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City on sound financial ground, manager recommends $2M of investments

By Joanne Beck

Being issued a “clean bill of health” hardly makes for an eye-catching headline when it comes to a city audit. However, city leaders are eager to take some of that good news and reinvest it. 

Company photo of Erica Handley
Company photo of Erica Handley

After presenting the city’s 2022-23 audit Monday evening, Erica Handley, Director at Drescher & Malecki, concluded that city assets and revenues exceeded liabilities by $17, 410,127, with more than $41 million of net investment in capital assets, $13.7 million of restricted funds for specific purposes and another $16.6 million for unrestricted, or unspecified spending funds.

“So at the end of 2023, the general fund total fund balance reached $11.7 million. Again, that increase is about $2.3 million from the prior year,” Handley said during council’s conference session at City Hall. “Overall observations, we do plan to move forward issuing an unmodified opinion, that clean opinion, you did not give any reportable findings, no material weaknesses, no significant deficiencies. Considering that compliance audit we did this year, a whole bunch of more testing, no compliance findings. So nothing to report there.”

This year’s general audit also included a compliance audit triggered by the city’s spending of more than $750,000 of federal funds, she said. 

“We act as an agent of the federal government and test those federal funds for certain compliance requirements,” Handley said. “So the program that we tested was the highway planning program. And we perform a series of tests as dictated to us by the federal government to ensure that those federal expenditures are allowable, that they are in a timely fashion, and the reporting is done correctly. 

“We had no issues with that testing that we did this year,” she said. “But that just is something that is new this year as compared to last year.”

After socking away more than $3.8 million into the city’s unassigned fund balance — a move based on the recommended policy to increase last year’s amount by $768,000 — City Manager Rachael Tabelski has recommended using remaining reserve funds of $2.1 million for future expenses of several city departments.

“The city ended the fiscal year 2022-23 in a good position to move on assignments on balance to reserve accounts for future one-time purchases. I have discussed the following proposals with the audit committee who concur that we have the ability to reserve $2.1 million in funding and still maintain a 20 percent unassigned fund balance, which was approximately $3.8 million,” she said. “While we do have, and you all know, a plethora of competing interests across the city, from parks, trees, recreational facilities, vehicles, etc. I've reviewed the capital and asset plans for each department and the requests that we have received from council and citizens, and recommend the following funding reserve accounts.”

Police Department Reserve: Put $100,000  to replace patrol and detective vehicles on a yearly basis based on a fleet replacement schedule. By allocating this money to the reserve, the city will be able to continue to purchase vehicles and keep up with the rotation, she said, with the oldest patrol car now being 2017 and the oldest detective car a 2009.

City Council committed $120,000 of video lottery terminal funds for two new vehicles in August 2023 for the Neighborhood Enforcement Team.

For the Fire Department Reserve, put $300,000 to make debt payments toward a newly purchased $800,000 pump engine, which was  paid for with a $100,000 USDA grant, and a loan for $665,000, plus $37,000 in reserve funds. 

Council also approved $80,000 of reserve funds to purchase a one-ton pickup chassis or replace a 2012 vehicle for medical and other responses, with an estimated balance of $680,420. 

The reserve money can be used to purchase the pumper, make debt payments or for other needs, including additional police and fire radios at a cost of $375,000, and review the longevity of the ladder truck. 

Put $400,000 into DPW for the equipment reserve plan, which has allowed the city to replace more than 22 pieces of public work equipment valued at $3.6 million and growing to date.

The ice rink would get $150,000 to go toward the purchase of an ice chiller, which has been in need of replacement for the last two years. The city spent ore than $90,000 in refrigerant and other maintenance costs in 2021 and 2022. The price tag for a new chiller is $2.5 million.

Facilities Reserves would get $400,000 as part of the city’s Strategic Plan for the Bureau of Maintenance, fire station and City Centre roof, some having been completed, and other work in progress. This money would also fatten the reserve balance for the future police station, which is to cost an estimated $15.5 million. 

Future sidewalks that are part of the city’s Complete Street Program would get $300,000 to allow for another 5,000 linear feet of sidewalk and handicap-accessible ramps.

Compensated absences are slated for $100,000 to deal with three pending retirements and one-time payouts and $100,000 for retirement reserves for these future expenses.

The city’s municipal parking lots would get $250,000 to address improvements of worn surfaces, including the Alva Place lot that will be paved when the new police facility is constructed, and BOM parking lot will be addressed. 

Over the past decade, the city has “diligently built reserve funds to complete projects and control general fund spending,” Tabelski said in a memo to council. The reserves are built to fund capital projects, purchase trucks, vehicles, infrastructure and facility improvements and cover overages in health and workers’ compensation costs. 

“Building the reserve fund now is extremely important as the city prepares to bond for a new police facility,” she said. 

City Councilman gives nod to first responders in opening prayer

By Joanne Beck
Bob Bialkowsi
File photo of City Councilman-at-large Bob Bialkowski, center, in Council Chambers at City Hall.
Photo by Joanne Beck

For the second time on Monday, Bob Bialkowski took the opportunity to not only acknowledge the sacrifices of others given on Sept. 11 22 years ago, but to also pray that those first responders “inspire us to live bravely and courageously and to selflessly protect others in need.”

The City Councilman-at-large gave the opening prayer for the group’s monthly conference session Monday at City Hall. It was the only acknowledgment of 9/11 during the brief meeting, though it was followed by the pledge of allegiance, a longstanding city tradition. 

A veteran having served in the U.S. Army Aviation Reserves for 30 years, Bialkowski also spoke during a remembrance ceremony at the VA Medical Center in Batavia earlier Monday. 

He and other speakers emphasized the need for such memorials as key to preserving the history of 9/11 and the bravery displayed by countless first responders, fire and police personnel, military members, and ordinary citizens who rallied on an airplane to help divert further disaster. 

As a prelude to the council meeting, Bialkowski’s words seemed contradictory to a time when many questioned the presence of outsiders on American soil.

“May we look to those who opened up their homes to the stranded and displaced that day to stir us to be more hospitable,” he said. “Having seen the face of evil and darkness, may we be steadfast and faithful, pursuing you as our perpetual light.”

City Council agrees to NET a solution for crime

By Joanne Beck
July 2023 file photo at Meadows apartments
July 2023 File Photo of an incident at an apartment complex in Batavia shows concerned neighbors watching as city police officers walk a suspect to the patrol car. City officials have decided to hire another police officer an re-establish the Neighborhood Enforcement Team in an effort to curb nuisance and gun violence issues throughout the city.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Recent incidents of violence — four gun shootings in the last three months — have pushed city officials to put a quick thaw on a hiring freeze that was locked until March 2024.

Instead, City Manager Rachael Tabelski has suggested bringing one more police officer on board and providing training, vehicles, and additional equipment for the new and a current officer to become a more intense Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET) to assist the city police department and detectives to “more efficiently, proactively keep the community safer.”

“Because I think it's critically important that we have our zone cars that are out on calls. They respond very quickly to people's homes, and they're very responsive. But we need a proactive team to be in the neighborhoods doing gun and drug interdiction, and I think it's very important,” Tabelski said Monday during City Council’s conference session at City Hall. “So we're gonna find a way to make it happen in the budget next year.”

During her presentation to City Council, Tabelski emphasized that when state changes to the legal system occurred — including what's coined as “catch and release” for a quick turnaround jail and bailout time — Chief Shawn Heubusch warned her that more manpower was going to be required.

“And in the beginning, the chief told me, ‘we're going to need more, we're going to need more, we're going to need more,’ and I said, there's no money, there's no money, there's no money. Now, we're at critical mass. We can't allow this to happen in our city,” she said. “I don't think anyone here on council wants that to occur. I certainly don't. So we're gonna find a way to make it work.”

