,216. That's still well below the NYS Comptroller's Office recommendation for the city of $700,000 to $1.4 million.
  • There were property-tax increases of 1.6 percent and 1.55 percent in 2009 and 2010.
  • In March 2010, the city council adopted a Water and Sewer Capital Infrastructure Plan to address the city's aging infrastructure. The plan lays out a 10-year road map for infrastructure replacement with no more than a 4-percent increase in water rates and no increase in sewer rates.
  • Consolidation of police dispatch with the county has achieved a $215,000 annual savings.
  • In 2008, the city fire department's ambulance service had created a $1,276,350 intra-fund loan to make up for revenue shortfalls in the service. There was no plan to payback the continued operational deficit, jeopardizing the health of the city's general fund. Elimination of the ambulance service has enabled the city to protect its general fund from further revenue drains.
  • In 2007, the city began to aggressively pursue grants and have so far garnered $4 million in state and federal grants, including (but not all): $1.5 million for the Masse-Gateway Project; $150,000 for sidewalks; $411,000 for Bank Street improvements; $260,000 for consolidating dispatch; and $400,000 for a housing rehabilitation program.
  • "We still have many objectives left to accomplish, such as fund balance and reserve fund growth," reads the report.
  • General fund appropriations for 2011/12 are expected to be $14.8 million, with an increase of the property tax to $10.51 per $1,000 of assessed value. Property tax, however, is only one-third of the city's revenue.
  • A state program, Aid to Municipalities, is expected to decrease by $75,000, following a previous decrease of $38,000.
  • $120,000 from the equipment reserve will be used to purchase a new dump truck/snow plow to replace a 26-year-old truck.
  • The major increase in expenses is to cover pensions. Since 2009, the city's retirement contribution has increased 49 percent, or $528,919.
  • The proposed budget includes continued contribution to reserve fund balances totalling $110,000 for equipment, employee benefit accrued liability, retirement, health care and facilities.
  • Workers compensation is going up 9 percent, or $18,000.
  • The city will buy a new detective's car for the police department at a cost of $20,000. There is also an anticipated $5,000 increase in overtime for community policing and a Neighborhood Enforcement Team, which is part of the new strategic plan.
  • The fire department budget is going down by $60,000, primarily because three firefighters have retired, with lower-wage new hires being brought aboard. The union has agreed to let one position remain vacant for a year. Overtime has decreased by $85,000.
  • Employees represented by AFSCME will receive no wage increase. CSEA employees receive a 1.5-percent increase and fire union employees receive a 2.5-percent increase. There is no wage increase for management employees. The city is also facing arbitration with the police union, which is four years in arrears on a new contract.
January 10, 2011 - 7:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, taxes, City Budget.

The proposed City of Batavia budget for 2011/12 includes an increase in the property tax levy, taking it up to $10.51 per thousand dollars of assessed value, an increase of 1.59 percent.

The owner of a $80,000 home would pay $13 more per year.

It's a 16-cent increase over the previous year.

Total anticipated revenue for the budget year is projected at $14,800,662.

In connection with release of the budget, the city is releasing a strategic plan. Part of the plan funded in the proposed budget is the creation of an economic development director with a salary of $55,000 to $70,000.

In the proposed budget, the water rate is scheduled to go up 23 13 cents to $4.31 per 1,000 gallons. (strke-thru is correcting a typo in original city press release)

December 9, 2010 - 2:38pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget.

Albany needs to tackle unfunded mandates before it imposes a property tax cap on local governments, says a resolution the Batavia City Council will be asked to consider at its meeting Monday.

In a report to the council from City Manager Jason Molino, he says mandates make local spending "artificially high."

The report doesn't specify what unfunded mandates the city is most concerned about, but does say that the New York Conference of Mayors has appointed a 20-member task force to identify unfunded mandates and recommend what to do about them.

In the early stages of looking at the 2011/2012 city budget, Molino says, there is a potential $1.1 million shortfall, due mainly to rising retirement costs.

Retirement costs are expected to go up by $371,000, but with the proposed property tax cap, the city would only be able to realize an additional $72,000 in additional revenue, leaving a deficit of $289,000. That deficit would mean a cut in city services, Molino said.

The city manager's report does not advocate a tax increase, and the proposed resolution notes that New York has some of the highest property tax rates in the nation. Taxes are high, according to the resolution, because state mandates imposed by Albany on local governments are so inefficient.

A property tax rate cap will only work, according to the resolution, if mandated expenses are repealed. It also says that without mandate relief, and a property tax cap, local governments will be forced to drastically reduce services and eliminate jobs.

September 14, 2009 - 9:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Police Benevolent Association, City Budget.

For five years, members of the Police Benevolent Association patrolled Batavia's streets without a labor contract with the city.

Recently, an arbitrator awarded back pay to the union members, which they probably would've received in cost-of-living increases if they had had a contract.

Tonight, the City Council approved unanimously, without discussion, transfer of $235,000 from the city's contingency fund to the police department budget to cover the arbitration award.

The city could have wound up owing the PBA members more than $288,000.

As part of the same resolution, the council approved transferring $23,000 to the fire department budget to repair the air-conditioning system at the Evans Street station.

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