Skip to main content


Financial Peace University

By Allison Lang

Are you ready to change your financial future?
Our next semester of Financial Peace University will be held on Tuesday nights, starting on Sept. 18 from 7-8:30 at our North Campus.

It is located at 8160 Bank Street Road, Batavia.

For more than 25 years, Financial Peace University, created by Dave Ramsey, has helped millions of people take control of their money. Through this nine-week course, Ramsey’s proven money class will show you step-by-step how to create a budget, pay off your debt, make wise spending decisions, and save for the future.

Event Date and Time

County Airport is an Integral Part of Our Local Transportation Network

By Timothy Hens

Recent editorials in the Daily News, while defending the Genesee County Nursing Home, have been critical towards the funding of a new set of T-Hangars at the Genesee County Airport.  The usual airport slurs such as the "Rich man's playground" and the "Rich get richer" or "Benefits very few" are being used again.  It is important to remember that the Airport is an integral part of our local transportation network and critical to the continued development of the local economy. 

All of the residents of Genesee County benefit directly from the operations of the airport on Saile Drive just as they benefit from a well maintained system of roads and bridges.  In fact, it can be argued from a financial standpoint that they get back more than they put in.

In 2009, Genesee County spent $547,338.07 to operate its airport.  This money was appropriated from the General Fund, which is supported with the property tax levy among other items.  Genesee County staffs the airport and rents or leases property, hangars and tie-down spaces to private individuals and businesses.  In addition, the county sells fuel to based and transient aircraft.  These two revenue sources generated $581,455.12 in 2009 for a total surplus of $34,117.05.  A portion of this surplus, $15,008.05 was used to payback a shortfall in 2008 and the remainder, $19,109.00, was placed in a deferred revenue to be used to offset future airport expenses.  The shortfall in 2008, since paid back, was the first time since 2000 that the airport cost property taxpayers a single penny.

From an operational standpoint the County Airport is cost neutral to property taxpayers.  There is however a tremendous amount of economic and social impact created by the activities at the Genesee County Airport.  Boshart Enterprises and Aircraft Services operate from the Main Hangar at the airport.  This is a successful private business that employees several people.  Several prominent local companies such as Milton Cat, Innovative Energy, Lowe's, National Grid, Western New York Energy and others rely on the airport to run their business.  Mercy Flight houses a aeromedical unit and helicopter at the airport that allows them to respond within minutes of an accident in Genesee County.  In addition, although some events are no longer hosted, the airport supports local community services by hosting pancake breakfasts, meetings, educational tours and other promotional events.

The county does a significant amount of capital development at the airport as well.  Most of these projects are funded with federal and state aid--to the tune of 97.5 cents on the dollar.  These federal and state funds are not generated by income or other payroll taxes, but through fees assessed only to airport businesses and air travellers.  These Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants fund everything from security improvements to runway maintenance and generate and support local jobs when work is awarded at the airport.  Since 2005 Genesee County has contributed $73,129 towards AIP projects and by doing so has leveraged nearly $3 million in infrastructure improvements.  That is $3 million pumped into the local economy via jobs, supplies and services.  The county share of these projects is funded with a portion of the 1% additional sales tax the county collects to fund capital projects and pay long term debt.  The average annual contribution of sales tax to the airport is $14,625.80, which is typically less than the surplus produced by airport operations.

From time to time the county also receives grants from the state to pay for facility improvements, which are not otherwise eligible for federal aid.  The Mercy Flight hangar, a 10-Bay T-Hangar constructed in 2008 and the most recent 8-Bay T-Hangar all are partially offset by state aid.  Both sets of T-Hangars received $300,000 grants that were a part of the 2005 Transportation Bond Act that was approved on a ballot by NYS voters that year.  The remaining portion of the hangars is funded locally.  In 2008, $78,995 was contributed from the airport's deferred revenue account to fund a portion of the remaining share of $395,000.  The payback on the county's investment of approximately $300,000 in each case is about 10.4 years based solely on revenue generated from the rental of the hangars--even less when you factor in additional fuel sales.  Not a bad return on investment for county taxpayers.