Tabelski recommended using video lottery terminal money (typically a yearly amount that comes from Batavia Down Gaming revenues) in the amount of $272,000 to pay for the salaries and benefits for the two officers for eight months ($117,000), purchasing and fitting two police vehicles ($120,000) and for uniforms and equipment ($35,000).

Councilman Bob Bialkowski asked what if the city doesn’t get the VLT aid next year, and Tabelski said she isn’t planning to use that resource next year anyway. Sales tax has been doing very well, she said, and perhaps cannabis sales will be bringing in more sales tax and will be able to help offset the cost, she said. 

“We need to find a way to make it happen next year,” she said.

As for the equipment, that would be a one-time expense, Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. added. 

“I know it will work. It worked in the past,” he said.

The method for attacking the problem of gun violence, repeat offenders and nuisance neighbors is a team approach, Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said. “It’s a one-off,  it’s a very effective format,” he said. “You get to saturate a neighborhood. This is not a new concept. We did staff this way back in the day, and it was very effective.” 

Councilwoman Kathy Briggs was on board with the plan.

“I support this. We need this,” she said.

By a unanimous vote, council agreed to proceed with hiring an officer and using VLT money for the extra expense. 

After the meeting, Jankowski, a retired lieutenant with the city police department, shared his thoughts about what may be happening in the city and how this approach can help. 

“It worked in the past, which I hope it does in the future. When there were pockets of areas of maybe a drug house or some type of disruptive behavior in a neighborhood, we were able to send that team in there. And they were able to make observations, work with the community, work with the neighborhoods, and find a resolution to calm everything down and put it to rest. So if that works as well as it did last time, we have several hotspots we'd like to target, and we're going to want to use there and see how well it works,” he said. “And we're going to monitor it monthly to make sure that we are making gains. If it's not working out, then we're going to have to regroup and try something different. But we're pretty sure this will help.”

The Batavian asked Heubusch if there was already a list of potential candidates for the new officer and how long it would take to get one ready for this task.

“So we have a list that we've been working off of to hire our last round of hires. We'd have to take a look at that list and see who we can pick from it. We would have somebody in the background, we'd be able to put somebody in the background fairly quickly because we have a list that's already established, he said. “Police Academy for about five months and then field training for about four months after that. So it's a lengthy process unless we're lucky enough to find somebody that's willing to lateral to the department to fill the position then it's just field training.” 

Pacino retires but will still be here 'whenever they need me'

By Joanne Beck
Patti Pacino family
Former Second Ward City Councilwoman Patti Pacino, center, holds a proclamation given to her Monday by fellow council members during her official retirement as family members, left, grandson TJ, husband Jim, son, Josh and his fiancee Carrie show their support. 
Photo by Joanne Beck.

After persevering through illness, surgery, recovery, and admittedly being quite tired -- she was ready.

Patti Pacino, City Councilwoman, committee member, volunteer, advocate, cheerleader, educator, counselor, supporter, participant, friend, and outspoken when necessary, decided that it was time to announce her retirement.

And on Monday evening, with some of her biggest fans in the audience, Pacino was celebrated for her years of contributions during City Council’s conference session at City Hall.

A proclamation was drafted that listed her many efforts, including:

  • Her 13 years of service in representing the Second Ward as councilwoman
  • Serving as alumni coordinator for Genesee Community College and Career Center coordinator for Batavia High School
  • Performing duty as liaison to the Batavia Business Improvement District’s board, co-chair of the Volunteer Selection Committee and Memorial Day Parade Committee
  • Her steadfast involvement with the Zonta Club of Batavia-Genesee, Genesee-Orleans Council on the Arts, Kiwanis Club of Batavia, and Girl Scouts of Genesee Valley Inc.

And most notably, while on the council, she was “a true public servant, winning the support of her ward in two consecutive elections, advocating for residents and neighborhoods, and always having the best interests of the City of Batavia at heart.”

Now, therefore, be it resolved, the proclamation states, “the City Council of the City of Batavia does hereby congratulate Patti Pacino, City of Batavia Council Member, on her retirement, and wish her, and her family, good health and happiness for years to come.”

A soft-spoken Pacino said that she’s working on her walking ability after having surgery for a brain tumor in December 2022. She reflected on her time with the BID board.

“I remember probably the best 13 years of my life with a committee that I'm not sure everybody understands and realizes how much they put into this, how much time and effort and caring they put into the City of Batavia, and I miss that part,” she said. “But I won't miss the council because I'll still be here to talk to them whenever they need me or whenever they don't need me.”

Pacino officially retired from her role on council during a meeting on March 28. 

Limited dispensaries, a stalled farmers market add hurdles to cannabis market

By Joanne Beck
Shelly Wolanske and Chris Van Duden with book of regulations
File photo of Empire Hemp co-founders Shelly Wolanske and Chris Van Dusen showing the book of state regulations they must abide by when doing business in the cannabis industry, 
Photo by Joanne Beck.

City officials turned their thoughts to cannabis for a few moments this week as City Manager Rachael Tabelski described the plight of legal cultivators, locally Empire Hemp, which had originally been scheduled on City Council’s meeting agenda.

Company co-founders Chris Van Dusen and Shelly Wolanske were going to talk about an initiative to sell cannabis products at farmers markets, a concept being drafted in the Empire State for the summer season. However, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently squashed that move, which added yet another hindrance to a market that’s already suffered a slow roll-out of avenues to distribute and sell their products.

“(They) have been producing products in the legal market. Prior to cannabis being authorized by New York State was one that was authorized, they shifted to that market for cultivation. And they ramped up, and right now, they're sitting on over $300,000 worth of product and had to lay off four staff members because the Office of Cannabis Management cannot get retail licenses out quick enough. So there's over, I think it was 80, brands of cannabis that are certified by New York State, all sitting in warehouses full of cannabis, but only 10 legal retail outlets right now,” Tabelski said during this week’s council meeting. “And to get your product into the legal retail outlets, the majority being in New York City, you almost have to live in New York City or have a salesperson present down there. So anyone in the sales market knows you have to apply to those retail outlets to move your product. 

“So I want you to be aware of the emerging market. This is a business that has typically enjoyed the support of the city. They've stayed in the city, and they've purchased or leased more space to produce their products. And right now, they're very much hamstrung. So I just wanted to bring that to everyone's attention.”

Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said that he’s heard about the illegal retail sites “that keep popping up in the city, and people think they have a license” when they actually do not. 

Chris Van Duden with package of illegal cannabis
File photo of Chris Van Dusen showing an example of a cannabis product that was sold by an unlicensed retail store in Batavia.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

“So you’re telling me no one in Genesee County, no one in this area, has a legal distribution license itself?” he said. 

That’s right, Tabelski said, “except if you’re on sovereign land.”

She’s referring to Tonawanda Indian Reservation, which does not have to abide by the same state regulations as other dispensaries. Van Dusen checked that site to see about the possibility of selling some product, but shop owners on tribal land wouldn’t pay what Empire Hemp, which deals with state taxes, charges, Van Dusen said.

He and Wolanske said they are disappointed with how things have happened with licensing — they were led to believe that some 30 dispensaries were to open in March — and with the prospective farmers market, however, they’re confidently looking forward. 

"Mainly down in New York City, there are only 10 dispensaries. And there's 80 brands that are trying to get on the shelves in these 10 dispensaries. So it's very challenging to maintain, and we're currently in half of those dispensaries. But there needs to be more to make this a successful program, especially in our area," Van Dusen said. "And we were held up with that court-ordered injunction with a lawsuit that just finally opened up, you know, in the Finger Lakes region in Western New York a little while ago. So now we're about six months behind New York City, and getting dispensaries opened up here. So the first one to open next week in Buffalo. And we will be in that one. We're really excited about that. Dang 716."

Another one, MJ Dispensary, is to open in Henrietta in about a month, with a few more following in the Buffalo area. It takes time to open a site and includes a final walk-through by the Office of Cannabis Management, “so once they get their license, you're looking at a good three to five months,” Wolanske said.”

