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With mixed feelings and 8-1 vote, City Council approves $37M budget

By Joanne Beck

Of all the various items in a city budget—from personnel and medical insurance to sidewalk replacement, facilities upkeep, and community celebrations—one department, in particular, weighed heavy on the mind of City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. Monday evening.

That was the police department and its representation of all law enforcement. Jankowski, a retired city police lieutenant, knew Sgt. Thomas Sanfratello, who died in the line of duty this past weekend during a scuffle with someone he was attempting to apprehend at Batavia Downs. 

eugene jankowski

“I worked with him. He was a dispatcher for us in the very beginning, and then he ended up working over at the sheriff's department and working his way to Sergeant. And I ran into him at a meeting just a couple of weeks ago, and I asked him if he had retired yet, and he said, no, he hadn't done that, he was looking forward to it in a couple of years. And unfortunately, he didn't get a chance. It upset me a lot when I found out the news of his passing,” Jankowski said after the meeting at City Hall. “I feel strongly about our public safety, and our fire department and our streets being cleared. Those are our core value services. And in our budget, basically, those are the three items we fund first. And then after that, if we have anything left over extra, then we start looking at additional items, like maybe modifications to a recreational area or a park or something like that. 

"But we have parking lots that are in need. We have streets that are in need. We have sidewalks that are in need. So those are our priority," he said. "But public safety, in my mind, is my number one priority. That's why I pay taxes. I want my police, I want my fire, I want my DPW. I want the streets kept clean, and I want them safe. So that's just important to me. And a lot of people I talked to feel the same way.”

Before council's business meeting, Jankowski asked for a few moments of silence in memory of Sanfratello and former officer Edward LaValley, who died March 1 at Crossroads House.

During the meeting and before the council’s vote to adopt the proposed 2024-25 budget, Jankowski issued a reminder for people to “remember what happened this weekend” when the council resumes talks about the police department and a recommendation to hire more officers. He may not be in favor of doing multiple hirings at once, versus one per year perhaps, but would like to ensure that the city’s department is equipped to provide adequate public safety, he said.

Jankowski’s response followed Councilman-at-Large Bob Bialkowski’s lone rebuttal to and disappointment in the budget.

bob bialkowski

 “I’m just a little disappointed in the process, and everything was approved in its entirety. I certainly heard from many, many people dissatisfied with the situation,” Bialkowski said. “One of the things I’m really very dissatisfied with, at a recent meeting, one of our council members concocted a whole story, things that I supposedly voted for during an Audit Committee meeting, which we were discussing the 2020 budget and compliance for the audit, which was very good, which I don’t appreciate that sort of thing. We don't all get along all the time. There's no reason to be attacking other council members.

“But some of the factors we could have considered—maybe we shouldn't hire so many employees at one time or buy so many new vehicles—” he said. The VLT money was never entered into it. I just feel that we could have done things differently.”

In turn, Jankowski said quite the opposite.

“I have had numerous people come up to me in person telling me that council is doing a great job, so I guess we can’t please everybody. But they don’t call me. I have no way of knowing that. The assessments didn’t happen this year because you, Mr. Bialkowski, were one of the advocates for giving our taxpayers a break. And I went along with you on that. But now that I look at it, I think when we interfere with that state process, I think we should probably let it go its normal course and stay out of that. It’s not really our process to get involved with. Let it go on as the state requires them to work. This is my own personal opinion,” he said.  “And let me be straight. No one was glad we raised taxes. But they’re glad with the general direction and upkeep of the services we presently have, and the construction and the finally putting to bed the police station project, and getting that over the finish line. And things like that are what they’re pleased with.

“I wish we could keep it zero tax increase as well. This year, it just wasn’t possible to do without cutting essential services. And as we saw in the news recently, we’ve had two attacks on our police officers, violent ones, one resulting in a really bad situation recently," he said. "So I would never lay off police officers or firemen or DPW people. They’re essential for our public safety.”

He then pointed to a state criminal justice report that assessed the city police department and recommended that the city hire five more patrol officers, and said, “so if anything, remember what happened this past weekend.”

“The next budget when we start talking about we might want to hire more police officers, remember what happened this weekend,” he said. 

To clarify, the weekend event happened at Batavia Downs, which is in the town of Batavia and under the jurisdiction of Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, not the Batavia Police Department. 

The front portion of Batavia Downs along Park Road is in the town of Batavia, but the majority of the complex, according to Jankowski, is in the city, so it is under the jurisdiction of Batavia city police. 

By a vote of eight to one, council approved the budget of $37,061,280 million, with a tax levy increase of $110,000 from this year for a total of $6.7 million. Members Derek Geib, Rich Richmond, Al McGinnis, Kathy Briggs, Tammy Schmidt, Paul Viele, David Twichell, and Jankowski voted yes to Bialkowski’s no vote. 

Richmond stuck to his initial stance that Bialkowski had the opportunity to voice concerns during the Audit Committee meetings and instead said all was fine and made no changes. Richmond said he believed “this was a reasonable budget” and was willing to stand up and say so. He challenged Bialkowski to do the same and suggested cuts to make if he didn’t want to see a tax increase. "Being offended isn’t a virtue,” he said.

When asked after the meeting about making cuts, Bialkowski told The Batavian that it wasn’t his job to do so. There’s a city staff in place to do that, he said. 

The proposed property tax levy of $6,710,000 will increase by $110,000 and mean a property tax rate of $8.96 per $1,000 assessed value, or two cents per $1,000 assessed value, or $2 extra per year on a home assessed at $100,000.

Council also approved, in a much less controversial fashion, a 19-cent increase in the city's water rate to $6.46 per 1,000 gallons and $8.16 in the town, along with increases of $2 per quarter for the water meter and $6 per quarter for the capital infrastructure fund. That vote was unanimous.

All tallied, with an estimated $3.80 more per quarter for the water itself, plus the meter and capital fund increases, that estimated increase is to be about $47 more per year for a family of four, city management said. 

Of course, the total yearly increase depends on how much water a household consumes. Sewer fees are not increased, and a proposed stormwater tax that was discussed during budget sessions is not part of this budget.

The total budget includes:

  • $690,000 for general fund reserves, $45,717 for City Council, $147,638 for city manager, $230,167 for legal services
  • $6,000 for community development, $113,300 for economic development, $5,000 for GO Art!, $13,5000 for community celebrations
  • $85,288 for Youth Bureau summer recreation, $107,260 for Department of Public Works, $289,316 for city facilities, $20,500 for the ice rink, $43,500 for Dwyer Stadium
  • $461,00 for inspection, $173,205 for Public Works Bureau of Maintenance administration, $533,974 for street maintenance, $1,009,754 for CHIPS permanent improvement highway
  • $523,494 public works garage, $465,890 for snow removal, $107,791 for street lighting traffic signals, $300,000 for sidewalks, $278,510 for parking lots
  • $605,747 for parks, $129,593 for street cleaning, $6,283 for historic preservation, $122,201 for refuse and recycling,
  • $4,768,850 for police, $39,336 for the emergency response team, $221,579 for the police Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET), $18,147 for community policing and events, $950 for the K-9 unit, $4,700,470 for the fire department
  • $11,292,301 for water, wastewater and worker’s comp funds, $567,138 for City Centre, $3,443,968 for medical insurance.

Retired sergeant is presented with proclamation, best wishes

By Joanne Beck
Eugene Jankowski and Daniel Coffee
City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. listens as retired Sergeant Daniel Coffey says a few words with his proclamation during Monday's conference meeting at City Hall. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

A devoted leader and public servant passionate about his community and what he does, those are a few descriptions for retired Sergeant Dan Coffey, who was given a belated proclamation and best wishes from the City Council this week for his 20 years of service with the Batavia Police Department.

Coffey walked out the door of 10 W. Main St. for his Jan. 5 retirement this year after a career that put him in positions of police officer, field training officer, general topics instructor, lead firearms instructor and having served on the department’s emergency response team, before being promoted to sergeant in June 2012.

He took command of the first platoon soon afterward. He was in charge of the department’s fleet of vehicles, credited for being “integral in the day-to-day operations of the department,” for taking on many projects, and for serving his community and the department with passion and dedication. 

A lifelong city of Batavia resident who graduated from Notre Dame High School, Coffey attended Genesee Community College and obtained an associate degree before he earned his bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Brockport State College. 

He began his career as a police officer at the City of Batavia Police Department on Oct. 5, 2003. His other career experiences include time as an emergency services dispatcher at Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, a manager at a local restaurant, and as a former chief for the Town of Batavia Fire Department, where he continues to volunteer.

The public has recognized Coffey with “many appreciation letters and positive comments,” the resolution read. He is a past recipient of the Kiwanis Club Criminal Justice Award and has received other departmental awards, the proclamation states.

He has also distinguished himself as a leader and mentor within the department and the city of Batavia, it states.

“Now, therefore, in a true spirit of appreciation for 20 years of dedicated service to the city of Batavia, City Council makes this proclamation to sincerely thank Daniel J. Coffey for his dedicated service to our community and to wish him well in retirement,” City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said, reading the proclamation to Coffey during Monday’s conference meeting.

Coffey accepted the citation from Jankowski, a fellow retired police department member, and said a few words to the audience, which included some department personnel.

“Thank you very much for the sentiment. I really do appreciate it,” he said. “It was a good career. I enjoyed working for the city of Batavia, and it really does mean a lot to me that my service was recognized. I really do appreciate all the people here. Thank you.”

His retirement did not last long. Coffey was hired in January as director of campus safety for GCC in Batavia.

Opining at council conference session about budget, water, medians

By Joanne Beck
Stafford resident Frank Loncz, who owns rental properties in the city of Batavia, decided to share some thoughts and ask questions during Monday's City Council conference session at City Hall.  Photo by Joanne Beck
Stafford resident Frank Loncz, who owns rental properties in the city of Batavia, decided to share some thoughts and ask questions during Monday's City Council conference session at City Hall. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Whether they were about dirty roadway medians, lackadaisical city management, confusing water bills, misspoken words from a colleague, ongoing pokes to council members gone quiet, or in defense of a perceived job well done, comments were plenty and varied Monday evening at City Hall.

Sammy DiSalvo picked up the gauntlet on behalf of a group of citizens that gathered two weeks ago to discuss a mix of concerns, from ugly city entrances and Batavia’s bedroom community persona to a lack of better-paying jobs, less empathy for the taxpayer and a potential plan to tap nonprofits to pay a fee for city services.

Frank Loncz, one of four speakers during Monday evening’s conference session, didn’t speak for long, but that wasn’t the point. “If you don’t show up to say something, then don’t complain about it,” he later said.

Although he’s not a city resident, he does own rental properties and wanted to know how the water system works when both the water and sewer operate from one meter but are separated on his bill. 

“And for the one rental that I’m working at, I get a quarterly bill for $36.37, and I’m not using any water at all,” he said, pointing to the proposed 2-cent tax rate increase. “It’s like, okay, if nobody's here to speak, it’s very easy to get, you know, two cents. Okay, what happens the next time? It's like, we went through that, we didn't have any complaints, not a lot of people were really interested, let's make it a nickel, or, you know, that's something we could go back to all the time. It's like, if people don't come out and speak about it, nothing changes. Everybody’s just fat, dumb and happy.”