So while I can truly appreciate folks trying to garner support for the County Nursing Home and its current and future residents, it is not fair to label the Airport as "Bad" for the County.

Time to VOTE on "Pay it Forward" Entries!

By Bre Roz

Tonawanda Valley Federal Credit Union is "Paying it Forward." Everyone over the age of 18, a TVFCU member or not, was given the opportunity to tell us how they would "Pay it Forward" if we gave them $10. After a large turn out, a team of judges was assembled to sift through the videos and select the ten finalists. Now, it is your turn. Review the following videos and then vote for your favorite in the column on the left hand side of this page! Voting will end on November 2nd 2009!


Thank you for voting!

Tonawanda Valley Federal Credit Union "Pays it Forward"TODAY!

By Bre Roz

Visit TVFCU on Thursday, October 15th when we will be giving you $10.00, just for telling us how you would use it to help someone else! Entries will be videoed.  Finalists will be selected and posted on-line for voting. The winner will be awarded $1000 to use in contributing toward their cause. Stop by October 15th, when between 10am and 2pm, to tell us how you would Pay it Forward. Employees and their families are not eligible.


10 Jefferson Sq Batavia NY 14020 10am-2pm TODAY!


"Pay it Forward Event" Thurs, Oct 15th 10am - 2pm

By Bre Roz

I am really excited about this upcoming event in Batavia. Tonawanda Valley Federal Credit Union is going to Pay it Forward to the Batavia NY community with $10 CASH to each participant. I added a paragraph below to explain this event clearly!

Youve heard people say, a penny for your thoughts.  Visit TVFCU on Thursday, October 15th when we will be giving you 1,000 pennies - $10.00 - just for telling us how you would use it to help someone else!  All entries will be videoed.  Finalists will be selected from these entries and posted on-line for voting. The winner will be awarded $1000 to use however they wish in contributing toward their cause. Stop by October 15th, when videoing will take place between 10 am and 2pm, to tell us how you would Pay it Forward. Employees and their families are not eligible.  For more details about TVFCU Pay it Forward and voting, visit or see our Pay it Forward Video and Rules.

News roundup: City could tap into stimulus package for $4.5 million

By Philip Anselmo

Batavia's City Council voted in favor of a measure last night that would use $425,000 to "design work for a half dozen" infrastructure projects, WBTA's Dan Fischer reports. That investment of $425,000 is supposed to yield $4.5 million worth of construction, on projects such as: undersized water mains, waterline break history, inoperable valves, sanitary sewer line conditions and road conditions.

Fischer explains that the $425,000 would be part of the aid received by the city from the Video Lottery Terminal Aid that was received earlier this year.

Councilman Frank Ferrando is quoted in the Daily News this morning as saying: "If we can get $4.5 million to get jobs that we have to do and can get it for an investment of $425,000, I think we have to do it,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of money out there."

No one, however, explains how any of this would work. In fact, rather than explaining it, the article today in the Daily has only this to say:

It is a gamble. Assistant Manager Sally Kuzon said there’s no guarantee of the city actually getting the money from the state Economic Facility Corp. But spending $425,000 to design those six projects is a move toward it, she said.

It's a gamble!? So the city plans to gamble with gambling money. A little irony, perhaps. Furthermore, where did the state Economic Facility Corp. come from? No one is explaining this to us, folks. All we hear is Frank Ferrando saying: 'Hey, we can turn $425,000 into $4.5 million. Poof! We're rich and we have jobs. How can we not do this?'

What everyone has failed to note is that the hoped-for millions that would magically be available if only the city spent this $425,000 are part of the proposed economic stimulus package that just last night was the subject of a national news conference.

From a letter drafted by Assistant City Manager Sally Kuzon:

I have been monitoring the progress of the President's proposed Economic Stimulus Package over the last several weeks in an attempt to place the city in a competitive position to receive funding for infrastructure improvements.