One element of the industry affects another — it’s a trickle-down effect, she said — from the grower to processors and end product. Empire Hemp still has goods from 2022 “because there’s no outlets for these grow cultivators to sell at, there’s not enough dispensaries,” he said. “So the cultivators are really hurting because it’s harder for them to get it to go to the dispensaries and get on the shelves because it’s so competitive to get on the shelf space.”

“So if they had 50 dispensaries open, well then, it would change, the demand would be in our favor, we wouldn’t be selling out of everything, it wouldn’t even be a question,” he said. 

Tabelski ventured to guess what part of the problem is.

“I dare say that they're in over their head with the Office of Cannabis Management and the rollout of this program,” she said. Jankowski agreed, adding that, for what he understands the board makes — “in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries” — they’re not doing their jobs. 

The City of Batavia is far from alone in its assessment of the state agency’s efficiency. Rev. Kirsten John Foy, a spokesman for the Coalition for Access to Regulated & Safe Cannabis, called the OCM “ineffective at every turn.”

“Growers, CAURD (conditional adult-use retail dispensaries) licensees, disabled veterans, workers, consumers, medical cannabis patients and individuals harmed by cannabis prohibition are paying the price for its ineptitude — all while the illicit market booms,” Foy said in a New York Post article. 

Similarly to what Jankowski and Van Dusen have noted locally, albeit on a lower scale, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has been tallying the number of illegal pot shops sprouting up in the absence of licensed dispensaries and manpower to close them down. In NYC, Adams’ count is 1,500, while Hochul’s office puts that number at 2,500, and law enforcement doubles that to 5,000 and estimates that illegal smoke shops are making $2,000 to $3,000 profits a day. While sites in smaller cities such as Batavia aren’t likely to claim such boons, is it a wonder why they’re popping up?

Empire Hemp will continue to operate by the book, as it has since the beginning, Van Dusen and Wolanske said. Their downtown retail store, which sells hemp products, is doing well and is self-sustaining, Wolanske said. In fact, “we’re doing better than last year,” she said. “We have a lot of faithful followers.”

And they look forward to finally seeing those promised 30 dispensaries, now to arrive in October, as they ride out a bumpy state cannabis program.

“So when that happens in this area, we will be set. So all that inventory is still good. It's not gone bad. So we could still sell that. And it's just a matter of getting these locations open,” Van Dusen said. “We’ve always done everything by the book, so we feel that it’ll be good that we did that. That will benefit us in the long run, because there will be less competition. Right now, we’re dealing with the illicit market. It’s really hard, especially when people are used to going into these smoke shops and paying a certain price.” 

SmartDESIGN seeks rezoning to move into Mix Place, restore its 'glory'

By Joanne Beck
4 Mix place, Batavia
One of the oldest wood structures in Batavia, built in 1809, stands at 4 Mix Place, and owner Ed Smart wants to restore the residence to its "glory" and operate his architectural firm out of it as well. 
Photo by Howard Owens.

When Ed Smart initially saw his prospective new abode at 4 Mix Place, there was an obvious misgiving about the place.

“The first time I walked through it, it was raining inside the building,” he said during an interview with The Batavian Wednesday. “We appreciate beautiful buildings, so I'd love to see this thing restored to its glory and then some. It's just a beautiful piece of property. And, you know, over the time that I have owned it, I've invested in it, even without being able to use it, until I know I can use it for the use I want.”

And what he wants, which he has officially requested as smartDESIGN Architecture with a letter to the city, is to move his architectural company into the premises that are zoned residential 1A and obtain a zoning code update to amend that to residential 3 to allow for professional offices in that section of the city.

Smart is requesting to amend a section in the zoning code to read “offices for attorneys, physicians, dentists, another similar professional, not exceeding four offices in a single structure.” The current code does not include “and other similar professionals” in that section.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski recommended to City Council this week that if the group opted to grant the request, it may also want to consider including 1 Mix, a single-family residence, and 3 Mix, a two-building, eight-unit apartment building, to bring them into the R-3 district for zoning compliance.

Smart wants to bring his staff of about 11 people plus himself — give or take, depending on business needs at any given moment —  and set up shop at the Mix Place site.

4 Mix Place, 2
Photo by Howard Owens.

Formerly a residence with ample grounds and gardens, trees and smaller buildings, the site was built in 1809 by Ebenezer Mix, and has been a single-family residence and fixture for decades, until the last several years, when left unoccupied it has been vandalized, heavily damaged, and then discovered by Smart. It failed to sell at an auction before he made an offer and purchased it about two years ago, he said.

“I fixed quite a few things that needed attention. There were thieves and vandals that got in there and stole the copper, and they left a big hole in the roof where they ripped the vent stack out of the roof water had just been dumped in there, and it completely destroyed two rooms, and it partially destroyed a couple of others. 

"So I fixed the roof, it was all hot water heat before, which of course, was covered, so I got some heat in there and then also ran dehumidifiers around the clock for months, actually. So then dried it out. And so it's been warm and dry,” he said. “And, then also, we've done some maintenance around the property. So, again, just trying to be a good neighbor, before we can get in there, we took out a whole lot of dead trees, where limbs were falling and things like that, but maintaining the attractive trees that are in there, with no intention of clear-cutting like that it’s too beautiful of a yard. We recently put a roof on the shed … and are working on a roof now for the little gazebo in the back, which is a beautiful little building, so I keep trying to keep things neat over there.”

He sent out a letter to the surrounding neighborhoods earlier this month to introduce himself and his intentions and to invite residents the opportunity to call or email him with questions, comments and concerns. To date, he has only heard positive feedback, he said.

SmartDESIGN does not get a lot of in-person visitors, he said, and oftentimes staff is off-site to tend to customer needs, so he does not expect there to be an issue with traffic. One employee works in Arizona, two others in Central New York that commute one day per week, and remote work is encouraged, he said. The company has been located on Harvester Avenue in Batavia for 19 years.

His firm “delivers architectural and design services throughout the United States,”  he said in his application. “On an average day, there will be five to seven people in the office. With a full office, parking for 10 vehicles would be necessary and can be accommodated at the property.

His intent is to maintain the historic character of the building, he said, including “all roofs, windows, doors, siding and shutters” that will be repaired, and “the entire building will be painted with a “historically-appropriate color palette.”

Despite that first glimpse of a raining interior, why here?
“So when I made the decision that I was going to start looking, (4 Mix Place) popped up on our radar, and we went and took a look … nobody else really had the will to take this project on. There's certainly people that have the finances, but those people didn't have the will. So this is something where I really, really liked this building, I really liked that spot in the city. I think our use is a good fit for the community, and I think we can bring that building back to its past glory,” Smart said. “I would like to have a community opening next year to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We would love to celebrate it in that building.

“One of the things I’d like to emphasize is that anything that we do in that space isn’t anything that couldn’t be undone in the future. This house has been there for 200 years, and it’s going to have a life after me, but it will be my final home and will be here for the life of my business.”

Smart encourages neighborhood residents to contact him with comments at (585) 345-4067, Ext. 112 or by email at [email protected].

City Council is expected to vote on his request, which may include being forwarded to the city’s Planning & Development Committee, during its next meeting on July 10.

Smokehouse in line for grant funding to make needed repairs

By Joanne Beck
Center Street Smokehouse
Center Street Smokehouse is in line for some grant funding to help with exterior brick work and revamp the outdoor deck that faces Jackson Square in downtown Batavia.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

A downtown building is in line for $20,000 worth of improvements to its brick exterior and upper back deck if City Council approves the grant request from building owner Cregg Paul.

The money will be in the form of a grant made available through an amended Revolving Loan Fund agreement that was revised in 2019. The revised policy seeks to have private building owners make lasting public and/or facade improvements within the city.