DiSalvo questioned Batavia’s direction, especially given that he couldn’t find an updated strategic or comprehensive plan on the city’s website, he said. The latest version was from 2017, except for a 2023-24 pdf.

“Whatever direction y’all want is not recently updated for us to read. It’s not transparent. Cities like Oswego laid out solid plans, such as a city map with each of the coming years highlighted in a different color, and then Oswego color-coded which street projects were in the pipeline for the next five years, available on their website,” he said.  “This is full transparency. North Tonawanda supported their farmer’s market so intensely that it was voted one of the best in the nation. It feels like much of our current strategic plan is loose with timeframes and wishes. Commitment is difficult in case you miss deadlines, I understand, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.”

He made some suggestions, including a citizen survey and watchdog group that would monitor council to ensure there is sufficient communication and transparency between the city leaders and residents. He said that he hopes council members hear his words and consider taking action to alleviate the mistrust that exists amongst constituents.

“Whether you think anything I have said is true or false, the fact is people are perceiving things this way and are unhappy with how some things are. The sign of a good leader is not to defend but to say, ‘I hear people's perceptions of what is happening. I hear the complaints over what we are or are not doing. I hear that people are upset with X or Y. I see that people don’t trust us for right or wrong reasons. We need to change things we do and do better so these complaints and perceptions don’t exist, and so we better fulfill our role,’” he said. “That is what I hope council walks away from this meeting with.”

City resident John Roach has continuously poked the bear in terms of seeking clear-cut answers from council members Bob Bialkowski and Tammy Schmidt, both of whom previously said they wouldn’t vote for any tax rate increase. He has asked before and again on Monday for what exactly they would cut to keep the tax rate flat. Neither council member responded.

Bialkowski did speak up just as the group was going to begin the budget public hearing, as he wanted to clarify that, as a member of the Audit Advisory Committee, he didn’t review and approve of the 2024 budget. In fact, that committee only reviewed the 2022-23 budget, Bialkowski said.

Councilman-at-Large Rich Richmond had said during the last council meeting that Bialkowski was good with everything in the budget per those Audit Advisory meetings.

“This has nothing to do with that. We were in total compliance, and we met all the goals. We were continuing to contribute to the reserves, the auditors gave a very high grading, and it had nothing to do (with the upcoming budget),” Bialkowski said. “We discussed the upcoming budget in budget workshops.” 

eugene jankowski
Council President Eugene Jankowski.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

"Just as a rule, I don't know how other council members feel. But if I could have a zero budget or a zero tax rate, we would. But we look at our core services, and we look at the expenses to maintain those services. Then, we come up with a tax levy based on our other incomes, our other grants, and our other sources of revenue. And we do the best we can,” Jankowski said. “There's been some years where, for example, when the nursing home became on the tax rolls, we lowered taxes that year because that made a big difference in our tax levy. So we tried to keep it as low as possible based on the need. 

“So it's not just two cents. Last year, it was zero. And the year before that, I believe it was zero. And now we can't maintain that with all the increases; we just can't maintain it. So we have to do something,” he said. “And I'm not for laying off any police or firemen or public works people at this point. We're at bare bones as it is. So this is where I stand.”

No one spoke during the budget hearing itself. Council is expected to vote on the $37 million budget during its business meeting on March 11. The budget includes a proposed 2-cent per 1,000 assessed property value increase or $2 a year for a home assessed at $100,000. There is also a proposed 19 cents per 1,000 gallons of water increase and an $8 water meter increase.

Duffy to be appointed as city historian for important Batavia role

By Joanne Beck
Ryan Duffy

You could say that 2024 is looking like a banner year for Ryan Duffy so far, first being in line for a Chamber of Commerce Special Recognition of the Year Award on behalf of Holland Land Office Museum, and now being asked to fill an important role for Batavia.

City Council gave its unofficial blessings to appoint Duffy as city historian during Monday’s conference session at City Hall after City Manager Rachael Tabelski introduced the idea.

“I’m excited to present the appointment of Ryan Duffy to the historian’s position. He has been the executive director of the Holland Land Office since May 2017. His position actually brought him to Batavia. Since then, he's been an integral part of history in Batavia and in Genesee County to the residents, and thousands of visitors who visit,” Tabelski said. “At the Holland Land Office Museum, he's completed many different research projects related to our local history. He's published articles, one of which was on the Richmond Mansion, published in Western New York Heritage magazine. And I think he'll make a wonderful city historian for us.”

The part-time position is for a four-year term that runs to 2027. Duffy will be responsible for compiling information and data, maintenance of records concerning the history of the city. He will assemble historical data of significance to the city of Batavia by consulting various sources; conduct research into genealogy, maintain family files; organize and evaluate research data as to its authenticity and significance; maintain in narrative form, with photographs, when available, a chronological record to the locality’s past and current history; handle correspondence and request for information concerning the city’s history. 

He may also act as advisor or consultant on research studies relating to the city.

What does it take to be a city historian? Good knowledge of practices and techniques used in historical research activities, good knowledge of sources of historical information and data; good knowledge of and interest in local history; ability to keep historical records and to prepare historical reports; ability to write in a clear, descriptive and interesting manner; ability to establish and maintain favorable contacts with individuals and groups; initiative and resourcefulness, all according to the city’s job description.

Duffy will fill the vacancy left by former historian Larry Barnes. He will be paid a yearly stipend of $5,000.

City Council members push back at budget criticism, defend decisions

By Joanne Beck
Rob Houseknecht
City of Batavia resident Rob Houseknecht questions and critiques the proposed 2024-25 budget during Monday's City Council business meeting at City Hall. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

One thing that city resident Rob Houseknecht — who has raised several issues regarding the proposed 2025 budget  — cannot complain about is that his criticism was not heard Monday evening at City Hall.

Houseknecht took to the podium for the several minutes that he was allowed, and questioned city police staffing, the proposed two-cent tax rate increase, an implied safety level on city streets, and what he and apparently others felt was a bloated budget.

“You probably know that we had a meeting at the Holland Land Office on Saturday, a number of city residents showed up, and, a lot of comments were there that not everybody's happy with what you guys are doing here,” he said during City Council’s business meeting. “I'm not in favor of any tax increase, I don't care whether it's small or not. We're getting hit around from every branch of government, federal state, county city. Why, and we keep putting more people on. They want to hire more officers, like to the tune of five, for 80-something-thousand a year. If I remember correctly, the city manager said city streets are safe: you can walk Main Street at any time of day or night, you can walk the side streets, you can walk on the south side of the street, you can walk all over it.

“Well, I'm wondering if the city manager’s actually walked at night. I have, and I felt very uncomfortable. Just walking down the main street in the summertime, not a good feeling for me. And so my point is, if the streets are so safe, why do we need five more officers?” he said.  “I don't know. I just don't see it. Like I said, every time you hire somebody, it is affecting our tax base. I would think that you guys would work hard for the city residents to not have tax increases and keep things as cheap for people as you can.”

Houseknecht questioned the need for an extra position to handle freedom of information requests at the police station, and the five additional patrol officers — a recommendation that came from a state criminal justice study and is not in this proposed budget — and suggested using the grant writer to perform some of those police clerical duties. 

He was surprised to learn that the city population has grown by more than the 100 people he initially thought. Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said that the total has grown by more than 1,000, though the total population in the city’s budget materials cites a growth of 135, for a total of 15,600 according to the April 2020 census.  

The point was that the city’s budget is providing services for a larger number of citizens, and Houseknecht then wanted to know if council members have looked at “who these people are and what they do?” Are these additional residents “people that are holding jobs here in the city of Batavia,” he said.

“Are they people that are here for our handouts of welfare and things like this, and where are they going? Isn’t that an important factor?” he said. “It is to me. There is just so much here that I could talk for probably all night … I just don’t support the tax increase, and I think you should take a look at the budget and trim it down. See where you can double up people, see where you can make things work without hiring more people.”

He also mentioned that he saw a Batavia City Police car in Akron and wondered what it was doing there. That vehicle belongs to a school resource officer who lives in Akron and drives it to work in Batavia and back home, where he parks it, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said. The city school district pays for SRO salaries, and the police department budget provides for the vehicles, which are part of the contract, she said. 

The topic of city vehicles being taken home by department heads also came up, and Tabelski said there are 13 instances of people taking vehicles home, and not all of them are outside of the city as claimed. They are part of contractual negotiations and include the K-9 vehicle, Bureau of Maintenance, public works, water and wastewater superintendents, snow and emergency management positions, fire, police, and department heads, and detectives.

Jankowski said that the city is also considering the purchase of used vehicles when possible to reduce the expense. Council recently discussed the possibility with Public Works Director Brett Frank during a budget session.

“That’s what we’re looking into,” Frank said. “We budgeted for replacement of three vehicles that are new replacements. But if we can find something through that program, we absolutely have no problem with that.”

As for city streets being safe, Tabelski clarified that she wants all city streets to be a safe place for residents to walk at any time, and that is what the police department is aiming for with its Neighborhood Enforcement Team, surveillance cameras, and other ramped up law enforcement strategies. Here is what she was quoted as saying in a Jan. 23 article on The Batavian from a Jan. 22 budget session:

“I think it's always good to think about our mission, why we're here for the residents of our city, what we want the city to be. I want the city to be a safe place, a family-friendly place where I'm comfortable walking down the streets with my kids, any hour, night and day.”

Councilman Paul Viele pointed out that Tabelski “did a great job” with the budget, and that people want to complain even though they also “want a police officer when they need it, and they want the fire department when they need it.”

“But people should really be bitching about school taxes because that’s a joke,” Viele said. “The city’s taxes count little, the school’s huge. So I think our manager did a great job, and no one complains about the school taxes, and that’s the worst one.”

Fellow councilman Rich Richmond said that he and Councilman Bob Bialkowski both sat on the city’s Audit Committee and learned about all of the ins and outs of city finances, such as how water treatment plant chemicals increased close to 112 percent, he said. The city’s grant writer, a position that gets “bashed” for being indulgent spending, pays for itself by obtaining grants for projects, he said. 

He then posed the dubious question: what do you want to cut? Should we cut at the fire department, the sewage treatment plant, the water department, any and all of them?

“Those cuts are fine and good until you need that. Well, let's talk about vehicles, for example, some have a problem with certain people in management, the fire chief, the police chief, taking the vehicle home. If there's an emergency in the city, should they drive in, in their own car, and park it someplace to respond to a hostage situation or a bad fire?” he said. “I’ll say it again, I was on the audit committee. And my colleague, Bob Bialkowski was on the audit committee. Nothing was brought up, everything was fine. As a matter of fact, we both praised the city workers for coming up with the bare-bones budget. And I applaud all the people in this city for the hard work that they're doing.”

Council set a budget public hearing for 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at City Hall. The budget remains at about $37 million with a tax levy of $6.7 million and a two-cent increase per $1,000 property assessment. That would mean a $2 increase per year on a home assessed at $100,000 and a proposed tax rate of $8.96 per $1,000 property assessment. There is also an increase of 19 cents per 1,000 gallons of water, plus water meter and capital improvement increases, for an estimated total of $47.20 more per year for a household of four people. 