Kuzon goes on to say that while there has been "tremendous debate" over just what will happen with the stimulus, she believes that "infrastructure improvements nationwide will have a prominent position within this initiative." In other words, the city should get it on it. We should submit "shovel ready projects" to the state's Economic Facility Corp., which will adminster the federal funds allocated to New York.

She continues:

Although there is a certain amount of uncertainty as to whether or not the programs will include loans or grants or whether the program will extend to projects not currently listed on the (Intended Use Plan); it is clear that only shovel ready projects submitted to the EFC will be considered for the current or future funding rounds. Based on this premise, I am recommending several projects for Council to consider submitting tothe EFC for economic stimulus funding.

We mentioned some of those projects above. The $425,000 requested by Kuzon would be used to design the projects and submit the designs to the state so that they would be eligible to receive the funding if and when it became available. However...

It is unknown at this time if the design phase or only construction cost will be eligible for reimbursement. If for some reason the city does not receive economic stimulus funding the projects will be designed and ready for construction as funds or grants become available in the future.

In a letter drafted to the City Council on Kuzon's proposal, City Manager Jason Molino writes: "The crux of this stimulus package is to get people back to work receiving pay checks; with $4,500,000 of infrastructure improvements that goal will be acheived."

Nowhere does anyone explain how these infrastructure improvements will acheive the goal of "getting people back to work." Kuzon never once takes up this issue in her letter, and nothing from Council addresses this either. We only hear people tell us: It will happen.

Molino justifies this use of these funds in this way:

Utilizing a portion of this years (sic) VLT aid to support the project design costs is both appropriate and realistic considering the City did not budget for this one-time revenue and these costs are one-time capital costs.

Council President Charlie Mallow can be heard in an audio quote on WBTA as saying that Batavia needs to do this. Otherwise, the jobs will go to New York City. He wrote to us in an e-mail this morning:

The action council took last night was about job creation right here in Genesee County, instead of New York City. Regardless of how we feel about the spending on the national level, we owe it to our residents to secure our share of this huge stimulus package. We are all going to pay for it whether we have enough foresight to act or not on a local level.

We're waiting to hear back on how this will create jobs. See below.

Click here to download the letters by Molino and Kuzon, along with descriptions of the infrastructure projects noted in the proposal.

Councilmen Sam Barone and Bob Bialkowski were the only two members of Council who voted against the measure, saying that the state aid could be used instead to reduce the city's deficit or for "future needs."

Updated (8:28 a.m.): Council President Charlie Mallow responded to our question of how this stimulus money would create jobs.

Any aid we receive needs to be spent on projects that are shovel ready and can break ground in 180 days. That means putting people to work this summer. Local construction workers would be the first ones to work or to keep on working. Then there is the trickle down affect with people who work driving trucks, making concrete, selling building supplies, laying pipe, and even restaurants the workers, etc. We as a local government decided to do what we needed to do so that our people would feel the benefits of these make work projects that will be going on around the country. I believe this depression era type projects will boost our economy up and out of the slump we find ourselves in.
If fully funded, these projects will rebuild parts of 11 streets in the city this year. These projects are for sewer, water, road surface and sidewalks, and most call for complete reconstruction. This work will be on top of the work being done on Walnut, Oak and the $150,000 of sidewalk repair already budgeted this year. There will be a lot of activity going on this summer to rebuild the city from the ground up.

Update (8:35 a.m.): A very timely headline in the Buffalo News this morning reads: New York loses millions in revised Senate stimulus bill. From the article:

Gone entirely is funding for higher education construction, which, under the House-passed version, could have meant up to $242 million for the University at Buffalo.

Similarly, the Senate eliminated funding for school construction. The House bill would have provided $31.9 million for the district of Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Senators also halved a $79 billion fiscal stabilization fund for the states. While much of the aid to local school districts remains intact, the cuts included a $25 billion fund aimed at helping governors balance their budgets.