So back in 2019, City Council approved a policy to allow funding from the revolving loan fund to be split out and used for grant funds, specifically for building improvements only. So these grant funds are not for businesses. They're specific to buildings and infrastructure,” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said during City Council’s conference meeting Monday at City Hall. Off the top of my head, I believe there have been eight or nine grant funds awarded, the first one being Guy Clark at Cedar Street (Rentals), who built that new building to house some of his equipment, and I know other recipients have been, Casey Law Firm, I believe Matt Gray, (Gregory Hallock at) GO ART! has as well.

“And they've all been very successful in completing projects here in the city. The latest application is from the Center Street Smokehouse. They have deteriorating brick on their building that they need to repoint; they've needed that for awhile. They have some roof repairs that need to be completed. And they want to redo their second-floor patio facing into Jackson Square to freshen that up and make it look as nice as Matt’s patio. So I'm bringing that for you for your consideration.”

Building owners may request funds for building improvements that have a visual impact and facade work for rehabilitation or new builds, she said in a previous memo to City Council. “The grant of 40 percent of the total cost of the project will be considered, and the amount will be capped at $20,000,” she said.

The request has been approved by the Batavia Development Corp., and the funding will be matched with private funds from Center Street Smokehouse Inc. to renovate the exterior bar and restaurant abutting Jackson Square and to make necessary improvements to the facade and roof of the building.

An investment total for this phase is $50,000. BDC has recommended the grant with a score of 73.2 out of 100, based on “economic development and strategic goal alignment.” Tabelski therefore has recommended that council approve the request of $20,000 for the Center Street establishment.

A resolution will be up for vote during council’s business meeting on July 10.

No more delays for ice chiller, council to vote on purchase at July meeting

By Joanne Beck


Rachael Tabelski, Matt Gray, Bob and Sharon
Batavia City Manager Rachael Tabelski and Matt Gray, owner/operator of the McCarthy ice arena, make a presentation to City Council Monday in Council Chambers at City Hall. Behind Gray are his folks, Bob and Sharon, members of Friends of the RInk.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

As summer has just officially thunderstormed its way into the area, it may seem as though there’s plenty of time to put a major equipment decision on ice at the McCarthy arena on Evans Street. Especially when it could cost upwards of $4 million if the city doesn’t get any grant funding.

But from the appeals and official presentations heard during City Council’s conference session Monday evening, time is of the essence. A rapidly failing ice chiller isn’t likely to survive another full season, and without a working chiller, of course, there is no ice, no hockey program, and no evolving 12-month facility that just celebrated “a great first year,” according to arena operator Matt Gray.

That success hasn’t been without a fair share of struggles for Gray and his staff to keep the 20-plus-year-old chiller operational, he said.

“Our staff is doing everything they can to keep it running. It's a great expense with the R 22 (refrigerant). We do have leaks. It's costing, you know, our capital budget through the city is thousands of dollars a year. And that's one of the reasons why it has to be done because we're losing money,” Gray said. “Our staff during the winter, seven times, 10 times a week, are going up onto the roof, and they're thawing out a broken evaporator up on the roof, it freezes solid, it's 20 degrees out, 10 degrees when the wind’s blowing. It can't wait an hour  … We know we have a challenge for this coming year. We've already sat down with all the staff, and they're up for it. 

"We need to make it through this coming season," Gray said. "And we need to stick to the timetable hopefully for 2024 because of the 25 season so that we can open up in September of that season.”

His plea was supplemented by speaker Bob Gray, his dad and one of the founders of Friends of the Rink, who read a list of the many activities, fundraisers, events and related supporters that rally around the ice rink’s purpose. 

From a free hockey try-out day for kids and wrestling to an 80s roller skating party and mega garage sale, in addition to the regular youth and adult hockey leagues, the rink has become an incrementally improved facility that council members should check out for themselves, the elder Gray said.

Tim Sprague of Batavia Ramparts
"The spirit behind the Batavia Ramparts right now, the vibe, the buzz, the people have come back, it is amazing, and I would recommend anybody come down and take a look at just what’s going on there," Tim Sprague said on behalf of Batavia Ramparts during Monday's City Council meeting.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

Tim Sprague spoke on behalf of the Batavia Ramparts youth hockey league, endorsing the rink not just for those players but for others outside of the city that use the facility. The Ramparts has become 200 members strong, and his own participation as a kid got Sprague through a tough time in his life when his mom died, he said.

“Growing up on Harvester Avenue, it was really helpful to have a place where I could go with my friends where they were like family, and I was able to be a part of that hockey community,” he said. “So it's not just the local area people that are using it, it's driving from all around, and it's pulling people into our community. And you're getting to see things that are happening at the rink. I honestly, the dirt bike thing I thought was a wild idea. I couldn't believe how successful that was to see that happen on the ice, and the amount of support that received was just really cool.

“So that's just all I really wanted to say, is just the support that Batavia Ramparts has for that rink and what it means to us. So thank you, we appreciate it,” he said.

John Roach of Batavia came to the meeting to comment on another topic, but while at the podium, he added that investing in a new chiller was “a no-brainer.”  A couple of council members seemed to agree.

Councilman-at-large Bob Bialkowski appreciated the fact that the arena was being handled by someone local, and that has made a difference, he said. Council President Eugene Jankowski believes that the arena is “only getting better every day” and “hopefully we can get this chiller thing resolved.” Councilman John Canale has a lot of drum students that use the rink and believes that “we’re onto something, let’s keep it going.”

Paul Viele thanked the Grays for what they do to support the rink and asked, “What can we do to expedite this grant for them?”

The Climate Smart Communities grant, in the amount of $1,235,000, wouldn’t be available until December, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said. In the meantime, the council can consider applying for a bond to afford the $2.5 million capital project and purchase the chiller. Council would then approve a resolution to apply for the grant, which would be announced in December. The project would be put out for bid and award, to be installed between April and September 2024, before the new hockey season begins.

Tabelski presented two options if the council agrees to go forward with purchasing a new chiller. One is the cost of a debt service payment plan based on 25 years with interest, and the city doesn't get the grant. That tab amounts to $4 million, versus a total offset by the $1.23 million grant and decreased interest payments. 

Her recommendation is based on a feasibility study conducted by the New York Power Authority, which concluded that the chiller should be replaced as a matter of financial practicality.

“You've heard me say it many, many, many times over the past two years. We operate on the R-22 refrigerant, which has been phased out of production. We spent over $90,000 in 21 and 22. You remember the emergency purchases for either refrigerant or oil during that time period. So we built reserves. However, those reserves are being flushed down into buying this refrigerant,” she said. “They absolutely recommend replacing the chiller, the evaporative cooler.

“Specifically, the grant has timeline parameters. So I'm gonna go through it in the presentation, but we have a choice to make tonight to approve a $2.5 million project and have council look at the two different scenarios of bonding and investment. One with a grant and one without,” she said. “My ask tonight is actually to approve it, not knowing whether we get the grant or not, by letting you know we do have sufficient funds in the general fund to make those bond payments. So again, we wouldn't know about the grant until December if Council chooses to 1. approve the capital project and 2. to apply for this grant. So it's kind of like we need to get started now to hit the April timeline of when the ice comes up to move forward with the chiller replacement.”

Council moved several resolutions to the next business meeting on July 10 so that the group could vote on:

  • Approving the $2.5 capital project to purchase a new chiller and evaporator system for the ice rink.
  • Using a new county program that provides a one-time use of $5,000 for grant-writing services to pursue a Climate Smart Communities grant to offset the cost of the new chiller.
  • Agreeing to apply for the Climate Smart Communities grant of $1,235,000.

Public hearing Monday invites input from homeowners for potential financial assistance

By Joanne Beck

Could your home use some TLC in the form of much-needed repairs?

The city wants to submit for a Community Development Block Grant to assist income-eligible, single-family homeowners with essential home improvements, and input is a crucial part of the process.

Assistant City Manager Erik Fix wants to hear from homeowners during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers, second floor, City Hall.