Rich Richmond
City Councilman-at-Large Rich Richmond
Photo by Joanne Beck
Paul Viele
City Councilman, Ward 1, Paul Viele
Photo by Joanne Beck
John Roach
John Roach has become a fixture of City Council meetings, often attending and occasionally speaking up to share his concerns and ask questions. During council's business meeting Monday evening, Roach did both.  “Nobody wants to pay a penny more in taxes. And nobody wants to pay taxes whatsoever. We all want stuff but nobody wants to pay for it. And I don't want to pay for anything, but I want something. So I have realized the budget is as lean as it's going to get," the city resident said.  "Two council members have said they're going to vote against the budget. I would ask that maybe during the response time, that they tell us what they would cut to get the tax rate flat. I have yet to hear, you know, like a half a parking lot, which isn't going to affect the budget. What will you cut, or recommend, between now and next week, that would reduce it to flat."He was referring to members Bob Bialkowski and Tammy Schmidt, both of whom have said they do not want a tax increase. Bialkowski proposed slicing half of the cost of a parking lot project to remove $110,000 -- the increase of the tax levy -- however, that parking lot money is coming from reserves and would therefore not affect the bottom line of the budget and levy, Tabelski said at that time.
Photo By Joanne Beck

City leaders done with budget talks, good with slight tax increase, water increase

By Joanne Beck
Scott Allen, Brett Frank, Tom
City of Batavia's superintendents of Maintenance and Water/Wastewater Scott Allen, left, and Tom Phelps far right, flank Public Works Director Brett Frank during Wednesday's final budget session at City Hall.
Photo by Joanne Beck 

After reviewing the last of the city departments — the water fund’s $6.57 million and wastewater's $4.38 million budgets — City Council was done with the process and ready to move on Wednesday evening.

While some council members were good with all of it and asked for no modifications — Kathy Briggs, Al McGinnis, David Twichell, Paul Viele, Rich Richmond, Eugene Jankowski Jr. — others accepted it for now — “We need to take a hard look at this next year,” Councilman Derek Geib said.

“There are some tough decisions that we all have to make. I’m sure everyone did their due diligence,” Richmond said. “We went line by line. Questions were asked and explained in good detail. Budgets were reasonable and sound. I’m good with it.”

Twichell added that he thought City Manager Rachael Tabelski did “an excellent job” at negotiating union contracts, and she, in turn, thanked the council for its support. “We have top-notch employees,” she said. 

Two standalones — Council members Tammy Schmidt and Bob Bialkowski — wanted to see no tax increases but didn’t see where else to go by extending budget sessions.

Bialkowski reiterated some of his talking points during these last few weeks of budget meetings, namely that he’d like to see a flat tax levy. He proposed cutting $110,000 out of the Bureau of Maintenance budget’s planned parking lot resurfacing project and said that he expects “our employee to be top notch,” commending the public works and maintenance staff for doing great work. 

Tabelski clarified that cutting that money from the BOM budget “just reduces the budget by $110,000” and would not affect the levy since it is coming from reserves. 

“You would have to identify something in the budget,” she said. 

Bialkowski also questioned the use of video lottery terminal money for police radios, which was mentioned during the police budget discussion. He thought VLT money was not going to be spent in this budget due to the uncertainty of that type of revenue coming from Batavia Downs Gaming. 

Tabelski said that council previously approved radio purchases in December using VLT money from 2023; it’s not being used for the 2025 budget, she said.

To recap the budget: 

  • It’s a proposed $37 million total, with a levy of $6.7 million which calls for a two-cent increase per $1,000 assessed property value, or $2 extra for a home assessed at $100,000.
  • It would be a proposed property tax rate of $8.96 per $1,000 assessed value. 
  • The levy is an increase of $110,000 from the current budget, an exact amount of what Bialkowski proposed cutting from the BOM parking lot project; however, again — Tabelski said it would not make a difference to the levy because the paving project is being paid for with reserves.
  • There is also a proposed 19-cent per 1,000 gallons of water increase, or $6.46 per 1,000, along with increases of $2 per quarter for the water meter and $6 per quarter for the capital infrastructure fund. 
  • All tallied, with an estimated $3.80 more per quarter for the water itself, plus the meter and capital fund increases, that would be about $47 more per year for a family of four, Tabelski said. 
  • The total yearly increase is dependent, of course, on how much water a household consumes. There are no increases to the sewer fees.
  • A proposed stormwater tax that was discussed during budget sessions will not be part of the 2024-25 budget. Tabelski said that council members shared that their constituents were not in favor of it, and that they’d like to discuss it more in the future.
  • There are no additional police officers in the budget, per a discussion during the police department portion of council talks. Chief Shawn Heubusch had reviewed a state report that recommended hiring five more patrol officers. 

The next City Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall. The group is expected to set a public hearing about the budget for Feb. 26, with a final vote to adopt it on March 11. 

City fire chief shares stats, department rating during budget session

By Joanne Beck
Batavia Fire Chief Josh Graham, Twichell, Brett Frank
File Photo of Batavia City Fire Chief Josh Graham, left, City Councilman David Twichell and DPW Director Brett Frank during a budget session at City Hall. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Wednesday’s city budget session was fairly short and sweet compared to a recent meeting — as City Fire Chief Josh Graham laid out his department's stats and recent insurance rating for a subdued City Council — and the group continued its way through a proposed $37 million financial plan at City Hall.

Graham explained his $4,696,860 2025 proposed budget, an increase of $286,583 from the 2024 adopted budget. 

Of the 2,653 incidents to occur in 2023, nearly 68 percent of the call volume involved emergency medical services, Graham said. The department has experienced a 57.5 percent increase in call volume over the last 13 years, from 2010 to 2023, with the same number of 36 firefighters, he said, and six out of eight officers are eligible for retirement or will be within the next two years.

As for personnel, he told council to keep in mind that there may be two firefighters “that we have to push through the academy,” and retirement costs added an extra $140,000 to the budget.

Three new members joined the department in 2023, and it requested mutual aid a dozen times that year, three times less than called upon for mutual aid, responding 15 times.

He pointed out the length of careers for the entire team, with a fairly even split among those firefighters at two years and less, three to 10 years and 11 years or more.

“So if you wanted to look at the actual numbers from 2010, all the way up to 2023, you can pretty much see the line that goes across there, with 2020 being that dip during COVID. Obviously, the run numbers went down the next page just shows the career lengths, which I thought was kind of interesting because we're right at about one-third, one-third and one-third,” he said. “We're pretty green for our fire department, but because we have such a stellar staff of officers and those mid-level senior firefighters, it all worked out pretty much 33 percent right across the board.”

So what does the city fire department do?
Emergency medical services, fire suppression, motor vehicle accidents, hazmat, ice and swift water, rope and confined space rescues; firefighter assist and search team; fire prevention and fire extinguisher training; building inspection/code enforcement; car seat checks and installations; community service events/standby; emergency medical technician and related training; fire investigations; smoke and carbon monoxide detector installations. 

August was the busiest month in 2023, at 249 calls, with May and November tying for the lowest calls of 193. Firefighters apparently could get some sleep between 3 to 4 a.m., since that was the least busy time, at 44 calls, but not at 10 a.m., when activity reached its peak at 163 calls, still lingering at 161 calls between 11 a.m. and noon. 

The department responded to 63 structure fires, 80 motor vehicle accidents, 351 alarms, 85 hazardous conditions, 108 service calls, and 1,804 needs for emergency medical services.

The department arrived on scene within six minutes, 90 percent of the time, with an average response of less than four minutes. A response time of 10 to 11 minutes occurred in 19 percent of the calls, while nearly half of them were between three and five minutes. 

His wish list includes a replacement of portable radios and pagers, which would cost $200,000 if purchased all at once. However, he suggested an $8,700 increase to the communications budget line to purchase or fix those pieces of equipment. Pagers are used to notify off-duty staff for recall, and the radios were last purchased with a grant through the county around 2015-16, he said. 

“We were hoping that there would be another grant and we could start replacing the radios, but that's not coming to fruition. So in order to replace the entirety of our radios, you're looking at just short of $200,000. So this is an attempt to try to start cycling those out, as opposed to replacing them all at the same time,” Graham said. “They are just aging out. They may be broken … so if they do break, and the radio costs, you know, $2,000 to fix it, but it's $4,000 for a radio, do you pay the $2,000 to fix it? Or do you get the three newer versions for $4,000?”

He said that video lottery terminal funds could be used to replace 10 portable radios, “and will get us well on our way to replacing them.”

The department already received its Christmas present: a nearly $800,000 fire engine that, with assistance from grant funds, will gradually be paid off over the next two decades in debt service payments. It’s that apparatus and all else owned by Batavia, and the number of staff that went into account for its public classification insurance ranking of “03,” which means the city is “considered highly protected,” Graham said.

Per a letter sent to the city, this ranking is important to communities and fire departments because, as the rating improves, those communities “may get lower insurance prices.” 

When asked by a council member how a department earns a “2” or a “1,” Graham said the top number is extremely hard to get, and it takes “high dollar things to improve the three rating,” he said.

There are 31,867 departments at a four or worse, he said.

City police staffing study produces several recommendations for budget talks

By Joanne Beck
BPD Chief Shawn Heubusch and Assistant Chris Camp
Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and Assistant Chief Chris Camp review the proposed 2025 budget and a state report at City Hall.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Become an accredited agency, clearly specify job responsibilities for each sergeant, have a desk officer to take walk-in complaints once the new police station is operational, hire and fill vacancies for two school crossing guards, bump up the patrol roster by five to 25 officers and add a full-time confidential secretary.

Those are the recommendations from a New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services study for the Batavia Police Department. Chief Shawn Heubusch asked for a staffing study in June 2023, and he got back several recommendations that are up for consideration. Heubusch reviewed the results with City Council this week during the police department’s budget session at City Hall.

What went into it
The study took demographics, geography, and the area — the city has a total area of 5.2 square miles of land and 135 miles of roadway — within city limits, with major thoroughfares of east-west NY Route 5 and 33, north-south NY Route 63 and 98.

An owner-occupied housing rate of 49.3 percent with a median value of $108,100 per 2021 U.S. Census Bureau, and a population of 15,459, with 83.3. percent white, 5.8 percent Black, .1 percent American Indian and Alaska Native, 1.2 percent Asian and 7.4 percent two or more races. The median household income, again, per 2021 dollars, was $51,914, with 16 percent of the population at or below the poverty line.

The police department has been involved in community events, including Batavia Community Night Out, Shop with a Cop, and Trunk or Treat, plus a newer Batavia Police Flag Memorial. The department also assists in several other events by providing police presence, such as at 5K races and parades.

The police budget in 2023 was $4,374,567, with an average of $3,907,698 during the last four years, the report states, for services that include preventative patrols, traffic control and enforcement; criminal investigations; enforcement and crime prevention; community policing activities; interagency collaboration and work activities; and community education; plus first aid efforts of using automated external defibrillators, Narcan and assistance at structure fires, mental health transports when needed.

A detective division investigates cases involving all major felonies, homicides, serious assaults, cyber, sex and juvenile crimes. Detectives also assist patrols with other investigations as requested, and are responsible for following up on preliminary investigations initiated by patrol officers.