Will we see even more funds cut from the stimulus by the time it is passed?

News roundup: City school board cuts a half million from budget

By Philip Anselmo

After slimming the budget by a half million dollars last night, the Batavia City School Board has already cut the proposed property tax increase from 23 to 16 percent, according to WBTA's Dan Fischer. City Schools Superintendent Margaret Puzio told Fischer that she hopes an offer of early retirement option to three labor unions could help stave off any outright layoffs of teachers or staff. Puzio also hopes and expects to further reduce the tax increase. Visit the WBTA Web site to hear her comments on that.

Batavia city schools are closed today for Superintendent's Conference Day. Also, LeRoy BOCES school is closed today due to a water main break.

News roundup: City school board will release budget numbers tonight

By Philip Anselmo

Batavia's City School Board will meet tonight at 7 o'clock to discuss the proposed budget for next year, WBTA's Dan Fischer reports. In its current version, the budget calls for a 23 percent property tax increase.

Students will not have classes at Notre Dame High School today. A funeral mass will be held this morning at 10 o'clock at St. Anthony's Church for Nadine Netter, the school's cook who died unexpectedly last week.

City department heads slated for raises tied to scheduled union raises

By Philip Anselmo

Batavians can take some comfort in the fact that the City Council recently whittled down the proposed tax increase of 3.6 percent down to 2.17 percent, without really sacrificing any city services—the jury is still out on whether the ambulance flap will help or hinder us in the long run.

Nevertheless, some rumors are going around that the Council has instituted raises for all of the city department heads. We put the question to Council President Charlie Mallow this morning in an e-mail. He told us that "all city employees have mandated cost of living increases based on union contracts except seven administrative people." Mallow feels that it's unfair for those seven people not to receive the same sort of "increases"—he never used the word "raise"—as the rest of the union-backed employees.

His words:

There is a sense of right and wrong here. I do not believe non-union employees should be punished for not being part of a collective barging unit. Keep in mind that our administrative people have worked hand in hand with council to eliminate close to a $3 million dollar spending deficit in the last two years. The hard work of these administrative people reduced the size of city government. Some people out of sheer ignorance would like to single these people out; I think the rest of the community understands how far we have come and who helped us along the way.

Here are some of the budgeted figures listed under "personnel services"—does not include overtime, social security, supplies, etc.—for a few of the city's top offices (2008 and 2009):

• City Manager's Office: $103,629 (2008), $106,140 (2009)
• Bureau of Finance: $35,639 (2008), $39,040 (2009)
• Bureau of City Assessment: $33,624 (2008), $34,590 (2009)
• Bureau of Inspection: $138,246 (2008); $195,860 (2009)

Strangely, the "Bureau of the Clerk-Treasure" is scheduled for a reduction in its budget for personnel services in 2009. That office was listed at $64,212 in 2008; $60,790 has been listed for 2009.

Since the budget does not break down each city employee's salary into a tidy, comprehensible format, we asked Mallow if the Council had a document illustrating all of the changes that were effected. He replied: "A list of budget changes does not exist; it was a very fluid process." We then asked if the city could provide a list of every employee's salary for 2008 and the proposed salary for 2009. We're waiting on that.

More from Mallow:

The single most important thing behind this budget was planning for the future with a series of contingency funds. These funds will allow the city to save for future equipment purchases. Doing this will allow us to have a stable tax rate in the future and be less prone to large swings like we have seen in the past. People should understand that we have taken on the practices that businesses use every day. We plan, we have goals and we live within our budget.

City Council will meet Saturday for budget review session

By Philip Anselmo

From the City of Batavia:

Please be advised that Batavia City Council will hold a budget work session on Saturday,
January 10, 2009.  The meeting will be from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm in the Council Board Room on the second floor of City Hall.

Next day budget reaction roundup...

By Philip Anselmo

As we should expect, there's plenty of next day reaction to Gov. David Paterson's budget proposal in the news this morning. We've included here a roundup of some local reaction, as well as a few choice cuts from around the state.