Assistant City Manager Erik Fix
File Photo of Assistant City Manager Erik Fix, by Howard Owens.

“This grant, if we were awarded it, would coincide with our comprehensive housing strategy that we are in the process of developing.  It goes hand in hand with the Batavia Home Fund that the City, GCEDC and Town of Batavia signed an inter-municipal agreement to fund this past fall,” Fix said to The Batavian.  “The CDBG will provide funding for rehabilitation projects on owner-occupied, single-family home rehab projects throughout the city.  The hope is that when one neighbor makes improvements, others will as well, and the City can help foster rehabilitation throughout our communities.”

The Federal assistance Community Development Block Grant funds would enable homeowners to make home repairs with grant and deferred loan funding. Any single-family homeowner is encouraged to apply. The goal of the program would be to provide vibrancy to communities similar to recent improvements made to Summit Street to create vibrant transformations throughout the city.

This program will tie in with the city’s housing improvement plan and the recently created Batavia Home Fund. The process for CDBG applications involves one public hearing prior to the submission of any CDBG grant applications to provide residents with information about the CDBG program and to discuss community development needs and priorities.

In addition to the public hearing, Batavia city officials will be conducting a survey for city residents to understand the needs in the city. Surveys will be available on the city website, at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., and at the City Manager’s office at City Hall. Surveys must be returned to the manager’s office by July 7.

The City will be partnering with LaBella Associates to complete the grant application, which is due August 7.

The hearing is part of a City Council conference session at City Hall. 

Got your $1 million liability? Open containers welcome

By Joanne Beck
beertavia 2016
File photo by Howard Owens.

What’s that in Jackson Square? Open containers for alcohol, now that City Council has approved them, with a few special contingencies in place.

After much discussion a few weeks ago about allowing open containers within the confines of Jackson Square — surrounded by buildings and alleyways within Main, Jackson, School and Center streets — council agreed to try out the concept during spring, summer and fall events. But not without some protection, as requested by City Manager Rachael Tabelski.

Those extra precautionary measures include:

  • Bars and restaurants bordering and participating in Square events shall provide the city with general liability coverage in an amount of at least $1 million, naming the city as additional insured, and provide liquor liability coverage for off-premises naming the city as additional insured with a minimum of $1 million in coverage.
  • Prior to permitting any open containers in Jackson Square, the city shall be provided with the necessary insurance certificate and policies from the participating bars and restaurants and will approve coverages as a condition of participation.
  • A yearly review, or as necessary, of the policy.

During council’s last meeting two weeks ago, business owner Matt Gray spoke about the positives to come from allowing people to mill about in the Square with alcoholic beverages, including how the state liquor authority only allows four licenses per business, and this would free up his and other restaurants to host more outdoor events.

The current policy prevented folks from being able to carry their beverages with them to enjoy the outdoor concerts in the Square, and an open container policy may help establishments to get cross traffic, he said, such as Center Street Smokehouse, Eli Fish Brewing Company and O’Lacy’s, which surround the Square.

Likewise, Mary Jo Whitman, who has been involved with the Ramble Music and Arts Festival, said she thought that loosening the open container policy would bring more people into Jackson Square and provide more opportunities for people to enjoy a drink while participating in the outdoor events. 

And offering a different perspective on the same subject, James Simonds said he favored the policy because it might encourage recycling of container materials by keeping them in one area.

Council approved the application for open containers, per a request from the Business Improvement District and local groups, including Genesee County Chamber, GO ART!, and city business and restaurant owners. It is to take effect now for any business that provides the required liability insurance per stated above.

Jackson Square is about to get busy at 7  p.m. with a line-up of:

  • Old Hippies June 23 and 30
  • Ramble Music & Arts Festival July 1 (All Day)
  • Skycats July 7
  • Jim E Leggs July 14
  • Bluesway Band  July 21
  • Creekbend  July 28
  • Don Newcomb  Aug. 4
  • Songbirds Aug. 11
  • Ohms Band Aug. 18
  • Ghost Riders Aug. 25

Funding request approved for July 3 fireworks, 'Dogs owner gives back

By Joanne Beck
robbie nichols muckdogs sweeping dwyer
Muckdogs owner Robbie Nichols helps clean Dwyer Stadium on May 30 during a scrimmage game before the start of the 2023 season.  General Manager Marc Witt on the left. 
Pis hoto by Howard Owens

It took a few minutes for Batavia Muckdogs owner Robbie Nichols to answer the phone Tuesday, which is understandable.

Not only does he plan for special events, network and take care of finances for the business, but also the minor details of minor league baseball.

“I was just moving garbage cans around the ballpark,” he said. "Whatever needs to be done."

Nichols had recently made a request that $4,000 originally granted to GO ART! for Picnic in the Park be instead given to Batavia Muckdogs for a Fourth of July fireworks display after the July 3 ball game. City Council approved the request during its business meeting Monday, and The Batavian called Nichols for comment.

“We're glad that it was approved, and we're just gonna give it back to the city and the show. So we're excited about that. We do have fireworks on that night, it's going to be more grandiose, like a big city fireworks show sponsored by the city,” he said. “And so obviously, this will be a much larger show. And thank you to the city. And like we said, we'll get tickets out to those people that could use them.”

dwyer stadium fireworks
Fireworks at Dwyer Stadium in 2018.
Photo by Howard Owens.

In his letter requesting the additional funds, Nichols pledged to donate 100 tickets for families in need. On Tuesday, he said it would likely be more than 100 tickets, as he wanted to make it possible for any families that couldn’t otherwise afford to attend to be able to also enjoy the Fourth of July festivities.

“We enjoy being part of the community, and we enjoy being involved in as many events as possible in Batavia,” he said in his letter to council.

Julia Rogers, coordinator of the Batavia City Community Schools program, will be referring families for the tickets, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said.

Nichols and staff were glad that the money was awarded to them, he said, and they have no plans to keep it, treating it in the same vein as they do Dwyer Stadium:  “This is a city facility. It’s not our facility. We’re just the holders of the keys,” he said.

“You know, we're really excited. We put a lot of hard work into Batavia. (General Manager) Marc Witt does a great job with all the groups and people that he brings here. This Friday is Batavia Blue Devil night, and it's gonna be a large crowd, and Monday's game got rained out, and we already had a large crowd coming Monday night, so Friday should be another sold-out game, and we're really happy,” he said. “We had three sell-outs in our first four (games). So we're pretty happy, and we know we're going to sell out this next one. So the crowds keep coming out. We're just happy. They like our product and like what we do here.

“And we want people to enjoy it. You know, every weekend, people don't know we have baseball games, from morning to night. GLOW uses our field every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” he said. “So if the Dogs aren't playing, we have youth baseball being played from eight in the morning ’til eight at night almost every Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”

That was enough talk. He had other tasks to do.

“We get a lot of trash,” he said.

fireworks dwyer stadium 2018
Fireworks at Dwyer Stadium in 2018.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Church leaders deliver message at City Hall, want to talk over dinner

By Joanne Beck
Jason and Michelle Norton

Pastor Jason Norton and his wife Michelle became upset this past Friday afternoon when a rather loud and proud message for PRIDE week was displayed in the city parking lot in front of their church in downtown Batavia.

He and Michelle said that they are not a gay-affirming church, just as much as they wouldn’t have wanted a beer tent out front.

Not only did they not like the venue — a staging area for the annual LBGTQ parade and festival — to imply what type of church they were, but the event apparently blocked other needs for repairs and entry into the public lot, which conveyed a lack of communication they would have appreciated.