Working by the numbers
There were 20,020 total calls for service in 2022 and 20,885 in 2021, reflecting “a lot of calls related to COVID,” Heubusch said. The average calls in both 2021 and 2022 during the day shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) were 6,444, with the most being in the afternoon from 3 to 11 p.m., at 7,110, and a drop to 6,899 during 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The DCJS uses a calculation to figure out how many posts are actually needed to fill three shifts per day. Using that formula, it recommended that 11 posts are needed, which was then calculated into officers, at seven for the day shift and nine for each of the afternoon and night shifts, for a total of 25 officers. 

“We are currently authorized for 20,” Heubusch said. “That’s a big jump. Their numbers back this up.” 

The formula indicates that 25 full-time uniformed personnel are required to respond to calls for service, the report states. This figure does not include patrol supervisory positions such as sergeants and/or corporals. This is the recommended minimum number, established by the application of the formula as being necessary to staff the Batavia Police Department to respond to calls for service, Heubusch said.

An overview of patrol activities showed wide differences for some tasks, such as 702 mental health calls in 2022 versus 658 in 2021 and 728 welfare checks in 2022 compared to 594 in 2021, and a few decreases, namely the 185 to 126 fraud complaints from 2021 to 2022, respectively. There were five more cases for detectives between the two years as well, up from, 325 to 330.

As is, training time, holidays, Workers Comp, “a lot of these factors are what’s driving over time,” he said. Overtime was conservatively estimated at $220,000 for the 2025 budget, and it “will probably be more,” Heubusch said. 

Parking incidents and violations rose, from 1,712 to 1,725 and 612 to 884, respectively. 

The department is in the process of becoming a DCJS-certified tactical team, Assistant Chief Chris Camp said, “and we hope to reach this goal within two years.”

“We’re really close; we just need to send a few more of our operators to our basic squad school,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s a very time-consuming school, it’s a four-week school, and the offerings aren’t that much. So when they do offer them, we’ve got to make sure that we’re prepared to send somebody away for four weeks.”

The department is also working on an interagency agreement with Livingston County to operate as one tactical team when necessary, he said. 

“That helps us towards becoming a certified tactical team,” he said. “We want to become certified, so we think it will open the door for us to get grant money at that point in time. One of the things that we sorely lack right now is the ability to apply for grants because we’re not a certified team.” 

Upgraded technology has helped the department, in terms of time, money and space, Heubusch said, by allowing people to pay their tickets online more immediately, to submit and transmit video recordings to and from the police and district attorney’s office for use in investigations and legal proceedings, and ability to store records in the Cloud versus having physical storage at the station. 

There is $22,750 budgeted for uniforms, and Heubusch made a special note for council that “no money is budgeted for additional officers” in that uniforms line. Council members have to make a decision about whether to add one or more additional officers to next year’s budget or plan it out for future budgets. City Manager Rachael Tabelski informed them on Monday that it would cost $84,500 per officer, plus medical expenses. 

Council members Tammy Schmidt and Bob Bialkowski said they would not support any tax increases, and Council President Eugene Jankowski was in favor of taking any personnel changes slowly and holding off this year, he said. 

Bialkowski said he thinks the department is “doing a great job,” however, there could be a better effort made with public outreach.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize what’s available … what your department is capable of,” Bialkowski said.

The department tries to educate the public and keep updated whenever possible, Heubusch said. 

“We put press releases out on new programs that we have on a regular basis. We have a program that allows people to register their cameras with us so we know where they are,” he said. “We're trying to stay ahead of technology. And that's the one thing that I take a lot of pride in and pat ourselves on the back if you will, is our technology in the department is not very far behind the general public.”

Contentious budget session grows 'more robust' during police budget discussion

By Joanne Beck
Shawn Heubusch, Chris Campbell and Tammy Schmidt
Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, Assistant Chief Chris Camp and City Councilwoman Tammy Schmidt discuss the police budget Monday evening at City Hall.
Photo by Joanne Beck

After Monday’s latest city budget session — which grew contentious at times — at least two City Council members said they are against any tax increases, while City Manager Rachael Tabelski has made it clear that maintaining the status quo for a tax levy isn’t feasible to continue the same or better level of services. 

Councilman-at-large Bob Bialkowski said early on that he wouldn’t go for a tax increase, and Councilwoman Tammy Schmidt later said that since she’s been representing Ward Six, the total budget has gone from $29 million to $33 million to this year’s proposed $37 million, and a $4 million-per-year increase for the budget is “not sustainable.”

Her comments came on the heels of the police department budget presentation, which included a report recommendation from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to increase the force by five officers, from 20 to 25, at a cost of $84,500 each, which includes starting salary, FICA, retirement and holiday pay. Medical would add another $12,000. There was no discussion about uniforms, equipment and vehicles for additional officers. 

“I mean, the budget’s up over a million dollars; that’s just the police budget," Schmidt said. "I think we could try to add one a year, but I don't think, I wouldn't vote for a tax increase at all, I can already tell you that. My constituents live in a poor district, I have to represent Ward Six. And my ward isn't going to go for even a penny, because the water bills are up, you want a storm sewer tax -- I won’t vote for that either, because my constituents call me all the time, and I won’t vote for a tax increase, because I’m sure the assessments are going up. We can’t raise the bills every year in the city of Batavia when 80 percent of the people are at poverty level. You know, the people sitting around this table might not have a problem.”

At that point, Schmidt got cut off by her fellow council members and city staff offering input about her comments. City Manager Rachael Tabelski questioned the 80 percent figure, which Schmidt said she surmised from the school district’s free supplies program. 

The city school district does offer a free and reduced lunch program, per the New York State Nutrition Department, which has federal funding support. School districts must be eligible based on their specific poverty rates and have to apply for approval. Batavia City School District is eligible because it has an “Identified Student Percentage of 40 percent or higher according to building level data,” per the district’s website.

As for an actual poverty level, the latest U.S. Census numbers put the city’s poverty at 13.3 percent, compared to the overall Genesee County level at 10 percent. 

There was further discussion and debate about income levels in the city. Tabelski said that there are some 45 percent people in the city making at least $60,000 a year, to which Schmidt replied that she couldn’t survive on that income, and she knows the city manager’s household makes much more than that. 

The median household income, according to 2022 Census Bureau figures, was $54,937 for the city of Batavia. The median income is in the middle of the income range, from lowest to highest, so about half are lower and half are higher. The per-capita (what an individual makes) income in 2022 dollars is $34,517.

Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said he understood Schmidt’s concern.

“And we have to understand also that a lot of people here expect a certain service, and they want to be safe, and they want their streets to be safe. And we are very safe if you look at us, because we're also putting money aside, we're putting money in reserves," he said. "Some of this increase in the police budget includes the current budget for last year, that 80,000 some dollars isn't covered over into this budget, so then technically, it doesn’t count because we were supposed to spend it in last year's budget and it's being brought over.”

Tabelski further clarified that “we settled the contract before wages to be included. We took from the contingency, so you're not even comparing apples to apples. Last year's budget for this year is not the same comparison,” she said. 

The 2023 adopted budget for the police department was $4,374,567, and the proposed 2025 budget is $5,048,862. This includes personnel of 20 patrol officers, with one vacancy, five detectives — one for juvenile and one for narcotics — one supervising detective, the police chief and assistant chief and two school resource officers, both paid for by the school district but supplied vehicles by the department. 

The department has been interviewing for a crossing guard position, and Tabelski proposed the creation of a full-time confidential secretary position to add to the current full-time records clerk and a part-time clerk. She also suggested that the part-time clerk position would be kept on the books, though the job may not actually get filled. 

During that conversation, Tabelski abruptly suggested that the council go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter. Since, per the open meeting law, that general statement is not a sufficient explanation for a private discussion, The Batavian asked if the meeting was to discuss a specific person, and Tabelski said yes. 

A few minutes later, the open meeting resumed, and Tabelski said the confidential secretary position would be part of the police budget. If council opted to add those five extra patrol officers, that would mean an extra $425,000 in expenses, “that we’re going to have to start to plan for, either in this budget or the next,” Tabelski said.

Jankowski is in favor of a “slow, work-toward-this policy” so that the group can evaluate the city’s needs before jumping into a costly move to add extra personnel, he said. 

There may come a point when there is no choice, Tabelski said. 

“Councilman Bialkowski, I have the greatest respect for you, but you can't tell me to keep taxes the same and still deliver the same service, then say you're the manager, you figure it out. As my legislative counterpart, we’re here together to work on this. These meetings are more robust than they've ever been because we want to be completely transparent,” she said. “I get the budget from the department heads. I'm slashing and burning budgets, they hate me for a month and a half, then I come here, and do my best to sit down with our department heads and try to give you all the information of what we are doing, and we just heard a lot of maintenance … and we’ve gotta pay the piper. 

“And this is really what we wanted to talk to you about. We understand that everyone’s costs have gone up, but I do believe the average citizen expects a small incremental increase in what they’re paying to keep the city services here,” she said. “I absolutely believe that’s the case 90 percent of the time. We will face $2 to $3 in tiny, incremental changes.”

Council members take deep dive into numbers and mull issues for future change

By Joanne Beck
Shawn Heubusch, Erik Fix, Tammy Schmidt
Batavia City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, left, Assistant Manager Erik Fix and Councilwoman Tammy Schmidt of Ward Six take part in ongoing budget talks Thursday night at City Hall. Council is expected to adopt a budget by the end of February, followed by a public hearing and a final vote on the 2024-25 plan.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Whether it’s $4,000 or $55,000 and larger, City Council members have financial decisions to make either with this year’s budget or those in the future on items big and small, ranging from fireworks at Dwyer Stadium to the city’s technology plan and beyond.

The group has been delving into the numbers line by line the last two weeks, getting department updates about equipment, vehicle, personnel, building, property, and infrastructure needs, future projects, and those in progress, asking questions, and getting the full picture of reality for the city of Batavia. 

“It probably sounds overwhelming, everything we’re telling you, but it’s our job to be completely honest with council on what we’re facing here as employees," Human Resource Director Rebecca McGee said during a conversation Thursday evening about information technology. "And one of the biggest things we face, one of the biggest hindrances we have, is information technology and doing our jobs, and trying to make things work the right way.” 

Apparently, things haven’t been working very well with the city’s contract for monthly maintenance with AIS. Assistant City Manager Erik Fix, who was admittedly sort of pegged as the surrogate IT guy in the absence of someone being on-site full-time, he said, reviewed the plan, which provides a person to visit on-site once a month and perform installations. 

As for handling those day-to-day technical issues, much of that has fallen to Fix and other city staff. Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and his department staff have had to consistently address issues themselves, he said.

“I just pulled up our spreadsheet, we have over 30 computers at our office alone,” Heubusch said. “That is immensely time-consuming when we have to deal with any of the problems. The investment that we have with AIS, although great, it is not enough. I have an officer, a detective actually, on staff who fixes our computers when they’re broken or installs a new program because something broke. That’s a waste of his time and his energy.”

He also mentioned the surveillance cameras, which are great when fully operational, but when they break down, it takes city public works staff to retrieve them from a pole and then someone to make a repair so that they can resume their function on city streets, he said. 