My personal favorite among our local representatives—other than WXXI's capital correspondent Karen DeWitt who is simply fantastic: literate, articulate and trenchant—has to be Buffalo News reporter Tom Precious, who works out of the paper's Albany bureau. Precious put together another great piece today, now that the smoke screen has dissipated somewhat... well, not really dissipated at all.

“We’re going to have to take some extreme measures,” Paterson told lawmakers of the challenge of closing the state’s largest deficit ever.

The reaction was swift — and negative.

Hospitals and nursing homes would close, health care officials say, and those that don’t would cut back on patient care. As a result of Albany’s decreasing school aid, schools would reduce classroom and after-school programs, and property taxes would rise, education officials warned.

Middle-class taxpayers would be hit hard, critics said, not just from the cuts, but from the stunning array of increases in taxes and fees.

New Yorkers would pay more for registering a car, catching a salmon or trout, going to the movies, getting a haircut, buying gasoline, drinking beer and buying nondiet soft drinks.

Republicans say the Democratic governor’s tax and fee plan is actually $2 billion higher than being revealed. In all, there are 151 proposals that would create or increase taxes.

Rochester's Democrat & Chronicle reinforces the theme of atoning for the sins of our ancestors. Under the subheading: Paying for the Past, Joseph Spector writes: "Paterson warns that the state's fiscal problems are the result of years of overspending." Guilt is implied as a fact of life, it seems, and we're living out the unfortunate tragedy of an Ibsen character, collectively.

The Albany Times Union put together a great piece breaking down the "major elements" of the proposed budget. In an easy-to-navigate bullet-point format, this article is a must read for folks who want to know what's really at stake in the budget. For example, this is the only place we've read about the proposed $7 million reduction in arts grants.

Other articles you may want to check out:

That should get you started.

Governor releases budget proposal: Plans to eliminate deficit in two years

By Philip Anselmo

A law that would enforce the collection of taxes on the sale of cigarettes by Indian-owned retailers was merely the beginning. Gov. David Paterson today unveiled a $121 billion budget proposal that plans to eliminate the state's $15 billion deficit over the course of the next two years through a hefty dose of cuts and creative taxation.

From the Democrat & Chronicle:

Paterson is calling for massive cuts to state education and health-care aid, an elimination of a property-tax rebate program for homeowners and 88 new taxes and fees.

Put a little more bluntly, with a bit of spleen, by the Buffalo News:

Aid to public schools will be cut by $700 million, state university tuition will rise, the STAR property tax rebates will be scrubbed, prison facilities will close and state workers who aren't laid off will get no pay raises under a budget plan Gov. David Paterson proposed this morning.

Cuts in school aid would total about $700 million, which has some education officials already worried that the loss will need to be offset by increases in local property taxes. Although their worry sounds more like a threat that we're sure to soon see manifested in television advertisements. You know the kind. We've seen them before. For example: Imagine something along the lines of a school playground at recess: the children, the glee, the games. Then, cut to a close-up of Paterson, overlaid with a sombre voice detailing some aspect or other of the budget proposal, followed by the post-apocalyptic image of an empty swing, rocking back and forth in the middle of the now empty playground. Or something like that.

Although, at least Paterson delivered his posion pill with an olive branch. Or so the Buffalo News would have it (note the language: make up for):

To make up for the cuts, Paterson proposes exempting schools from the state's expensive, union-backed Wicks Law … which drives up public facility construction costs … and new pension reforms to reduce local costs.

Wicks Law, a requirement for local governments to hire separate contractors for different aspects (plumbing, heating, electric) of the same public construction project, has been a frequent point of contention among municipalities across the state. The law was restructured some earlier this year.

What else should we expect? From the Buffalo News:

The Paterson budget raids an assortment of accounts that are not part of the state operating budget, increases taxes and fees by $4.1 billion, eliminates sales tax exemption on clothing and footwear purchases under $110, and places new sales taxes on everything from cable TV and satellite radio services to haircuts and massages.