Once the pastor of EverPresent Church in City Centre voiced his intent to take the matter to City Hall, he faced backlash from a segment of the community, he said. He posted that since events, such as Drag Queen Story Hour, are happening at the public library, then he has decided to do likewise with his church message: For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

“My point is this, that on social media today, I don't need this. Because I said that we were coming here, we've already been barraged with the titles of bigotry and hatred, and homophobia, the list goes on and on. And on. I just wanted to go on the record tonight to let people know that not only are we a people-affirming church who loves all people, we love God and His stance first,” he said. "We are actually moving forward now, with having some dinners and some open discussions and some forums, that we can all meet in a peaceable manner to talk and discuss these things and why we believe this.”

His online post had reaped well over 100 comments, mostly debates between opposing LBGTQ beliefs. There was a similar ongoing debate recently on a series of photos posted by The Batavian from that PRIDE event.

Michelle Norton expanded on her complaint to add that further communication about the event and location of the staging area — with opportunity to negotiate — would have been ideal so that the church entrance at Batavia City Centre wouldn’t have been blocked.

Jason Norton focused on the principle of his ire, and gave as examples himself, as a  former drug addict who was invited in and accepted by a church that allowed “us to come in and experience God in a way that proved his love, and proved there was a God,” he said. He also spoke of his own daughter and how she struggled with bisexuality. He did not shame her but prayed for her and taught her about God and Jesus, he said.

"But we did not compromise on God's Word. We did not water it down to try to change God's word to fit into her choices to make her feel more accepted or approved as a lifestyle choice that she had made. Why did we do that? Because God is sovereign. And his viewpoints and his stance on certain things are steadfast and immovable. And I do not have the authority or the power to change or excuse me to change God's position on what is right and what is wrong,” he said. “Three years ago, our daughter came to the understanding that her lifestyle doesn't fit in contrast to God, and ... she asked God to help her to heal her. She experienced Jesus, not religion. Two and a half years ago, Tasha died suddenly. And I don't know how I would have lived with myself if I had buckled and twisted the truth of God and changed the scriptures to accommodate the struggle that she was going through and showing her a falsehood.”

City Council listened to the couple until their time limit was up and offered no comments about the subject matter. Councilman Bob Bialkowski asked about the way events work in city parking lots. City Manager Rachael Tabelski said that the backdrop of the stage was at the facade of the church building, but it is in a public lot.

“So when we do event applications, we can take into consideration placement of things and try to help those who would like to do events in our city parking lot to maybe have better flow,” she said. 

Block party: don't block access to driveways, streets or fun

By Joanne Beck
southside block party 2022
2022 File photo of a block party on Swan Street in Batavia, 
By Howard Owens.

When you hear the term block party, what comes to mind?

For City Councilman-at-large Bob Bialkowski, he thinks of idyllic picnics on Kingsbury Avenue for a barbecue, children's games and everyone going home by sundown, whereas Jerry Smith Jr. envisions food and craft vendors, a heavy musical lineup, T-shirts to commemorate the event and fun that goes well into the evening.

While block parties can stray in structure and size, they typically have one thing in common: they are meant to bring folks together to get to know one another and — ideally — strengthen the neighborhood.

While Smith believed that happened for his southside block party last year, others in his neighborhood had different feelings, as expressed to various council members. Before the summer party season begins this year, members of council wanted to revisit a few elements of that party that seemingly went off the rails, Bialkowski said.

“The whole thing was a disaster last year,” the councilman-at-large said, adding that nearby residents complained about various issues. “People sat on (one resident’s) front porch and on her lawn furniture, and wouldn’t move. She was afraid to tell him to get off her driveway, and she couldn’t leave. And other people had the same problem. The neighborhood hadn’t been notified about the block party, people couldn’t get into their driveways.”

Bialkowski asked to put the issue on Monday’s conference agenda for the group to discuss. There were other complaints, apparently, about loud and late-night music, street access being blocked off by barricades, a barbecue and smoker grill blowing volumes of smoke into adjacent homes and concerns that streets were full of vendors with little room for emergency vehicles to access if necessary.

Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said he doesn’t think anyone purposely did anything wrong; it’s just a matter of following through on some ground rules. Yes, sometimes a neighborhood party may inconvenience folks a bit, but it shouldn't prevent them from getting into or out of their own homes or otherwise enjoying their environments, he said. 

“It's not a problem. I mean, as long as they follow the rules, there's no problem,” Jankowski said. “No one called the police, no one called the authorities, no one knew who was running the party, the people that complained really weren't sure what was going on. So they didn't know who to contact. So later on, they contacted council members and said that they were upset because the block party had caused them some inconvenience. Some of those inconveniences were being unable to get in their driveway, strangers walking on their front lawn and such. And they didn't know what was going on. And they were concerned.”

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
Photo by Howard Owens

Smith told The Batavian that he was unaware of any complaints, as none had been addressed to him directly. He had not attended the council meeting when his application was reviewed last year either.  He is planning to have another block party this year, and he said that he will notify the street of the event. 

He was bothered that there might be something else going on related to the complaints, primarily that he and many party attendees are black.

Jankowski said that their racial makeup has no effect on him, and he lives on the southside and has no issues with anyone. He then took pause to reflect on that issue for a minute.

“Let's just talk about the elephant in the room here. It's not uncommon that any time somebody has an issue, it's a race-related issue, right? Everybody's got this on their mind. And they're in, so everybody's trying to say, Well, it's because we've had a block party and because we're black. Yeah. Nice try, but no, it’s because people couldn't get to their driveways,” Jankowski said. “And, you know, I live on this side of town. And it's a diverse side of town. Italian, Polish, black, Hispanic, everybody's fine. I don't see any problem. It's a peaceful place to live, it’s the best-kept secret of Batavia.

“So, you know, like I said, some disconnect took place within the parameters and, and if everything is done safely and through the health department, if you're going to be charging people for food … parties sometimes, it causes inconveniences, but maybe we should put a mechanism for someone to be aware of one of those, if you're gonna have a block party, you need to make sure everybody in the neighborhood knows what's going on,” he said. “And that they can get in and out of their driveway at all times. And that emergency traffic can go through at all times, you’re not blocking it off.”

City Manager Rachael Tabelski summarized the main points to be highlighted to applicants:

  • Local traffic must be able to get through, you certainly can't block the driveway.
  • You can't block emergency access.
  • You're not to go on other's property who don't offer it as part of the celebration, things of that nature.
  • You have to make outreach to the neighbors, whether it's knocking on doors, flyers -- something personal -- so that everyone understands what is going on and how it will affect their neighborhood.

“The last question I had was a topic that came up, do you have to be a neighborhood resident to throw the party? Council member Richmond brought it up, I just want clarity on how the rest of the council feels,” Tabelski said, getting her answer. “Okay, so in this case … the majority of times when these parties are thrown, it is a resident of that neighborhood who tries to open their yard or their home in the street.”

After council’s discussion on Monday, they agreed that city staff would be more communicative with applicants so that both sides would be better informed about events. Bialkowski was satisfied with the end result, he said.

“What I had hoped to accomplish, I think, is accomplished. The staff’s going to review these things from here on in. Police should need to send somebody down when they have one to make sure everything's copacetic,” Bialkowski said.

He also had a suggestion for Smith, who is planning to submit an event application for an ambitious-sounding block party this year: maybe he’d want to consider having it at a park instead.

City Council hasn't closed the book on open container requests

By Joanne Beck


Jackson Square 2011
Could there be open alcoholic beverage containers allowed in Jackson Square's future? BID has requested approval from City Council to drop the open container ban in the downtown Square during the summer.
File photo from 2011 by Howard Owens

We’re here to promote business, not to destroy it.

Those words, spoken by City Councilman Al McGinnis Monday evening, seemed to capture council’s sentiments to move forward on allowing open containers for alcoholic beverages in Jackson Square, throughout various downtown streets during a special event in July and with a limit of two beverages on a specially built group pedal vehicle.

The agreement didn’t exactly come without a lot of discussion, questions and clarifications about each element of the open container requests before them.

Batavia’s Business Improvement District, aka BID, requested that open containers be allowed in Jackson Square during the summertime when the space is ripe with concerts and spectators are usually relegated to sitting inside or on the upper deck of nearby restaurants.