AIS serves a function; it’s just not enough, Fix said. 

“They manage and maintain all of our servers, they manage and maintain all of our equipment,” he said. “It’s that troubleshooting piece, that hands-on piece that Shawn’s talking about. It’s just a constant, constant battle to keep that up and running and avoiding probably doubling or tripling our fees and ask them to have somebody here. We’re managing bare bones.”

Another glitch in the city’s older-fashioned system is the need to do some timesheets manually, McGee said. 

“Do you know we all still do our timesheets by paper?” McGee said as the room went silent. “When we’re thinking about IT, it’s the time-savings of taking 36 timesheets and entering them. When we’re trying to weigh out the costs, it’s the time savings and the cost savings.” 

Fix suggested a 10 percent increase for both the AIS piece and software cost, for a total of $71,500. In this next year’s budget, AIS alone would be $55,000, which prompted Councilman David Twichell to suggest considering dropping the maintenance service and hiring an IT person. If full-time, however, there would be expenses of benefits and retirement costs to be considered.

The city has pulled back on community celebrations spending, reserving $4,000 from last year potentially for a request from Batavia Muckdogs owner Robbie Nichols for fireworks, which is where it went after GO Art! Announced that there wasn’t enough staff and volunteers to pull off the former Picnic in the Park event at Centennial Park on July 4. 

"Last year Council allocated funds to do a fireworks celebration at Dwyer with those funds. I did not add that in there. But I did get a request as we were walking into this meeting from Robbie Nichols. So if you'd like that, I have a written request for that," she said. "We did, however, get a letter from the Holland Land Office Museum asking for support. So I did add that into the budget, but it's certainly something Council can review."

There’s $2,500 slated for both GO Art! And Holland Land Office Museum.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski supported a contribution to the West Main Street museum, he said. 

"They are remodeling and painting, they’re closed for a month, they’re setting up new displays, they're going to be entering into an expansion project from the west side of the building, a major expansion … and doing some major work on the building too,” he said. “This small amount of support from the city really means a lot to him, and I think so many city people use it, you know, the schools, I think it’s a great educational tool.”

City staff participates in the Memorial Day parade, Christmas in the City and Veterans Day, with corresponding investments, for a total of $13,500 for community celebrations.

The city also has $12,500 for a hot water tank and $20,000 for seating repairs earmarked from reserves for Dwyer Stadium. There’s a need to improve a section of seats that have been beaten up by the weather, Tabelski said.  Those seats haven’t been able to be used, and that equaled a loss of ticket sales, she said. 

Other Dwyer expenses are $6,000 for salaries and another $3,000 for maintenance, for a total of $43,500.

The ice rink is to get $20,500, with $16,500 for a contractual expense and $4,000 for public works salary. 

In other recreational-related expenses, Human Resource Director Rebecca McGee let council members know about a new health perk for employees.

“We are excited to announce that we're able to increase our gym reimbursement program so that anybody can turn in a receipt up to $100 towards their membership for a gym,” she said. “We're pretty excited about that. Again, this continues to just keep going towards the health and well-being of all of our employees, and how seriously the city is taking that.”

Bialkowski asked how many employees take advantage of the reimbursement. 

 “We have $1,500 budgeted for it, so 15 employees,” Deputy Director of Finance Lisa Neary said.

There is also $2,500 for employee recognition, which includes fees for participation in the annual GLOW Cup 5K in Batavia.

“We’re moving towards the wellness and continuing to keep that in the forefront and focus for all of our employees. As we can see, they're pretty excited to have it, we'll take advantage of that one to help to make sure that we're all staying healthy. And then employee recognition, we had a great turnout over the last couple of years for their GLOW race, which is celebrated in Centennial Park that first week in August. So that's the increase towards that. We've had a lot of members take advantage of that over the last couple of years,” McGee said. “We’re pretty excited to be able to again continue to offer that as a wellness benefit for all of our employees, and making sure that we're all staying healthy, and being able to have some bonding time with our fellow employees and recognizing the importance of that, to have that line increase there as well.”

Other assorted budgeted expenses from general governmental services include:

  • $45,000 for City Centre properties (fees and taxes) parcel #s 2, 11 and 16; 
  • $25,000 for the city’s mall fees; 
  • $11,000 for recycling and garbage pickup; 
  • $10,000 for city facility maintenance; 
  • $22,000 for court operations and maintenance; 
  • $15,000 for mowing, boarding and picking up garbage for code inspection-related properties.
  • The expense of $310,000 for the portion of roof over Main St. 56 Theater was negotiated, but from here on out, future sales of city properties will be considered “as is,” Tabelski said. 

The big-ticket items for major departments will be included in future articles. Council has more budget sessions scheduled for the week of Jan. 29.

City leaders approve two union contracts, including 3.5 percent raises, $500 bonuses, perks for physical fitness

By Joanne Beck

If you’re a city employee in certain departments, it pays to be physically fit —- literally. 

Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters will have that option as part of a contract agreement approved by City Council Monday evening. 

Over the past several months, the city and union representatives have been negotiating terms for a new agreement. On December 29, 2023, a tentative agreement was reached with the IAFF union. It will be a five-year agreement, a salary increase of 3 percent for three years, 2.65 percent for years four and five, an increase in the health care premium to 32.5 percent,” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said during council’s conference session at City Hall. “IAFF members will now participate in the annual physical fitness incentive program. The holiday of Juneteenth is added as a paid holiday. Some of you may know that police and fire don't actually get holidays, however, they get holiday pay for those holidays because they work 24/7. We added two additional longevity payments for years five and years 15, a one-time payment of $500 to each member from the ARPA, a $500 signing bonus for each member, and other miscellaneous language changes.”

Those $500 payments will be coming from the American Rescue Plan Act that came out of the pandemic to help restore municipal losses and was passed down from federal funds. Longevity payments of $500 for five years and $900 for 15 years were added. 

Councilman Bob Bialkowski asked about the physical fitness payment.

If they pass and meet all of the required qualifications of the test, based on measurements such as running, push-ups, sit-ups, and meeting certain milestones per age and gender, firefighters are paid $855, Human Resources Director Rebecca McGee said. Members of the city police department have this same option as well, she said.

“I'm really actually excited about the physical fitness incentive because if you've ever been to a fire scene, they climb ladders, they pull very heavy hoses, they use axes, and the more physically fit you are, the less workers comp injuries we're going to have and the more we'll save in the long run,” Tabelski said.

Bialkowski wanted to clarify that the raises were concurrent, meaning that they would be on top of one another each year, and Tabelski confirmed that “they’re no different than any other contract,” as once employees receive a raise to their base pay, then that becomes their base pay for the next year, and so on. 

The cost of the contract is $490,272, she said.

Council also approved a contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union that, as with the IAFF, will expire on March 31, 2024. The city and AFSCME came to a tentative agreement on Dec. 7, and the union membership ratified the terms on Jan. 11, Tabelski said.

The four-year agreement includes a 3.5 percent salary increase for the first three years, followed by a 2 percent increase in year four. The healthcare premium will increase between 30 and 35 percent, and there will be a shift change of four 10-hour days during the summer, from June to August, similar to how Genesee County employees operate, she said.

Additional perks include an additional floating holiday, pay for additional licenses acquired, such as for a commercial driver’s license or handling pesticides, a tool allowance increase of up to $1,000, and a $500 bonus payment per employee.

“So not everyone will have these licenses, it's up to the department head. But when we do have these licenses, it actually saves the city money in the long run, especially the pesticide license, because you can not apply pesticide without a license in New York State,” she said.

There are other benefits to having employees licensed for pesticide use, Public Works Director Brett Frank said. That would give the city better and more effective control over invaders such as weeds.

“We know we'd be looking more weed control that we currently outsource for a considerable amount per year, and take control of that as opposed to having a company come in, and basically be on a gator and kind of spray everything,” Frank said. “We could have somebody that could take ownership of it, we think we could do a better job overall and save money in the long run … we also know we could get a much better product by our employees taking care of that and having that license.” 

The cost of this four-year contract is approximately $323,522, Tabelski said. 

City leaders review budget numbers in attempt to continue positive streak

By Joanne Beck
Rachael Tabelski at budget session
City Manager Rachael Tabelski reviews the 2024-25 budget line-by-line with staff and City Council on Monday evening at City Hall. Pictured to her right are Councilman Paul Viele and Clerk-Treasurer Heidi Parker. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

She may be a bit biased, but City Manager Rachael Tabelski has confidence in the level of Batavia’s bang for its buck.

She compared the city’s proposed property tax rate of $8.96 to other cities — one of the lowest is Canandaigua at $7.67, North Tonawanda at $15.13, Geneva at $17.25, Dunkirk is $18.12, Jamestown is at $23.60 —  during the first collective budget session of the year Monday.

“So it's my opinion Batavia does extremely well, holding the tax rate to a low level while trying to find innovative ways to provide services that residents want,” she said. “And I feel like Council always gets hammered for ‘too much taxes, too much taxes.’ But we're only taking a quarter of those taxes. And where every single city resident utilizes our services, not every resident may utilize services of the school.”

She introduced a slide during her presentation that compared a breakdown of the city’s 25 percent representation of local taxes for benefits that “all city residents enjoy,” versus the city school district’s 52 percent of taxes that only some city residents enjoy the benefits of.

“The school taxes are a disgrace, it’s a joke,” Councilman Paul Viele said. 

City general fund budget expenses go toward tangible outcomes, those things that citizens look for, such as street and sidewalk improvements, police and fire protection, public works maintenance of roads (snowplowing in winter, picking up leaves in the fall), summer parks programs and paved parking lots. 

Expenses also include Workers Comp costs, which have an $86,000 increase this next year, insurance and retirement payments, reserve savings, purchase of two marked police vehicles at a total cost of $130,000 from reserves, software, personnel salaries and benefits — typically the largest portion of a budget — building repairs and maintenance, and future projects, such as repair of the Main St. 56 Theater roof at City Centre, which is earmarked for a $310,000 use of reserve funds. 

As Assistant City Manager Erik Fix sees it, residents —- or, more specifically, property owners — get all of those things for the price of “a cup of coffee a day.” The property tax rate is slated to increase by two pennies per $1,000 assessed value, or $2 a year for a home assessed at $100,000. (See previous budget story HERE.)

City Council has options, however, Tabelski said, pointing to another slide that shows the levy of $6,710,000 and total assessment of $748,497 currently for the $8.96, and scenarios for how the rate would change if the levy or future assessments were increased. 

The decision was made in July not to increase this year’s assessment, Tabelski said, but if it was raised in the future, say, up to $800,000 while the levy also was raised to $7,168,000, and the tax rate remained the same, the city could increase services by $450,000, she said. 

The other side of that would be true: if the levy remained the same and the assessment went up, the tax rate would decrease to $8.38, and services would also remain flat, she said.

All of the options were talking points to demonstrate how levy, assessment and tax rate are related, she said. None of them were actual proposals outside of what she has already proposed: a $6.7 million levy and an $8.96 tax rate that keeps services status quo.