A so-called obesity tax that would increase the levy on sugary, non-diet sodas to 18 percent per bottle is one of many "creative" taxes set up in the budget proposal. From the New York Times:

A tax on car rentals would rise to 6 percent from 5 percent. Taxes on beer and wine would more than double. Licensing fees would increase for private investigators, barbers, bail enforcement agents, home inspectors, notary publics and cosmetologists.

Taxes on gasoline, cable TV, satellite television and radio service, cigars, flavored malt beverages would also increase. And the cost of owning and operating a car would also increase significantly, with 16 fee increases for the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Mainstream media reports mostly give the impression of bracing for a blow from dad's leather belt. In the New York Times, we can read of the "austerity budget" that lays out a "painful plan"—you almost expect to hear the phrase: 'This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you,' as the blows rain down upon us. Paterson, we're told, better get ready for a "reckoning" with the state's workforce. The Democrat & Chronicle's much more inspid coverage shies away from such colorful language, opting for the "trim" this and "limit" that style of budget speak.

Tom Precious, with the Buffalo News, siphons a bit more powder into the gun barrel in his coverage, coloring Paterson something of a pirate who is "raiding" state accounts. Precious talks of Paterson "slapping" this group with cuts and "scrubbing" rebates for that one. Sure, there's no doubt that the governor is scrambling to squeeze revenue from any source possible. But a $15 billion deficit is no chink the armor. We're hammered and dented and our shin buckles have long since rusted away. Isn't it time to strip down and revisit the forge? Or do we keep clambering on, stabbing at the windmills?

Paterson speaks of "sacrifice," mostly on the part of "working New Yorkers." No surprise, then, that we read in the Times: "Unions were bracing for a battle."

In a joint statement, George Gresham, the president of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, and Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said “these are staggering cuts that would shatter New York’s health care infrastructure, severely threaten the ability of patients to get access to care, and cause serious harm to communities across the entire state.”

That doesn't sound good. Shattering the health care infrastructure! That's intense. That's colossal. Is it true? What about "education advocates" who are telling us that the $700 million in cuts to school aid "really" amounts to $2.5 billion. Aid was going to increase next year. So that increase should be figured into the loss... so goes the argument. Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, told Tom Precious that this is "the most dramatic cut in education in the history of New York." Is that true? I fear we will be hearing a lot more of this most and worst ever talk.

Of course, it's not all bad news.

The Paterson budget would raise $105 million by permitting the sale of wine in grocery stores. And he wants New Yorkers to gamble more: the state's Quick Draw lottery game, derided as Crack Draw by gambling opponents, would see restrictions relaxed for the kinds of places the games could be offered as well as the number of hours a day the machines could be run. And racetrack casinos could keep their doors open longer each day.

So, when you can no longer afford to buy a Coke and listen to your satellite radio while you're trout fishing—license fees are listed to go up—you can buy a box of wine or go gamble away your last few bucks at the local watering hole... you know, engage in some real civic activity... that is, If you can afford the booze.

Seriously though, this budget proposal is big news. One has to wonder, however, how far this will all go. In fact, the plethora of fee hikes, aid cuts and tax increases—not to mention the "attrition" of state workers—smacks of a clever bit of strategy. It's hard to believe that the flabbergasted media reaction was not anticipated. I'm no political schemer, but it's almost as if Paterson's crew had the idea to try every trick possible. Bombard the enemy with all that you've got, and one or two are sure to slip through the cracks, breach the walls. Cut everything that can be cut. Increase the cost of very specific products and services—say, haircuts sneakers and back massages. Vow to weed out hundreds of "needless" jobs. Oh, and the day before all this is announced, sign a law that will surely miff the state's Indian population... Do you follow? It's as if Paterson is trying to get everyone up in arms. That way, while all the bigger, louder special interest groups are making all the noise and dominating the media coverage, some of these cuts and hikes and freezes will go under the radar and actually get passed. