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County to begin process of forming shared services committee in answer to governor's mandate

By Howard B. Owens

The latest mandate on county governments isn't all bad, the way at least one local legislator and County Manager Jay Gsell see it.  

It's not a bad thing, they say, to look at opportunities to institute new shared services agreements among local agencies.

The difficulty may come in finding where those cost savings can be realized when the county has already consolidated many operations with other government agencies.

To meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo's requirement, the county must convene a committee of people representing the other government agencies in the county -- the city, schools, towns, villages -- and explore options for consolidation of agencies or shared services among agencies. The committee's work will result in a report approved by the County Legislature and delivered to the governor's office within two years.

There's no requirement that any of the ideas generated by the process actually be implemented.

That's certainly the governor's goal, Gsell said, but right now he just wants to push along the process of local agencies talking along these lines.

"In the initial year this is more (about) dialogue and discussion, (to) gauge whether there is interest in doing some of the things we’ve talked about," Gsell said.

Legislator Andrew Young said he thinks it's a good idea to have these discussions anyway.

"It helps get the discussion started," Young said during yesterday's Ways and Means Committee meeting. "I’m not saying it’s going to be easy because when mandates come down on us from the almighty it bothers us, but we should try to embrace this.”

Going back to the 1990s, the county has been involved in finding opportunities for shared services, Gsell said, starting with the Highway Department and its arrangement with town highway departments. The county has also been involved in creating shared services for emergency dispatch, consolidating the youth bureaus, including combining with Orleans County, and the health departments between Genesee and Orleans counties.

None of that will help the county with this report, though. The participating local governments must look for new opportunities.

Those might include a consolidated assessors office (right now, three assessors are shared among multiple agencies), or the creation of a centralized procurement office, consolidating code enforcement and zoning.

Right now, those are just examples and all come with their own challenges. Identifying those challenges will be part of the reporting process for the governor.

There may be ideas for consolidation or shared services that require the approval of legislators in Albany, and big projects, such as a shared jail between Genesee and Orleans counties, come with an array of challenges and potential legal complications.

The fact, though, that the county has completed so many shared services projects bodes well for officials to find more opportunities to cooperate, Gsell said.

"All of that stuff is behind us, but the fact that we’ve done this is an indication to me that we can do more," Gsell said. "We just have to put it on the table and get people to put on the table what are their issues, what are their constraints, and how do we get past them."

Teachers and students welcome change with enthusiasm, dedication

By Daniel Crofts

Upcoming fifth- and sixth-graders and their families got to see their new school, meet their new teachers, and connect with their peer mentors at Batavia Middle School's open house on Thursday.

What is a peer mentor, you ask? Well, here are a few:

Paige Hameister, Brianna Ball and Madison Mitchell are part of a team of more than 50 eighth-graders whose task it will be to welcome, support and serve as role models for their younger classmates throughout the 2012-2013 school year.

Their mentorship is part of "BMS Connects," an orientation program that was started in 2009 to welcome sixth-graders to the Middle School. This year, the program has been expanded to welcome both fifth- and sixth-graders in the wake of the school district consolidation.

According to a press release from the Batavia City School District, the purpose of "BMS Connects" is "to help fifth- and sixth-grade students feel more comfortable as well as help them achieve success in their first year at the Middle School."

Wednesday, Sept. 5, will be "Connect Day," a day of activities for fifth- and sixth-graders. It will follow a regular school day schedule. Students will come in at 8 a.m. (reporting to their homerooms by 8:07) and leave at 2:45 p.m.

The day will include team building activities involving Cain's Taekwondo, the City of Batavia Youth Bureau, the eighth-grade mentors and all BMS staff.

Fifth-graders will have their activities in the morning, sixth-graders in the afternoon.

Prior to the activities, the sixth-graders will get to know the school, go over their class schedules, travel around to their various classrooms, find their lockers and meet their teachers.

After morning activities, the fifth-graders will spend time getting to know their homeroom teachers (fifth-grade classes will retain the traditional elementary school model of one classroom, or "homeroom," throughout the day, broken up at intervals by "special" classes like art, music and physical education) and exploring such topics as Internet safety and "Q & A" about BMS.

The first day of school for all BMS students, grades five through eight, will be on Thursday.

A change of scene for kids and teachers

A yearly occurrence, "BMS Connects" takes on a special significance because of this year's transition. It is part of a larger process involving dedicated staff and students collaborating to welcome not only more new students than usual, but also a new batch of teachers.