 “As you know, we hear from residents about cutting. And when we go through some of the statistics about our city growing and the reduction in poverty we have in our city, we're actually doing quite well. And with that comes more services wanted by residents, needed by residents, and it strained all of our departments and our resources,” she said. “So this year, while I did only ask for departments to come in with 2 percent increases in their entire budget, I did have them put together a list of items that aren't being funded so that council has a full picture of things that we probably do need to address in the future. And my hope is through this process, and through the revenue workgroup, we'll find solutions to address these items.”

The city’s population, contrary to once predicted to shrink in size, increased from 2010 to 2020 from 15,464 to 15,600, she said. And there are people uncounted in that total, meaning an even higher population, she said. 

“Many, many people want to live in the city of Batavia. Houses that are on the market between $150,000 and $190,000 sell in less than 23 days. All houses in our market, which is still very hot right now, typically sell within 47 days,” Tabelski said. 

What are people looking for, and why in Batavia?

“I think it's always good to think about our mission, why we're here for the residents of our city, what we want the city to be. I want the city to be a safe place, a family-friendly place where I'm comfortable walking down the streets with my kids, any hour, night and day. I do not want to live in a city as large and maybe as unsafe as Rochester or Buffalo,” Tabelski said. “And I feel very fortunate to be here, to be selected as your manager, to be able to try to continue to implement safety measures for our city. I want our neighborhoods to thrive. I want good neighborhoods and community participation. We've had more volunteers for our boards in the last year or so than we've had in a very long time. And I think it's a good sign that there still are people interested in government.”

Current projects being designed are the ice rink chiller, the Bank Streetscape, Cohocton/Walnut Water main, Maple and Mill sanitary sewer, Pearl Street water main, wastewater treatment plant pond sludge removal, various street and sidewalk upgrades, paving of the Bureau of Maintenance parking lot, resurfacing courts at Kibbe Park for pickleball, replacing the playground at Austin Park and distributing a $350,000 housing grant for single family home rehabilitations, capital project and flood program planning and zoning ordinance updates.

The list of work always coincides with an ability to pay for it, she said. 

“We're finishing up projects at the fire station and BOM facility project. Any council member that would like to tour to see the improvements that were made, that started out as a $1.1 million project, and through COVID and inflationary prices, I believe it rose to $1.76 million. Overall, we had to use ARPA money for that project. And we still haven't finished major improvements at the BOM facility. They're still on this sheet of things that did not make the budget or the capital plan. There are still windows, office replacement, bathrooms, HVAC, air handlers, and doors,” she said. “So again, it's always a struggle to find the revenue to pay for these projects and to keep our facilities updated and running appropriately.” 

As for a source of potential revenue, Tabelski raised the issue of asking property owners who make payments in lieu of taxes to pay a fire and police fee. Towns do that, she said, but the city has not been able to since tax-exempt properties pay no property taxes, which include city services. 

It’s “definitely something we would like to look into,” she said. 

City Council to discuss proposed $37M budget with 2-cent property tax and 19-cent water rate increases

By Joanne Beck

A tentative budget of $37 million calls for a 2-cent tax rate increase plus a 19-cent per 1,000 gallons water rate increase according to City Manager Rachael Tabelski’s proposed plan for 2024.

Tabelski laid out her estimated plan as part of a City Council agenda for this week, also keeping in mind that at least five budget workshops are scheduled to discuss city department wish lists and priorities before council votes on a final budget in February. 

The council conference session is set for 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, to be followed by a business meeting and the first budget workshop of the season. 

There is time allotted for public comments at the beginning of the conference meeting. 

The proposed property tax levy of $6,710,000 would be an increase of $110,000 and mean a property tax rate of $8.96 per $1,000 assessed value, Tabelski said in a memo to council. The $37 million total budget includes $1.37 million for street and sidewalk improvements and $1.13 million for vehicles, buildings and parking lots/sport court resurfacing, she said.

The sewer rate would remain the same, though the water rate is proposed to go up by 19 cents, to $6.46, per 1,000 gallons, she said. Tabelski estimates that to be a tab of $149 per quarter for a family of four per quarter, or about $600 a year. The two-cent property tax increase would add $2 a year to a home assessed at $100,000. 

This budget relies on $275,000 from the Water Fund and another $275,000 of unassigned fund balance, she said, and does not include any video lottery terminal aid or retirement reserves for the city’s annual retirement payment.

There are staffing and core services included in the budget, such as:

  • A confidential secretary position or the police department; 
  • Funding for another Neighborhood Enforcement Team officer that was added in July of 2023-24;
  • Funding for a police officer position that was frozen during the pandemic;
  • An additional firefighter position per a contract agreement executed in 2019; 
  • Maintaining the full-time positions of parking and recycling officer; and
  • Maintaining the full-time ordinance enforcement officer that was included in last year’s budget.

Master plan and $500K grant a beginning for Austin Park

By Joanne Beck
Austin Playground
A state $500,000 grant and public works reserve funds will be put toward a new inclusive playground as part of Phase One of a master plan for Austin Park in the city of Batavia.
Photo by Howard Owens

City officials are considering a project that would — after a couple of phases — make Austin Park an entertainment hotspot in the center of Batavia, with a potential pickleball court, outdoor event shell, new picnic pavilion, updated splash pad, carved-out spaces for a Farmers Market and craft fair, an all-inclusive playground, and the thoughtful touches of an entrance archway sign to clearly mark the site from Jefferson Avenue. 

An Austin Park master plan calls for all of that and more in what Assistant City Manager Erik Fix admittedly considers to be “quite expensive,” and is therefore recommending that it be broken down into more bite-size chunks, beginning with what is most needed first.

“It's going to be used to help replace the existing playground, which is desperately in need of replacement. Along the way, we hope to make it a universally inclusive playground as we go forward. We are at the point right now where the playground that's there is not only falling apart, but our Bureau of Maintenance staff cannot find a replacement piece parts for it, so it's definitely something we need to do,” he said during the Jan. 8 council meeting. “If we can also afford it and have any money left, there are some needed renovations to the splash pad (to help with drainage) and things like that that will help that run better. So we're calling this Phase One of the master plan. So as you look at this entire thing, this will be phase one with the hopes that we can secure additional grant money and resources down the line.”

The entire scope would include the demolition and replacement of the steel picnic shelter with a larger one, including the concrete pad, repurposing the concrete brick restroom/concession building and older stone building, possible splash pad updates, mechanics and control replacements, complete replacement of the existing playground with a universally inclusive and accessible system, a new drinking fountain, trash containers and benches, installation of modern, low-maintenance rubber cushion surfaces, and reconditioning or eliminating the stone dust cross-park trail.

City officials retained LaBella Associates to conduct the master plan and assist with a grant application to help with a park improvement project. Along with these revisions are suggestions for the larger covered picnic shelter, at 40 feet by 64 feet; a band shell for small musical groups, festivals, speeches, lectures and other events; a pickleball court to accommodate the “fast-growing sport;” carving out space for a fresh produce Farmers Market and craft fair; and entrance arch or gateway and clearly marked signage for Jefferson Avenue. 

How to pay for it? The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has awarded the city an environmental protection fund grant of $500,000. 

There is a 25 percent match, and, although 25 percent would be $125,000, “we’re budgeting $225,000” and “hoping that any unused amount gets returned back to us,” Fix said.  The city intends to use public works reserves of $225,000 for that purpose. There is a total of  $960,822 in the DPW reserves now, Fix, said, and he is therefore recommending using the $225,000 to supplement the cost of the project. 

City Council was tentatively going to vote on a resolution to accept the grant and use those reserve funds during a business meeting on Jan. 22; however, the project is on a temporary hold because city officials need to talk to the state parks department, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said, about potential questions that may arise from the sale of Brisbane Mansion just across the parking lot from Austin Park.

“We have a meeting scheduled with New York State Parks and Recreation to understand the easement associated with Austin Park and the parking lot and the Brisbane Mansion, because currently they are situated as one parcel. So we want to make sure it doesn't hinder our ability to move to divest of the Brisbane Mansion in the future, Tabelski said. “So we don't want to move forward to a business meeting and have full approval of the resolution until we have that conversation with the parks department."

The city will be putting Brisbane Mansion, home of the current city police station, up for sale now that a new police facility will be built at the corner of Alva Place and Bank Street downtown. Prospective ideas for the West Main Street property include a boutique hotel, apartments or a mix of residential units. The city will still retain the rights to the adjacent parking lot, however, so city officials want to clarify the use of the parking lot in the future, including overnight parking for future occupants of residential units at the Brisbane property.

There are a series of items that must be met in order to qualify for the grant, according to state parks paperwork. The city must provide vendor ID numbers, file annual written reports, and provide proper documentation, including a boundary map that satisfies the state’s requirements, a copy of the contractor’s deed to the property, an opinion of municipal counsel, a state environmental quality review of the property, prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace and non-discrimination certifications, the Prohibiting State Agencies and Authorities from Contracting with Businesses Conducting Business in Russia disclaimer.  

Austin Park Master Plan (pdf)

austin park plan
Proposed site plan for Austin Park.
austin park bandstand
Example stage design for a proposed new amphitheater in Austin Park
austin park playground inclusive
Proposed inclusive playground for Austin Park.

With one objection, city manager approved for second three-year contract

By Joanne Beck
Rachael Tabelski Nov. 13 mtg
Nov. 13, 2023 File Photo of City Manager Rachael Tabelski during a City Council meeting
Photo by Howard Owens

By a vote of seven to one, City Council agreed to the second three-year contract for current City Manager Rachael Tabelski during Monday’s business meeting.

The contract, effective March 8, 2024, includes a starting salary of $123,290. That salary takes effect April 1.  Subsequent salaries will be equivalent of the percent of nonunion pay raises in 2025 and 2026 in accordance with the city’s normal payroll practices for other non-union employees of the city of Batavia.

During the Nov. 27 City Council meeting, member Bob Bialkowski raised the issue of tying Tabelski’s salary to other nonunion employees and suggested that her salary instead be a stand-alone salary, raise and benefits. Council President Eugene Jankowski said that he agreed with the contract as is, and the remaining council members agreed with him.

The vote came before the council Monday evening, and Councilman Bob Bialkowski again voiced his objection.

“I’ll restate what I’ve stated in the past, no reflection on the city manager, whatsoever, but it should be a totally stand-alone contact, it shouldn’t be tied in with other employees,” Bialkowski said just before the vote at City Hall. (Editor's Note: this statement has been revised because it was misinterpreted in the original version.)

Members John Canale, Rich Richmond, Eugene Jankowski, Paul Viele, David Twichell, Al McGinnis and Kathy Briggs voted yes to Bialkowski’s no. Councilwoman Tammy Schmidt was absent.

Tabelski was appointed as city manager in March 2021 after working as interim manager since June 2022. 

As per other non-union employees, the contract also includes retirement benefits, medical insurance from the employer that agrees to provide for health, hospitalization, surgical, vision, dental and comprehensive medical insurance for the employee, spouse and her dependent children;  paid time off of five weeks equal to 25 work days, in addition to accrued sick, personal and/or bereavement time, allowances of costs associated with a “suitable automobile for the business use only of employee,” that shall include commuting to and from work and not for personal use.