City law hasn’t allowed music revelers to sip a craft beer or gin and tonic while relaxing in their lounge chairs outside — a point that may change when council gathers again on June 12 to discuss the issue with a detailed resolution in hand to potentially vote on afterward.

Entrepreneur Matt Gray spoke as a business partner of Eli Fish Brewing Company, which backs up to the Square and is in progress with building a patio. He listed reasons why council would want to give a yes for open containers, including number one, the state liquor authority will only permit a business four events for open containers, and after Eli’s carnival, Octoberfest, BID’s Italian Fest, and the Ramble, “we’re out of licenses for that space,” Gray said.

There’s potential for grassroots development within that area, he said, that could mean other types of businesses, such as a cider distillery or similar, to bring more people downtown.

“If you bring the people downtown, and that is our goal, more development happens on its own. So it's great that we're doing this work to Jackson Square, but I really think that having an open container will kind of push us to the next stage as far as getting more traffic to the downtown area,” Gray said.

While some council members agreed with Gray and supported his stance, they shared the possible pitfalls as well.

“My concern is, people using it as a public space, bringing their own alcohol, they get out of the eye of the public, and hang out in there, when there isn't a function going on at the restaurants that connect to it. So I'm in favor of it. But I would like to see possibly signage warning people if they leave that area that they're going to be in violation,” Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said. “And obviously, if no one is responsible for it, but yet they use it, who's going to be cleaning it up? I mean, I'm sure it's inevitable. There'll be bottles or glasses or plastic cups being thrown around in there. I know a lot of businesses clean up around their own business anyway. It's fine.

“But you know, hopefully, they would keep it clean on their own and notify if somebody was just in there, having a private party without any authorization and using the space for a hangout and drinking location. But that's not what you're talking about here. You're talking about promoting business, promoting activity in there and maybe even freedom to go from one establishment to another,” he said. “That's all great. I love all that. But my prior life has taught me that not everyone obeys the unwritten rules, so to speak.”

He suggested that some type of guidelines might be warranted to ensure that everyone follows the rules.

“To make sure that it stays clean, doesn't turn into a hangout, and that people know, if they're walking out with a beverage and they walk out to Jackson Street, they know when they walk through the alley that they're leaving the space, and then they probably should either dispose of their beverage or finish it up,” he said.

The BID also requested that the city drop its open container law per Batavia Municipal Code during the Italian Festival on July 29, so that people can enjoy libations on downtown streets during the event from 1 to 9 p.m. This approval would require council to grant special permission to allow open containers on designated city streets and sidewalks during this event.

The third request is from Kuyler Preston of his newly formed company Batavia Pedal Party LLC. Using a specially crafted pedal and motorized open-air vehicle, a driver takes groups on a two-hour tour of the city for a fun, enjoyable ride, Preston said. 

While everything about his business is licensed and insured, he is seeking approval from council to allow each passenger to bring two cans of alcoholic beverages on the ride.

The difference between this type of group trip and that of a limo is that the pedal party vehicle is not enclosed, and the alcoholic drinks are visible to other people not in the vehicle, city attorney George Van Nest said. So Preston needs approval from the city to allow for the open containers on the bike, Van Nest said.

Jankowski said that some further research and discussion with police may be needed before making final decisions on some of these requests.

“I think we're gonna have to do some research like other places have done and talk to our police and DPW and see how they feel about it. But definitely, I like the idea of that square becoming a more multi-use space, or the businesses that they use it there for any private gathering or whatever,” he said. “But as long as it's approved, instead of just, we're starting to get calls because people realize it gets off to a place that you can use it at four in the morning and drink alcohol. And that's not really what it was intended to be for.”

Council is expected to discuss them further during a special conference session on June 12, to be followed by a business meeting for related votes.

City Council holds town to wastewater limits, warns of penalties

By Joanne Beck
Brett Frank

Two Town of Batavia projects — the Kings Plaza Pump Station and Force Main Upgrade —  originally planned for completion in 2020 had been put on hold due to Covid-19 and increased pricing, city officials say, pushing it out to December 2021 when additional funding was available.

During that same time, the town’s wastewater flows increased to approximately 1.2 to 1.4 million gallons per day, which exceeded the town’s current contractual limit of .85 million gallons per day, as established in the Wastewater Facility Agreement dated in February 2015, city officials said.

“So basically what you’ve got, the Town of Batavia was awarded a grant from the New York State Community Development Block Grant to upgrade the Kings Plaza pump stations and make improvements to the existing water main that connects to the city's sewer system. They are over capacity right now,” Public Works Director Brett Frank said during City Council's conference meeting Monday at City Hall. “The pump station has a maximum capacity of .54 million gallons per day (MGD), and the town would like to plan for future growth … there’s concern with their current exceedance of the contractual former limits in the full capacity of the plant, and we believe we should not yet approve a capacity of one million gallons per day. This agreement will address these concerns and proposes modifications to ensure that the town adheres to the current capacity flows of point .54 MGD.”

City Council was asked to approve a resolution of agreement between the town and city of Batavia that the town will stick with an average .54 million gallons per day, and that if it goes above that, “daily monetary penalties will be levied by the city.”

City Attorney George Van Nest said that the city has “the ability to have penalties for going over that, which it’s in there, but we haven’t stipulated what those penalties would be.”

The town is also asked to agree that a new 12-inch force main will be installed from Kings Plaza Pump Station to River and South Main streets, and that the city may inspect the project.

“The upgrades at the Kings Plaza Pump Station will include a new master sewer meter,” the resolution states.

Council members Bob Bialkowski and Eugene Jankowski Jr. said they were concerned about the town paying the penalty, “and that’s not solving our problem,” Jankowski said, “and they’re getting away cheap to cause a problem for us.”

They wondered if the town should have to do its own water treatment, and Frank said that’s already in the plan.

“We’re actually engaging in those engineering services to potentially expand the wastewater treatment plant, and that would all be at the cost of the town of the Batavia to do those engineering services,” he said.

The matter was forwarded on to a business meeting that followed, and Council approved the resolution for the city manager to execute a related state Department of Environmental Conservation BSP-5 form.

City Council discusses residency waiver, moves to vote in May

By Joanne Beck

After a brief discussion Monday evening, City Council agreed to forward a residency waiver to its next business meeting for a vote.

The residency requirement for Fire Chief Josh Graham was to be in effect within six months of his hiring, which is up this month. Apparently, Graham requested an extension of that waiver, and most of council seemed to be in agreement to grant it.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski was the only one to question whether the chief used a city vehicle to drive to his home in Wyoming County, and Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said yes, as is the case for department heads.

The group agreed to forward the item onto the business meeting agenda in May.

When asked by The Batavian why the city was granting a waiver extension, Jankowski said that it was temporary.

“Until the situation changes. I can’t discuss the reasoning as to why,” he said. “I have no concerns, and if you come to work on time and you’re on-call and you’re here in a reasonable amount of time, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Council had at one time discussed widening the circle of territory for where city department heads could live and maintain residency requirements, Jankowski said. Other city officials have been granted such extensions of living outside of the city, including former and current police chiefs and assistant city managers, including the most recent one, Erik Fix, who lives in Le Roy.

Jankowski said he felt that as long as people made it to work on time and didn’t mind a longer commute and dealing with bad weather, it was ok with him.

But others disagreed, so they now take such situations on a case-by-case basis, he said.

By no means will there be a carte blanche residency waiver system, he said. This is just one of those individual cases, and council wants to work with a valuable employee, he said.

“He’s doing a great job,” Jankowski said of the fire chief.

File photo of Eugene Jankowski Jr. by Joanne Beck.

City to sell two mall parcels to downtown entrepreneur

By Joanne Beck


Derek Geib, entrepreneur, property owner and president of the Business Improvement District, has been a tight-lipped businessman.