Lynn Matteo is one of the fifth-grade teachers moving up to BMS (in her case, from Robert Morris School). She is pictured up top interacting with her new students and their families.

Here is a sampling of the fifth-grade teachers and aides who are "moving on up" with their students:

Pictured front row, from left: Kelly Mallaber, Shirley Boyd, Lori Easton-Penepent, Beth DeFreze, Christa Palmer, Deborah Murray, Karen Cima and Laura Kaczmarek. Back row, from left: Matteo, Charlene Barrett, Debbie Caruso, Richard Peek, Nathan Moore and Andrew Reagan.

Julia Rogers, who stepped into her new role as house administrator for fifth- and sixth-grades on July 1, talked about the large amount of effort everyone has put into making sure that the kids and their teachers enjoy as smooth, comfortable and welcoming a transition as possible.

"(The work) started last year when everyone knew about the consolidation," Rogers said. "(BMS Principal) Sandra Griffin and Tim McArdle, our assistant principal, worked tirelessly with the school district administrators to get this rolling."

She credits Interventions counselor Eric Knapp with being the "huge organizer" behind this year's "Connect Day" program.

"He is very multi-talented," she said. "He's done this in the past, but this time he's coordinating two different programs for two different groups of students on the same day."

That said, she also stressed that this whole process has been a team effort building-wide and district-wide, from the top administrators to the BMS custodial staff who had the fifth-grade classrooms ready for the teachers by mid-August.

"The teachers and support staff have really embraced this."

Fifth-grade staff members shared their perspectives on the transition as well.

"So far it's gone very well," Matteo said, "because everyone here is very warm and welcoming. They have made us feel right at home."

Shirley Boyd, formerly an aide at Jackson School, said the experience has been very exciting.

"You have to be willing to welcome change," she said, "and they (BMS staff and other fifth-grade staff) are doing that."

Mentors, models, friends

As is the case every year, the eighth-grade mentors have embraced their role with enthusiasm as well.

"It really is a big honor," mentor McKenna Dziemian said. "You have a lot of respect on your shoulders, but it's a huge responsibility as well."

"BMS Connects" is designed to benefit the mentors as well as the mentored. According to the district's press release, "the 'Connect Day' program helps mentors develop leadership skills, responsibility and team work as they begin their transition process to the high school."

Dajah Williams and Jhensy Etienne, both eighth-grade mentors, said that they were prepared for their task through training that included:

  • "trust exercises" in which one person would stand on a desk and fall backward, and a partner would have to catch him/her;
  • a "scavenger hunt" to find the new students' classrooms; and
  • an exploration of the "middle dchool mindset" (positive and negative attitudes, etc).

Mentors will be assigned to individual fifth- and sixth-grade homerooms, and they will spend all of Wednesday with their charges. They, as well as staff, will help to answer students' questions and orientate them to the middle school.

According to Rogers, the mentors will be involved with their younger peers to varying degrees throughout the school year. For example, they might assist with activities in fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms, or a mentor might be "called upon if a child needs a friend or support."

"The big thing is that the fifth- and sixth-grade students will see faces they know (when the school year officially starts)."

High expectations are set for all of the mentors. As role models, they are expected to keep their grades up and model good behavior throughout the year.

Excitement for a new beginning

Rogers said that Thursday's open house, which included separate sessions for fifth-graders and sixth-graders, went very well.

"The students are really excited," she said. "I've noticed that most of their questions are focused on who their teachers will be."

Any families who were not able to attend the open house can access the House Student Handbook and Thursday's PowerPoint presentations by visiting the BMS 5/6 House Web page.

Batavia supervisor says there's still much work to be done on proposed consoldiation

By Howard B. Owens

The consolidation task force has put in a lot of work and done a great job so far, but its work is far from over, said Town of Batavia Supervisor Greg Post.

Post was reacting to earlier reports that the consolidation effort has been delayed because the town has yet to pass a resolution asking the State Legislature to pass home rule legislation.

"It's a little premature," Post said, "but I don't want anybody to think they did anything wrong."

Post said the proposed city charter presented by the task for should be treated as a draft, adding that it needs to be reviewed, refined, reviewed, refined and reviewed and refined again before it's ready to be considered a final proposed charter.

"There's still work to be done," Post said. "They need to attend to the schedule. What it takes to do it right is what it takes."

Post explained that by the time the task force was formed, the effort was already behind schedule for the agreement approved by both the city council and the town board.

"This is an effort that was projected to take 12 to 18 months and it's barely been eight months," Post said.