The employer shall also provide the employee with a cell phone, which may be used for business and personal use, or a $100 monthly stipend, and reimbursement of any travel and business expenses incurred on behalf of the city, life insurance benefits, deferred compensation access of 4 percent of the annual salary to be contributed to the deferred compensation of employee; professional development of dues, subscriptions, travel and expenses for the manager for professional participation and travel, meetings, and occasions necessary to continue her professional development.

The position includes a background check and understanding that suspension with full pay and benefits at the discretion of City Council and termination are options under Chapter Five of the Batavia City Charter and/or if the voters of the city substantially change the form of government of the city and the manager elects to treat that amendment or change as an act terminating her employment; plus a slew of other reasons, including that the manager dies or becomes disabled; admits to, is convicted of or pleads solo contendere to any crime which is injurious to the interests, business, operations or reputation of the city or which involves moral turpitude or which involves the misuse or misappropriation of public funds, engages in illegal drug use, misconduct in connection with the performance of her duties, misrepresentation to the city, fraud, misappropriation of city assets or property, embezzlement, breach of any fiduciary duty owed to the city or any violation of any law or regulations to which the city is subject, engages in any intentional or grossly negligent act, omission or conduct that is injurious to the interests, business, operations or reputation of the city, or materially breaches this agreement.

The manager may terminate the agreement at any time and for any reason as long as she provides the city with advance, written notice of at least 60 days before the termination of the agreement, unless the parties agree in writing otherwise.

In the first year of employment, the manager shall receive a verbal informal review from the city on a quarterly basis, and in the second year receive an annual review on or about March 8. City Council is to provide Tabelski with a written statement of the findings and provide an adequate opportunity for her to discuss the evaluation with council.

City resident raises issues of street sign, council size and future housing at Creek Park

By Joanne Beck
Sammy DiSalvo Jr.
Batavia resident Sammy DiSalvo Jr. speaks to City Council about his concerns during a business meeting Monday at City Hall.
Photo by Howard Owens

Batavia has had its share of local crusaders over the years — local citizens willing to pack up topics of concern and carry them into City Council meetings to address at the podium in the hope that city leaders will listen and respond. 

Folks have been frustrated about unplowed streets, unshoveled sidewalks, property tax increases, a lack of specific businesses, city staff salaries, and various other concerns depending on the season, the year, and the week.

Sammy DiSalvo Jr., who has previously attempted to run for City Council and has been outspoken at meetings and online, is no stranger to this tradition. This week he brought in three concerns and related requests.

His first issue was about a former yield sign on Harvester Avenue that has been changed to a stop sign. He’d like to see that reverted back, he said.

“Many people don't really stop there, and it's kind of a safety hazard,” he said during Monday's council meeting at City Hall. “And I don't understand why that's a stop sign, but the corner of Jackson has a yield sign. So that's my first request.

“My second request is kind of commenting on the City Charter, and if there's an explanation as to why our City Council's as large as it is,” DiSalvo said. “We have about 15,000 people and we have nine members on our council that we pay to do a job, and places like North Tonawanda that have double our population have half of our council members, and I'm just wondering why we require so many, and if we can make our council reflect the population of Batavia and maybe reduce the size to an appropriate number.” 

His third item was about the city’s intention to put Creek Park property on Evans Street out for future housing development.

DiSalvo pointed to some 10 or so comments on a social media post as to what he believes is proof — an accurate “barometer” of local sentiment — that the majority seemed to agree that developing the plot of green space along the Tonawanda Creek and behind McCarthy ice arena was not a good idea. 

“I would like council to think about not selling that plot of land and turning it and developing it into something that more of the community can use. We live on a creek town, and there's really no public place along the creek that is safe to go on, except for behind the courthouse where there's a nice little park,” he said. “We all saw what just happened. And unfortunately, we could not complete the market rate housing across the street here, and that was a warning sign that we had for two years. The first warning sign that was going to be for low-income housing came with the Batavian article on Sept. 16, 2022, when Savarino announced that there was going to be low-income housing. And then, two years later, it seemed like a shock. So I would like you to reconsider selling that plot of land. Or if you do sell it, restrict it somehow the sale, the use of that for any kind of housing whatsoever, turn it back to something that the community can use.”

Council members John Canale and Eugene Jankowski Jr. were curious about the yield sign on Harvester as well, and they asked for more information from the police and/or public works departments about when and why it was changed.

Canale also addressed the number of council members issue. Nine members have been established for several years, with one each for six designated ward territories, plus at-large positions and a council president. 

Per Section 3-4 from the City Charter, the council member “shall receive compensation,” and ward members are paid $5,000 each, and council president is paid $7,000. Those salaries were increased in 2022, with council voting itself a raise from $3,500 and the president position up from $4,900.

Canale not only defended that pay but said he’d like to see it increased again, reminding everyone that he won’t be on council next year. As for the nine members, “more people is better representation with the amount of awards and districts that we have here in the city,” he said. 

“I would imagine this goes back to when we split the city up into wards, and we split it up into districts. At some point in time, our forefathers split it up into a council person per ward kind of thing. And then three large positions, I don't know who's responsible for that. As far as the public's concern about pay, I would be interested to see how these other council people are paid, because I know these councils here, don't get paid very much to do this, at one time this was a completely volunteer position,” Canale said. “Way back in my dad's day when he was a council person, I think is when they initiated a small stipend to give some incentive for good people to serve. We don't even think about it, because it doesn't affect our income, we don't do this to live on, obviously. I don't think we have to worry about the amount of money that we're spending to represent the entire population of the city.”

North Tonawanda’s five council members are each paid $8,000, and its president’s salary is $8,500, according to a Niagara Gazette article about the council’s failed attempt to get a salary increase vote to the floor. 

Jankowski addressed an online comment that DiSalvo mentioned about the city’s previous plan to have a second ice rink. 

“The second sheet of ice was tabled because it was a $25 million project. We just don’t have that kind of money. If a private industry wants to come in and build a sheet of ice there, contact us, and we’ll talk to you about it,” Jankowski said. “But as far as the city is concerned, there are other things that we’re spending our money on at this point. We can’t do everything we’d like to do. As far as Creek Park … we have a need for housing, especially middle-income housing. That seems to be the idea that keeps coming back for that project, and it’s still under review. So when that time comes, you can come and speak and give your opinion on it, but at this point, it’s really, nothing really moving on it, it’s a very slow process, we’re still looking into it.” 

City Council Ward 3 candidate: 'I just want to be involved and do what I can'

By Joanne Beck
Derek Geib
Derek Geib in a file photo taken shortly after he opened The Coffee Press on Jackson Street in Batavia.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Editor’s Note: In an article that ran on Oct. 24, (City, Genesee County races uncontested but one newcomer and three propositions), The Batavian inadvertently took an off-the-cuff remark made by Derek Geib as his response and published it, which was not the case. The Batavian regrets the misunderstanding, and Geib agreed to an interview just in time for the City Council election, which is Tuesday.

Who: Batavia resident and successful business owner Derek Geib. A 2001 Batavia High School graduate, he was barely out of Genesee Community College with his associate’s degree before his first business venture -- opening Main Street Coffee in 2002. He clearly remembers the opening day on Christmas in the City because it was followed by a blizzard that Sunday. 

Geib was also working at Matty’s, eventually buying into the pizza business from 2006 to 2010 until it closed. He then opened Bourbon and Burger in May 2011, followed by Coffee Press in 2019 and Roman’s in 2020, which made for another distinct memory.  They opened to the public on Friday the 13th in March of 2020, just as the state governor was about the announce a life-altering pandemic. 

In between all of that, Geib has been a landlord for multiple units for the last nine years or so. The 40-year-old has served on the downtown Business Improvement District Board for three years, including the last year as president; has been on the Batavia Development Corporation board the last couple of years; and the Genesee County Planning Board and the city’s Planning and Development Committee for about a year.

What: He’s running to fill the vacant seat for Ward 3 on City Council

When: The City Council election is on Tuesday, and Geib and each of his fellow council members will be running unopposed, including Paul Viele, Ward 1; David Twichell, Ward 2; Al McGinnis, Ward 4; Kathy Briggs, Ward 5; and Tammy Schmidt, Ward 6. 

Where: Ward 3 goes from Oak Street east to Bank Street and from Main Street over to the Thruway. Geib, his wife Jennifer and family, including the chihuahua Cedrick, live on Prospect Avenue, which has brought the entrepreneur back to where he first began as a kid growing up, he says.

Why have you gotten so involved in these boards, aside from the fact that you’re a business owner?
“Right from the onset of looking in it, it probably looks like there's a lot of self-interest involved because, obviously, we are completely invested in downtown. But I think being a business downtown, it made me realize that I should be involved in the goings-on, you know, not so we could have control over things, but just to help it be stronger downtown,” he said. “I’m not not saying my addition makes things that much better, but it's, you know, I think I have a pretty good view of what's going on being downtown every day. It's kind of, ‘what I can bring to the table.’”

What’s your interest in being on City Council?
“I think, really, I just want to be involved and do what I can to make Batavia as good as I possibly can. I mean, I think everyone should be involved as much as they can be, as much of their lives allow. Volunteering and participating in politics and government, and in local government, is the most important form of government because it's the one that actually makes a difference in your direct daily life,” he said. “And most people just overlook it and feel like they only need to vote for the president, when it's like, City Council is pretty in charge of everything that's going on right here. So, I think that's that.”

How do you feel things are going in the city? What would you say are the top three main issues in the city?
“I think things are going great. I believe there's the most construction improvement going on for as far back as I can remember, which is always a good sign. It shows investment,” he said. “I believe we need to work on housing. I think that would be probably one of the main focuses, which I know the city is already directly working on.”

What type of housing do you think is needed?
“Top to bottom. It's tough because I really don't want to speak out of turn because I'm not on City Council. So to talk about the goings-on of the city and what Council’s already working on, I don’t want to talk out of turn,” he said. “Infrastructure is also a big deal. And the city has been working on that as much as they can, sidewalks, streets. There’s just a lot going on. And it’s all for the benefit of the city and the people of it, as far as I can tell.”

There’s often the conversation about bringing more business to downtown. What would you like to see?
“I think the best way to increase business downtown is to increase downtown housing, and we need people living downtown, and we need to be creating as much downtown living space as we can. Because those are the people who will frequent the businesses the most. It's tough to continue to try and bring business downtown without first bringing people downtown. It kind of goes hand in hand,” he said. “I think we've done as good a job as we can realistically to fill all the empty spaces downtown. I mean, obviously, there are some that have been empty for a while that are projects that are being worked on, but if you drive around, there really aren't that many empty storefronts, on Main Street, on the side streets. So it's tough to open businesses without buildings to put them in. So we need more construction and more living spaces.”

How did you build your own business acumen, especially since you didn’t go to school for business? Did you have a mentor, or did you study somewhere on your own? Was it learned on the go?
“Realistically, we just opened and hoped for the best. And I learned a lot over the past 20 years, and I'm sure I'm still not even close to doing things the right way, but I'm doing them the way that I know best,” he said. “And, you know, it's working for now. But I had no business background whatsoever.”