He didn’t have much to say when voted in as president of the BID while operating successful enterprises with Bourbon & Burger, The Coffee Press and Roman’s, all in downtown Batavia.

Now it appears as though Geib has more ventures on his to-do list, with a proposal to buy parcels 11A and 11B in the City Centre from the city of Batavia.

When reached Monday, Geib would not go on record with any comments about the purchase or his plans for the mall property. He wouldn’t even give a hint about what type of business might be going into the space formerly occupied by Valle Jewelers several years ago.

City management had previously requested permission from City Council for a reassessment of vacant properties, and 11A and B were evaluated to be worth $60,000 as fair market value by Lynne, Murphy & Associates, Inc.

Geib, operating under Geib Estates Corp., agreed to pay the price tag, plus additional expenses. Assistant City Manager Erik Fix recommended that the city “continue to foster development and activity in the Batavia City Centre, a unique downtown asset, and authorize this sale.”

“The property will go onto the tax rolls, and all the appraisal fees and closing costs will be paid by Geib Estates Corp.,” Fix said during City Council’s conference session Monday evening.

The purchase would align with the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, Brownfield Opportunity Area and Strategic plans, Fix said in his memo to City Manager Rachael Tabelski.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski asked about the property’s assessed value and when the sale would actually take place. City Attorney George Van Nest said that a survey and title search will have to be completed first, which “can take a little bit of time.”

“But once that is done, we’ll make arrangements to have a closing and transfer the title,” he said.

Tabelski estimated that it would probably be in the summer, possibly in July. No one had an answer about the assessed value. According to online assessment records, the 2022 full market value is $124,000. For years, it has been sitting unoccupied. 

“Yes, put it back to work, I’m in favor of this,” Bialkowski said.

A resolution will be on the next business meeting agenda for council’s vote.

Photo of former Valle Jewelers property in Batavia City Centre from online assessment website. 

Faith, Family, City: new councilman ready to represent

By Joanne Beck


When he was in high school, David Twichell never intended to have children.

“The good Lord decided differently,” Twichell said during an interview with The Batavian. “Now I have 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.”

And the retired grandpa — most formerly facilities manager for Bank of America’s six states of the Northeast  — spends a lot of time with the little ones. He names it as one of his biggest hobbies. Perhaps no surprise is that Twichell has also served on the city’s Youth Board.

He believes in the JFK adage, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” And so, now that has filtered “down to the city level,” the newly inducted City Councilman said.

Twichell was sworn in Monday as the Second Ward representative, temporarily filling a vacancy left by Patti Pacino until the election in November.

A homegrown Le Royan and 1973 Pavilion High School graduate, Twichell went on to work as a guard at Attica State Correctional Facility in the mid-1970s for two years. He was then picked by Genesee County Sheriff’s Office to become a deputy.

“They were looking for individuals that had training in prison activities because, of course, back in those days, all deputies started out in the jail,” he said.

He left to become a single parent. Finding child care for his various shifts proved difficult, so he did it himself, he said. He adopted his first child from his ex-wife and went on to become a foster parent over the course of 20 years. He is glad he didn’t go with those first his school inclinations.

“Raising those three children was one of the best experiences in my life,” Twichell said.

He was on standby during COVID because “you know, when a child wakes up in the morning with a runny nose, you can’t send them to school. So Grandpa got a call at six o’clock in the morning, and I did a lot of babysitting, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Even when The Batavian called for an interview, he couldn’t talk because he was surrounded by grandkids, he said. They range in age from 16 to 18 months. Twichell sees the glass as half full for life, including his personal schedule.

“That’s another blessing. I’m divorced. I’m single. I’m retired. So I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said. “I get up every morning. My days are wide open. And I generally filled them with grandchildren.

And I do some odd jobs on the side, just to keep myself busy as well.”

Hobbies? The 67-year-old has several motorcycles and likes to take a cross-country trip every summer. The latest one was a roundtrip that took him to Washington State, southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. He has family in many states, “so I’ve got lots of places to stay on my trips.”

A newcomer to the government realm of an elected seat, Twichell has spent the past 15 years petitioning for young people during council meetings, he said, especially during budget sessions.

“Now I’m just looking to take that to the next level instead of representing just youth, now I’m representing the entire Second Ward,” he said. “It’s just become public that I’ve taken over the Second Ward from Patti, so I haven’t had much contact yet, but I’m anticipating a lot of future contact with my constituents.”

What challenges does the city face?
“I think some of the challenges that are gonna be forthcoming with the city are the budget, as the state seems to be giving us more and more mandates and less and less support, the new police station, all the development that's been going on with the Savarino project and Ellicott Street, etc., etc. And I think that's where we're really going to be focused with the increasing costs of personnel and fuel and labor costs,” he said. “And I think the city is facing some real fiscal challenges here in the future. And I'm looking forward to working with City Council and the city manager in addressing those issues.”

How will you get to know your constituents and what they think are city issues?
"What I'm planning on doing is primarily going door-to-door, but also putting out a public invitation for my Second Ward constituents and maybe have a picnic in the park or hot dogs and hamburgers. Something of that along those lines."

A motto you live by?
"I live by my faith, my family and my city," he said. "This is where I live. This is where I plan on spending my retirement until my last days. I'm not going anywhere, and am looking forward to these challenges."

He plans to run for the seat in November. His platform is to “ensure a level or reduced taxation structure while maintaining the same level of city services.”

Second Ward City Councilman David Twichell. Photo by Joanne Beck.

City Council welcomes new member, votes to pursue funding for new police station

By Joanne Beck


City Council members agreed to lay the groundwork for a new $15.5 million police station and appoint a new Second Ward representative during Monday’s business meeting at City Hall.

After approving a resolution to bring David Twichell aboard to fill the seat recently vacated by Patti Pacino, council, including Twichell, later voted on resolutions to seek funding from the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program as a potential funding source for a new police facility.

The city of Batavia has already been awarded a $2.5 million congressional grant, which is to be applied toward the cost of the facility to “address capacity concerns, building limitations, improve handicapped access and ensure quality police protection services now and into the future.”

As for payment of the remaining $13 million, the resolution states that “the process of applying for a loan does not obligate the city of Batavia in any way unless, and until, a specific loan and grant offer has been extended to the city by USDA RD and the city of Batavia’s approval of the offer is attained.”

Council also approved financing the cost of project construction of the police station with bond anticipation notes. The construction expenses in connection with the capital improvements of the police department safety headquarters are authorized at a maximum estimated cost of $15.5 million, according to the resolution.

The station will be located in the parking lot across from the Jerome Medical Center on Bank Street next to Alva Place. 

Councilman Bob Bialkowski said it will be nice to see a new facility after the decades -- estimated to be at least half a century -- of making do with older stations. A new facility "certainly meets the upcoming needs" of the department, he said. Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. agreed.

"It's long overdue," he said. 

Photo: Newly sworn-in member David Twichell, right, sits alongside members Eugene Jankowski Jr., left, and Paul Viele. Photo by Joanne Beck.

New City Councilman to be appointed to Second Ward seat temporarily

By Joanne Beck

The city of Batavia Republican Committee is wasting no time in filling the vacancy left by Second Ward City Councilwoman Patti Pacino.

David Twichell is expected to be sworn in to temporarily fill Pacino’s seat during Monday’s council meeting. Committee Chairman Rich Richmond confirmed that Twichell has been designated for the seat, and the item is on the council’s conference and business agendas for discussion and a resolution vote.

The meetings are set to begin at 7 p.m. Monday in the Council Board Room, second floor of City Hall.

Twichell, who lives on Summit Street in the city of Batavia, is to fill the vacancy until the next election in November. At that time, he is expected to run for the permanent term, along with any other candidates that run for the vacant seat.

Pacino had served on council for 13 years. She resigned her position as councilwoman during the last meeting nearly two weeks ago due to health concerns.

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