Post stressed repeatedly during the conversation that he thinks the task force is full of talented people who worked hard to get the draft charter to this stage -- he doesn't want anybody to think they've failed in that effort, but the job isn't done it.

"It takes a lot of work to get something like this done," Post said.

The town supervisor said he continues to support consideration of consolidation, but no decision can be made on whether to support consolidation until the charter can be fully vetted, including ample public feedback.

Until that's done, he said, the State Legislature should not be asked to pass legislation to make a vote on consolidation possible.

Consolidation put on hold after town board doesn't pass necessary resolution

By Howard B. Owens

Consolidation of the town and city hit a bump in the road this week when the Town of Batavia failed to enact a home rule resolution that would allow the state legislature to clear the path for a local referendum.

Chad Zambito, chairman of the consolidation task force, announced today that all planned public meetings on the topic are being postponed and it's unlikely that voters will be given a chance to vote on the proposal in November, as originally planned.

"We wanted to get a final document to come before the people and that's not going to happen in the time originally envisioned," Zambito said.

While the Batavia City Council passed the necessary home rule legislation a week ago, the town board failed to pass the same resolution, which is needed to get a bill through the State Legislature thereby allowing the consolidation process to go forward.

Town Supervisor Greg Post, who in the past has advocated strongly for consolidation, could not be reached for comment.

Zambito said that two informational meetings originally set for May 17 and May 24, as well as a set of four public hearings starting May 31, have been postponed indefinitely.

Getting an initiative on the November ballot was an aggressive goal, Zambito said, and now with the delay in the home rule legislation, it would be hard to meet the necessary timeline.

He said the task force will work on tweaking the charter document and re-present it to the public bodies for consideration.

Charter Task Force presents proposal for moving forward with city and town consolidation

By Howard B. Owens

A proposal to merge the city and town of Batavia is moving forward and at the start of Monday's city council meeting, the Charter Task Force Committee presented its proposed city charter and timeline for public hearings and public vote.

Chairman Chad Zambito (above) made the presentation, telling council members that the committee settled on a council/manager form of government with ward representation combined with at-large council seats (much like the current City of Batavia).

There would be four wards and five at-large seats.

As initially proposed, the new city would have a tiered tax structure with the current city having a tax rate to help pay for current city services -- primarily fire and police protection -- and the current town having a separate tax structure to maintain its current level of service.

The timeline toward possible adoption:

  • The town board and the city council must each pass a resolution asking Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer to introduce legislation to make consolidation possible;
  • May 17, info session at the town hall;
  • May 24, info session at city hall;
  • May 31, public hearing;
  • June 4, public hearing;
  • June 11, public hearing;
  • June 21, public hearing;
  • In July, public input reviewed, documents edited and corrections made to proposed charter;
  • August, revised charter introduced to city and town officials, city and town hold public hearings, city and town vote on charter and ballot initiative;
  • September, ballot initiative must be submitted by city and town by Sept. 9;
  • Nov. 6, Election Day and voters in both city and town can vote on ballot initiative.

If approved:

  • Town and city boards, appointees and employees remain in place until Jan. 1, 2014;
  • The task force recommends a consolidation committee be formed comprised of elected officials and residents from both the city and town;
  • Election of new city council in November 2013, with at-large seats elected to four-year terms, and wards started with two-year terms (a four-year term election for wards starting in 2015).

Currently available documents related to the proposed consolidation can be found on the consultant's website.

Website set up for residents to track progress of consolidation task force

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

A new website, specifically designed to help residents stay informed as the creation of the new city charter unfolds, is now live. The website ( has been launched by the task force, which includes an eight-person committee and the study consultant.

The city and town of Batavia applied for and received a grant from New York State's Local Government Efficiency (LGE) program. After receiving the grant, the city and town engaged the Center for Governmental Research (CGR), a Rochester-based consulting organization with significant experience in local government consolidation, to assist the task force.

Task force members representing the city are Chad Bachorski, Gail Stevens, Dan Jones and Laura Landers. Representatives for the town are Chad Zambito, Judith Cotton, Larry Reisdorf and Marcia Riley. There are two alternates for the task force: city resident Joe Gerace and town resident Alan Koch.

The task force has been charged by the town and city to develop a new city charter that would legally consolidate the two municipalities into one new City of Batavia. The task force is also working to generate a home rule bill that would allow the new city charter to be brought to the citizens of Batavia for public referendum. It is the intent of the governing bodies of city and town to place the new city charter before voters in November 2012.

“The committee is excited to have the website up and running so that we can easily share information with the community,” said Chad Zambito, task force chair. “This is an important project that could have long-term implications on the citizens of Batavia and we hope they take this opportunity to digest the information and make an informed decision.”

Key charter documents and task force reports will be posted to the website, with postings occurring throughout the process. Batavia residents wishing to submit comments and feedback directly to the task force can do so via the website. Residents can also sign up to receive email alerts when significant new information is added to the site.

“The website worked very well during the original Batavia consolidation study,” Zambito said, referring to the analysis conducted by CGR for the city and town in 2008 and 2009, which served as a precursor to the task force’s work. “The committee felt it would be an important communication tool as the process moves forward.”

Council approves hiring state-funded facilitator to help consolidation task force

By Howard B. Owens

"In for a dime, in for a dollar" seemed to be the argument that won the night at Batavia City Council meeting when it came time to vote on a proposal to hire a facilitator to help the Consolidation Charter Task Force do its job.

The facilitator will cost $55,000, but will be paid for by a state grant.

Bill Cox and Rosemary Christian -- the two no votes in a 6-2 vote -- argued that consolidation has no chance of approval by Town of Batavia voters and therefore the money should be spent.

But other council members argued that state grant money has already been spent on consolidation studies so the city should support finishing the process.

Perhaps some good ideas will come out of the task force with a facilitator's help, said Tim Buckley.

"We're on our own 10-yard line," said Tim Buckley. "We've got 90 yards to go. Let's get to the end zone."

Frank Ferrando said that he could be pursaded to vote against the proposal if voting no would actually save taxpayers money, but if the city doesn't spend the grant money, he said, then some other municipality will.

"Any time we can take advantage of money from a broader base of taxpayers to do something that could save our taxpayers money, we should," Ferrando said.

As for the town voters possibly not approving a consolidation plan, Ferrando argued that first, the town's leadership must believe consolidation has a chance of passing in the town, or they wouldn't keep voting to approve consolidation measures.

"I want to see information on consolidation because there is a possibility it could be very beneficial to the city," Ferrando said. "It could it be beneficial to the town, we’ll see, but I don’t represent the town. I represent the city."

John Kennedy addition is a possible 8th option for city schools' consolidation

By Geoff Redick

The list of consolidation options  for the Batavia City School District briefly got a bit shorter Wednesday, when officials announced the elimination of Option 3, which would have stuffed too many kids in too few classrooms.

Now the number of proposals is bigger than it's ever been.

After unveiling Options 5a and 5b in a news release Wednesday, officials introduced a tentative "Option 6" (above) at their meeting Wednesday night at Batavia High School. The as-yet unofficial plan would build an addition (highlighted in blue) at John Kennedy Elementary school, allowing that building to accomodate all of the district's elementary students. John Kennedy would then become the only elementary school in the district.

Including sub-options 2a, 5a and 5b, there have now been eight announced ideas on how to realign the district and get rid of the Washington Avenue administration building.

"Financially, we're not the only ones in this situation. It's school districts around the country," said Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Jim Jacobs today. "Looking at many different options and seeing what fits a big decision."

Jacobs presented "Option 6" Wednesday night, and further explained it today.

"If we were to create Option 6: if (John Kennedy) was (to be) a K-4 school, we'd need to add 20 classrooms. If it was a K-5, we'd need to add something like 30 classrooms," he said.

Jacobs' rough rendering (above) shows what the project could look like.

"Amazingly, the site can support it," he said.

The addition would be a capital project, meaning it would need voter approval. Jacobs calls the plan viable, but won't yet say if he personally supports it.

"We would have to sit down with the architect, and go over program and space needs, and administrative needs," he said. "Those details need to be worked out, to actually put a dollar amount on what the addition could cost us.

"This option takes us away from our neighborhood concept, and it puts us in one location," which are both downsides to the plan, Jacobs said.

It's unclear when or if "Option 6" will become an official consolidation option.

Meanwhile, options 5a and 5b, released Wednesday, were constructed entirely from parent suggestions at recent public meetings. Option 5a would move half of Batavia's K-4 into Jackson School, and the other half into John Kennedy School, along with pre-K. Administrators would move into Robert Morris School, and fifth-graders would move into the middle school.

Under Option 5b, administrators would move into Jackson, and K-4 students would go to Robert Morris. All other facets remain the same as 5a.

Both 5a and 5b preserve the idea of neighborhood schools, though each plan eliminates one of the current elementary schools.

The final public meeting on the consolidation process will be held at 6 p.m. next Tuesday night, Oct. 4, inside Jackson Elementary School.

City and town leaders to meet and discuss consolidation charter task force

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

Please be advised that Batavia City Council will hold a meeting with the Batavia Town Board on Wednesday, Aug. 31. It will begin at 7 p.m. at the Batavia Town Hall, 3833 W. Main St. Road, to discuss the City / Town Charter Task Force consultant's recommendation.

Christian comes back from meeting in Albany even more opposed to consolidation

By Howard B. Owens

Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian believes she has new evidence to feed her opposition to consolidation between the town and the city.

Christian and colleague Patti Pacino recently attended New York Conference of Mayors' Winter Legislative Meeting in Albany.

She says she heard horror stories about how consolidation is going in other municipal jurisdictions.

She said lawsuits and fees are skyrocketing.

From WBTA:

"One of the areas is with the fire department: volunteer versus paid. And now the volunteers want to get paid," Christian says. "The other one was the (village) police department, and where their jurisdiction is going to stop. Are they going into the town?"

Christian says Seneca Falls was one of the only approved consolidations in New York State. Municipalities almost everywhere else have voted it down. Christian says those votes have been very lopsided, and she believes it would be the same way here -- based on what she's heard about the town.

"So obviously they have to work everything out in our area," she says, "before they even consider putting this forth."

Christian says there’s a much better alternative.

"You can have shared services, without doing any of this," she says.

Seeking applicants for Consolidated Charter Task Force

By Billie Owens

The Town of Batavia and the City of Batavia are still looking for candidates to be appointed to the Consolidated Charter Task Force.

The deadline to apply is this Friday, Dec. 10.

It will be responsible for preparing a revised City Charter to continue the joint effort by the town and city to investigate the possibility of consolidating the town and city into one Batavia.

The Consolidated Charter Task Force, with the assistance of a facilitator, will be expected to draft a Consolidated City Charter, to be reviewed by the public, town board and city council.

The selection process for the Consolidated Charter Task Force shall consist of interviews conducted by an Interview Committee consisting of three town board members and three city council members. Upon the Interview Committee's recommendations, the town board and city council will jointly appoint the Consolidated Charter Task Force.

It will consist of four town residents and four city residents. All task force members must be at least 18 years old.

Individuals in the following categories shall not be considered for inclusion on the task force: all members of the town board and the city council; all members of the planning boards and the zoning boards of appeals for both the town and the city; all employees of the town and the city and the spouses of any individual in the above categories.

Applications for the Consolidated Charter Task Force are available at the Town Clerk's Office, 3833 W. Main St. Road, in the Town of Batavia, and at the City Clerk's Office, One Batavia City Centre, in the City of Batavia.

Applications can also be downloaded from the town website: or the city website:

Applications must be returned to the Town Clerk's Office or the City Clerk's Office. The deadline is Friday, Dec. 10.

City council takes next step on consolidation path

By Howard B. Owens

Consolidation of the town and the city took another incremental step forward Monday night as the Batavia City Council passed a resolution to form a committee to select a committee.

Three council members are being tasked with the job of finding residents to serve on the Consolidation Charter Task Force.

The task force will be asked to write a new charter for the proposed merged municipality.

Voters in both jurisdictions would then be asked in 2012 to vote for or against the charter.

Representing the city would be Marianne Clattenburg, Tim Buckley and Frank Ferrando.

The town will also appoint three representatives to review potential members of the charter task force.

The elected officials will not actually be involved in the charter task force.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski objected to taking this next step toward consolidation.

He said consolidation efforts in other communities have really turned into civil wars.

"It’s turning neighbor against neighbor, relative against relative," Bialkowski said. "It removes a lot of local control and it doesn’t solve the problem.

"I hate to see community torn apart," he added, "The majority of the people in the town are going to vote against it anyway."

Batavia consolidation receives state funding, poised for next steps

By Howard B. Owens

Efforts to get a better look at what consolidation of  the city and town might look like is moving forward with the award of a $49,500 Government Efficiency Grant from the state.

City Manager Jason Molino said that the city has not yet received official notification of the grant, but once it does, city and town officials will meet to discuss the next steps.

According to a prior agreement between the city and town, officials must appoint, within 30 days of funding, an interview committee charged with recommending members for a Consolidation Charter Task Force.

Once a charter is written, the city and town will need to seek legislation in Albany to allow a referendum vote in both jurisdictions.

Molino said it's still the feeling in the city that consolidation is "worth looking at."

"That's been the mentality of everybody involved in the process," Molino said. "The mentality has been we have a chance to be handed a clean sheet of paper, so let's understand what can be put on that piece of paper."

The funding for moving forward with consolidation comes just a week after voters in the villages of Sloan and Williamsville in Erie County overwhelming rejected dissolution initiatives -- part of a statewide effort to, at least in theory, reduce the size of government.

Molino said he doesn't know why voters rejected dissolution, but he suspects a lack of information had a lot to do with it.

One of the flaws of the dissolution legislation, Molino said, is that it doesn't require any study or planning. Voters in towns and villages (the legislation doesn't apply to cities) aren't exactly told what will come next if their local government is dissolved.

"There was no plan in place," Molino said. "Whatever you do, whether it's put in sewers or sidewalks, you have to have a good plan in place in order to understand what you're getting into. That's true for dissolution or consolidation, too."

While conventional wisdom around the county is that residents in the Town of Batavia will never agree to consolidation, Molino said the only thing to do is develop a plan, educate the public and let the voters vote.

"It's not my job to predict how voters will react," Molino said.

The interview committee will consist of the city council president and two council members as well as the town supervisor and two town board members. The committee will select eight charter task force members -- four from the city, four from the town -- and each member must be unanimously approved by the selection committee.

Charter task for members cannot be a city or town elected official, a member of planning or zoning boards, an employee of the city or town, and spouse of any such person.

The task force will be asked to submit a draft charter by July 30, 2011 and a final proposed charter by Dec. 31, 2011.

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.: We were finally able to talk with Town Supervisor Greg Post today. Post echoed Molino's "clean sheet of paper" remarks.

"I’m interested in seeing what a new charter looks like," Post said. "That’s been my interest from day one. This is the first opportunity in my experience, and probably in more than 100 years, where a group of citizens from the local smallest entity there is can collaborate on a new charter."

By narrow margin, council restarts town-city consolidation process

By Howard B. Owens

A proposal to consolidate Batavia's city and town governments is moving forward again.

It appeared that the consolidation effort stalled in August when, on a motion by Councilman Sam Barone, the city council voted 5-4 to table a resolution calling for a public hearing on the process.

Last night, again on a 5-4 vote, the council passed a resolution to apply for a grant to fund creation of a new city charter for a consolidated government and to sign an agreement with the town to appoint a consolidation task force.

The council members who opposed moving forward with the task force and charter process -- Bill Cox, Sam Barone, Rose Mary Christian and Bob Bialkowski -- said they didn't want to see any further effort wasted on talk of consolidation without a clear understanding that people in both jurisdictions wanted bring the city and town together.

Bialkowski asked if a referendum could be held, but City Manager Jason Molino said there were no provisions in state law to allow for a referendum vote without first writing a charter, so Cox asked if maybe the three local media outlets could conduct a survey.

Speaking in favor of moving forward, Councilwoman Kathy Briggs said, "We’ve got to have the facts. We’ve got to have the pros and cons. There are a lot of people who are undecided because they don’t have the facts.”

Councilman Frank Ferrando said he didn't think the public had enough information to make an informed decision just yet about consolidation. He said he didn't have enough information to make up his own mind. He isn't sure it really will save money, but if there is a chance it will, it needs to be studied further, he said.

"We’ve got to start looking into ways to save the taxpayer money," Ferrando said. "We’re not going to do it staying the way we are. We’re just going to keep spinning wheels and we’re going to be breaking people. We’re going to be taking them down further and further and further. I think this deserves study, clear understanding, before we put it to our citizenry to a vote."

Barone disagreed, saying, "I think the information (in previous public meetings) was very well presented."

Cox and Bialkowski said they had doubts about whether consolidation would really lead to much cost savings, noting the previous 12-month study found only $78,000 in potential cost savings.

After the meeting, Molino told reporters that, actually, the study found a potential of $245,000 in savings. Plus, an extra $820,000 in state aid would be available to a consolidated municipality.

The available state grants would provide the task force/charter review committee with $49,500, most of which would cover legal fees associated with writing a new charter. The city and town would each need to contribute $2,500 to the process.

Bialkowski said he was concerned that pursuing consolidation further would be like pouring more taxpayer money down the same hole and at the end of two years, nothing would be accomplished.

The proposed commission would be comprised of four city residents and four town residents, who could not be elected officials, government officials nor their spouses. The appointees would be selected by a joint city-town committee consisting of the council president, the town supervisor and two council members from each body.