So what will Derek Geib bring to the City Council table?
“From the outside looking in … the city is realistically just a business. You've got a budget and an HR and departments. And so it's just a business on a much bigger scale. And so, having now a business background, I think I can bring that to the table to help with budgets,” he said. “And I think, really, that's probably the most important thing that City Council does is setting the budget and keeping taxes where they need to be and making sure everything's paid for and fixed and working. And that's no different than the restaurant: the money comes in, and you have to figure out how to make everything work with what you've got. So that's really, that's my background.”

Some council members in the past have had coffee klatches in their wards to talk and get to know one another. Do you have any plans like that, since you're not knocking on doors or anything like that with this unopposed race?  Do you have any plans to meet with your ward residents to get to know their concerns?
“I’d like to get out eventually and talk to people and find out what their concerns are in the ward and see if we can figure out how to make everyone happy,” he said.

He does know at least two of their concerns now, he said: broken sidewalks and motorists that speed down Prospect Avenue. 

What do you think is the secret for a council to work?
“Does it not work?” he said. “Obviously, working in any group is difficult. But as long as everybody has a common goal, and they can put their egos and their personal goals aside, it's very easy to work in a group.”

Making a BID for downtown enhancements, public hearing in November

By Joanne Beck
downtown batavia
File Photo of Downtown Batavia by Howard Owens

Batavia’s downtown Business Improvement District members would like to spend some of their more than $220,000 capital account to enhance the downtown area, and because that will take a city amendment to do so, a public hearing is necessary.

The BID’s current agreement with the city requires the amendment to “add language for improvements in the district that will be allowable under their capital account,” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said. Tabelski explained the need for the amendment and set a public hearing during this week’s council meeting.

“The BID has requested that we update a very specific portion of the plan in relation to the capital infrastructure fund. They currently have $222,000 designated to be used for projects. And they asked to amend the list we had previously to include capital purchases, enhancements in the district of decorations, banners, planters, light poles and accessories, signs, wayfinding, decorative trash bins and potential sidewalk improvements,” Tabelski said. “So they'd like the ability to do these types of projects within the plan and to spend this funding on those projects. So by modifying the plan, you'd give permission for them to undertake these types of activities with this funding. This is a local law change. So it will need to go through the public hearing process.” 

The BID currently has $222,470.50 in its capital account and has requested to make multiple purchases to enhance the district.

Because a substantial portion of the Management Association’s activities are funded by a special assessment levied by the city and its activities are important to the economic health and vitality of the city, it is necessary that the business of the Management Association be performed in an open and public manner, according to city code. 

This provides for the residents and businesses in the community to be fully aware of and able to observe the activities of the Management Association Board of Directors, as well as attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of BID policy. 

In addition, providing access to meeting minutes allows residents and businesses to observe the decision-making process by the Board and to review the documents leading to those determinations.

Tabelski recommended that the same Local Law No. 3 be amended for the BID plan to include these latest requested improvements and to also include a related public hearing.

That hearing will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 in Council Chambers at City Hall.

The Batavian contacted BID President Derek Geib for comment since the matter was going to be part of a public hearing. He did not want to provide comment and instead referred The Batavian to BID Executive Director Shannon Maute, who also did not want to offer a comment.

A little background about the BID may be in order. A local law was adopted on Nov. 24, 1997, outlined in Chapter 58 of the city’s code, to establish the district, which is comprised of several streets from Liberty Street west to Court Street and Ellicott Street north to Washington Avenue. 

The local law was amended on June 27, 2005, to include the Ellicott Street business area. It was later further amended on Aug. 6, 2016, and again on March 12, 2018, all of which required public hearings due to the properties within the district being in the public’s interest. 

Under General Municipal Law 980-a ... the Batavia City Council requires that the Management Association Board of Directors comply, conform and abide by the State of New York Open Meetings and Public Information laws. This will apply to all Management Association and sub-committee meetings, including executive committee meetings. The Management Association will further post all by-laws, board and committee meeting minutes, annual budgets, audited financial statements and annual reports on the Management Association’s website for public viewing.

The Batavian contacted Tabelski about this requirement, since the BID has not had an active website for several months. The Batavian asked where the reports were being posted and who was responsible for ensuring that they were being posted as mandated by municipal law. 

Tabelski did not directly respond to those questions, however, she said that the website was discussed during BID’s meeting on Tuesday and that it was being redeveloped and “should relaunch soon.” 

There are two sources for funding the activities of the BID, according to related city documents: the BID assessment and the City of Batavia. The BID assessment for each property is calculated by multiplying the assessed valuation of the property by the BID assessment rate, which was $1.81 per $1,000 of assessed value as of Jan. 18, 2021. 

City, Genesee County races uncontested but one newcomer and three propositions

By Joanne Beck
Derek Geib
File photo of Derek Geib in 2019, when he first opened The Coffee Press on Jackson Street in Batavia.
Photo by Howard Owens.

It’s not a very exciting election year in Genesee County, as the two largest jurisdictions — the City of Batavia and Genesee County — are marked by uncontested races for every seat up for a vote on both City Council and County Legislature.

However, there is a new City Council candidate and three propositions on November's ballot.

The City Council election features incumbents Paul Viele for Ward 1, Alfred McGinnis for Ward 4, Kathy Briggs for Ward 5 and Tammy Schmidt for Ward 6, all who are running unopposed for re-election. 

David Twichell, who filled the seat of Patti Pacino for Ward 2 earlier this year, is running for his first full term unopposed. 

Newcomer Derek Geib is running to fill the seat vacated by John Canale, who opted not to run again for Ward 3. 

Geib, a city business owner, president of the downtown Business Improvement District and member of the city’s Planning and Development Committee, is also running unopposed. 

Unfortunately, voters won’t have an opportunity to learn why he’s running for a seat on council or why he would like to represent his section of the city, because Geib declined an interview with The Batavian.

“I don’t have interest in doing interviews ever for anything honestly,” he said.

These are the uncontested races for Genesee County positions:

  • Genesee County Clerk  - Michael Cianfrini
  • Genesee County Coroner - Wade Schwab
  • Genesee County Coroner (unexpired term) - Donald Newton Jr.
  • Genesee County Legislator, District 2 Towns of Bergen, Byron, and Elba - Christian Yunker
  • Genesee County Legislator, District 4 Towns of Batavia, and Stafford - Brooks Hawley
  • Genesee County Legislator, District 6 Towns of Alexander, Bethany, and Pavilion - Gregg Torrey
  • Genesee County Legislator District 8 City of Batavia, Wards 2 & 3 - Marianne Clattenburg

Three propositions are on the ballot this year:

Proposal One: Removal of Small City School District from Special Constitutional Debt Limitation.

The proposed amendment to Article 8, section 4 of the Constitution removes the special constitutional debt limitation now placed on small city school districts, so they will be treated the same as all other school districts. Shall the proposed amendment be approved? Yes or No.

Batavia City Schools administrators are in favor of this amendment, because it would allow the district to borrow more money for projects in the future. As is, the limit means Batavia can only borrow up to five percent of its debt limit, versus other school districts that can borrow up to 10 percent.

This measure does not include the current $45 million capital project that’s on the table, Superintendent Jason Smith said, as it would take effect after that project vote. 

Proposal Two is to extend sewage project debt exclusion from the debt limit. The proposed amendment to Article 8, section 5 of the Constitution extends for 10 years the authority of counties, cities, towns, and villages to remove from their constitutional debt limits debt for the construction of sewage facilities. Shall the proposed amendment be approved? Yes or No. 

Proposal Three is for voters in the towns of Byron and Bergen only: Shall the Town of Bergen  (Town of Byron) establish an annual tax in the amount of $0.55/$1,000 (fifty-five cents per one thousand dollars) of assessed value in order to support the operation of the Byron-Bergen Public Library, commencing in the fiscal year beginning January 1, 2024. Yes or No.

Library board President Sally Capurso recently explained why she and board trustees are asking town voters to approve this measure. 

New fire truck on its way to Batavia, 20-year payment plan

By Joanne Beck


josh grahm batavia fire chief
2022 File Photo of City of Batavia Fire Chief Josh Graham, who is anticipating delivery of the department's latest fire truck in November.
Photo by Howard Owens 

As Batavia’s city fire department prepares to welcome a shiny new, customized fire truck into a bay at the renovated Evans Street site, City Council dealt with details of the $800,000 purchase Monday evening at City Hall.

Council voted on three resolutions:

  • Approve the purchase of the fire truck project completion;
  • Authorize and provide for the “incurrence of indebtedness” for the purpose of providing a portion of the cost of acquiring, constructing, enlarging, improving and or extending its new fire truck facility to serve an area lawfully within its jurisdiction to serve; and 
  • Authorize a general bond to finance the acquisition.

The city will pay for Engine 12 with a $665,000 loan at 2.5 percent interest for 20 years, a $100,000 grant and city fire reserves of $36,681.

Councilman-at-large Bob Bialkowski wanted to know more about the second resolution regarding the incurrence of indebtedness for the purpose of acquiring, constructing and enlarging the truck’s new facility in Batavia. Does that mean there will be more work done at the first station, which has recently been updated with a new driveway apron and other interior upgrades?

There’s no extension of the building, City Attorney George Van Nest said.

“This is draft language from USDA. This is a standard USDA resolution that they require;  it’s part of the closing package,” Van Nest said. “The entire statement says resolution of the City Council of the City of Batavia authorizing and providing for the incurrence of indebtedness for the purpose of providing a portion of the cost of acquiring construction, enlarging, improving and/or extending its fire trucks. So, in that case, cross everything out except for acquiring fire trucks, and we're good to go.”

Engine 12 will put Engine 11 into reserve, and the current reserve will go to surplus, Fire Chief Joshua Graham said. 

“They’re out there right now to do the final inspection, which they’ve been doing all day and tomorrow at the factory,” he said. “Once they finish the inspection, we’re estimating it to be shipped to Colden Enterprises in Kenmore sometime around the first of November, and they’ll have it outfitted with tools and accessories. And then sometime in mid-November, it’ll be delivered to us, and the only thing we’ll have to do with it is the detailing.”

City Manager Rachael Tabelski, who reviewed the financial plan, said that she appreciated the interest rate the city was able to get as part of the deal.

“I'm just very glad we were able to get a 2.5 percent interest rate because we do have almost enough in reserves to pay this off. But at this point, the funding and reserves is making more interest being there than what we pay out,” Tabelski said. “And with the help of (City Clerk/Treasurer) Heidi, who does a really nice job with all of our investments, looks at each of these opportunities, and we're actually able to make a little bit more on our investments in our reserve funds.”

Council members, all of whom had previously voted for the purchase of the fire truck, approved the resolutions. 

“I hope it lasts us many, many years,” Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said. 

After the meeting, Graham said that the current reserve engine dates back to 2002, and its age means “it’s starting to have a lot of maintenance issues.”

“So moving the current first-run engine back to reserve, and then implementing this new version first,” was his primary reason for necessitating a new truck purchase, he said. “The truck itself is completely built in the factory, and the crews are out there now going over it with a fine toothcomb. The only thing they're doing when it comes up here is that it doesn't come with the mounts for our tools and things to put the tools on it. So they install those on the truck up here. Then it'll come over to us, and then the city actually makes the decals.”

He plans to take the new pumper on a little cruise through the city to show the citizens the new vehicle, most likely sometime in mid- to late November. 

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