Council President Marianne Clattenburg spoke in favor of consolidation saying that it's an obvious waste of resources to have two government bodies providing identical services.

“You talk about shared services, but what’s the ultimate shared service but consolidation, so you don’t have one government entity over here and then five miles away they have a whole other government," Clattenburg said. "The idea is to put them together to save money. It’s not talking about what’s the state going to give us next year.

"It’s about what’s going to happen five, 10, 20 years from now. As the town grows, their administrative costs are going to go up. If they expand, and we hope they do, because it’s good for everybody, then those costs are going to start to get to be as big as ours."

Mallow: City Council killing consolidation with town

By Howard B. Owens

Is consolidation a dead issue?

City Council President Charlie Mallow thinks so.

He thinks so after, for a second time, the council tabled "indefiniately" a resolution to hold a public hearing on a proposed joint charter review commission.

“It’s a political maneuver to kill something permanently without actually going on the record and voting against it," Mallow said after the meeting. "We’ve had things in the past, you know, we’ve had all this controversy about that slumlord act that was tabled indefinitely. It’s killed. It means you voted against it but you don’t want the public to recognize it. That’s what happened here tonight.”

The resolution, while moving forward the idea of consolidation of the city and town of Batavia, would hardly have committed either community to joining forces in a single municipal body. It would have simply allowed a joint committee to come up with a plan of what a consolidated Batavia might look like as a legal entity.

It was clear from the motion of of Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian that at least some of the council members who voted to table the motion did so as a maneuver to block further consolidation talk.

"I have a problem with it simply because once it takes effect, there’s no turning back," Christian said. "The fact is that consolidation is good, but, I don’t see why we can’t have shared services. We can share facilities. We can share equipment. Why do we need consolidation?"

Councilwoman Kathy Briggs said after the meeting, however, that most of the council was focused on language in the resolution that would have had the city council president sitting on the committee, and many council members think that job should go to the new council president, whomever that might be, once Mallow is out of office and a new council is seated among a group of people who would appoint committee members. They want the new council president, whomever that might be, be part of that process.

City Manager Jason Molino told the council that Town of Batavia officials are interested in revising the resolution anyway to clarify some of the language and add a little more substance.

"They want to add more specifics on the parameters of what committee with do," Molino said.

Councilman Frank Ferrando didn't sound hopeful that consolidation would move forward.

“I hope that there’s support, because that’s an important move that this community has to make," Ferrando said. "Right now, it’s hard to read."

It was Ferrando who requested the resolution be placed back on the council agenda after it was tabled two business meetings ago.

"When you table something, you don’t table it into perpetuity. It has to come back again," Ferrando said. "I haven’t heard a good reason yet as to why we’re not moving forward."

Ferrando indicated that he'll take the next opportunity -- the next conference meeting -- to get the issue before the council again.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski raised the first procedural question after Ferrando finished speaking. He seemed to think that tabling it previously killed it. City Attorney George Van Nest said there was no procedural reason -- nothing in Roberts Rules of Order or prior council practice -- to prevent the council from taking action on the resolution.

Councilman Bill Cox also raised procedural objections.

Mallow was having none of it and accused his fellow council members of being cowards for not taking a yes or no vote on the resolution.  He said killing consolidation without a vote was a waste of state taxpayers money (a state grant paid for the consolidation study) and that council members owed it to citizens to give them at least a chance to discuss the idea.

"If you don’t want this, vote against it," Mallow said. "Vote against it. We owe that at least to the members of the public, but you don’t even want to give the members of the public and the people in this city the right to even talk about this issue?  That’s stealing the state’s money. That’s stealing taxpayers money. Let them talk about it. Let them come up with a proposal.

"Fear of change," Mallow added. "We all have little seats here on council. Maybe they don’t like us. Maybe they don’t like the idea that we have a city council. Maybe they’ll change it. Maybe they’ll give us a mayor. Who knows what they’ll do? That's the fear. That’s the fear of the unknown."

Christian's motion to table, passed 6-3, with only Mallow, Ferrando and Councilwoman Marianne Clattenburg voting to keep the issue alive.

City Council tables vote on consolidation charter commission

By Howard B. Owens

On the motion of City Councilman Sam Barone, the Batavia City Council tonight put off a vote on forming a commission to create a new charter for a consolidated Batavia.

At the 7 p.m. business meeting, the council had been scheduled to vote on a resolution scheduling a public hearing in order to form a new charter commission.

The commission would have four members appointed by the city along with four appointed by the town.

There was no discussion of Barone's motion to table the vote for now. His motion passed 5-4.

UPDATE: After the meeting, Barone said he thought the current city charter review process should be completed before the city embarks on a new charter process for the proposed consolidation.

Consolidation committee recommends work start on new charter with vote in 2011

By Howard B. Owens

Rather than put consolidation to a vote of the people in November, the Consolidation Study Committee is asking governing bodies for both town and city to establish a joint charter commission to draw up a document that would outline what a merged municipality would look like.

Under the new proposal, there wouldn't be a public vote on consolidation until November 2011. Committee members said this would allow both city and town residents to be fully informed about consolidation before voting.

When the committee made its initial report on consolidation two months ago, the plan was to have a yes-or-no vote in both the city and the town in November of this year. If consolidation was approved in both jurisdictions, then a charter commission would be formed.

Now Town Supervisor Greg Post said he prefers a clean-slate approach to create a whole new governing agency for the Batavia community.

"We have an opportunity to sit down with a clean piece of paper and say what works and doesn't work for Batavia," Post said. "We've been given an opportunity that is priceless. People talk about what doesn't work with government, but we have an opportunity to sit down and create one that does work."

But Batavia City Councilman Bill Cox sounded a more cautious, "not so fast" alert during Wednesday night's meeting at the Batavia Town Hall. He's concerned that the consolidation study so far hasn't produced enough actual numbers of hard-cost savings for taxpayers. Plus, he distrusts how much the study committee seems to be leaning on $820,000 a year in grants from Albany for a consolidated government. 

Cox is concerned that the biggest city expense -- police and fire personnel -- hasn't been addressed by the study committee.

"Those topic are taboo from being part of the discussion and when you eliminate those two cost centers from the discussion, then the opportunity for cost savings is greatly reduced," Cox said.

City Manager Jason Molino, who served on the study committee, took issue with what he saw as Cox's characterization that the committee had not done its work by omitting police and fire savings in its report. 

Molino said the committee made a decision not to delve into that topic because it's really a policy decision that a new governing body will need to address. It's a question that goes beyond mere cost savings: what level of service will residents in the new government want?

The study committee recommends that the consolidated Batavia (and we're assuming it will still be "Batavia") should be a city.  As a city, there are advantages both in cost savings, grants from the state and more sales tax authority.

As for how the new city would govern, the committee is recommending an at-large elected mayor and six council wards. There would be one ward for the current town, one for the current city with the remaining four wards split between the town and the city.

That is, if the proposed charter commission likes those recommendations. The eight-member commission (four town residents and four city residents) could decide to go in a completely different direction.

Here's the recommended timetable for consolidation:

August 2009: City and town governing bodies pass a local law to create a joint charter commission. This would require a public hearing. Together, the city and town would apply for a grant to pay for the commission's legal work.

September 2009: Town and city begin interviewing potential charter committee members.

October 2009: Commission members selected.

November 2009: Commission members appointed and begin work.

December 2010: Commission completes work on a new charter.

Spring 2011: City and town governing bodies accept charter and ask state Legislature to place charter on the ballot at the general election in 2011.

Late Summer / Fall 2011: City and town hold public hearings on proposed charter.

November 2011: City and town hold separate votes. The charter must pass in both jurisdictions.

2012: If passed, 2012 is a transition year, preparing for the merger.

November 2012: Election of a mayor and ward representatives (if this form of government is recommended by charter commission).

Jan. 1, 2013: New merged municipality is born.

UPDATE: Download PDF of Consolidation Press Release.

Committee ready to release final report on consolidation

By Howard B. Owens

After two public meetings and collecting feedback online, the consolidation study committee is ready to release its final report on a possible merger of the town and the city of Batavia.

The title of the report: Plan for Consolidating the City & Town of Batavia in One Government.

I guess "A Tale of Two Cities" was taken.

The report will be released Wednesday night at 7 o'clock in Batavia Town Hall.

A copy of the report will be made available to the public on the consolidation Web site on Thursday.

Following release of the report, it will be up to the governing bodies of the city and the town to decide how and when to proceed. Each body must hold a public hearing and then agree to schedule a ballot proposition asking "should there be a consolidation." 

If both jurisdictions approved of such a measure, we still wouldn't have consolidation, because each jurisdiction's voters would then have to approve a new charter.

Meanwhile, the city has its own City Charter revisions to consider and if that goes on the November ballot, city residents won't get the opportunity this election cycle to vote on consolidation.

By state law, no other ballot questions can appear when the charter revision is up for vote.

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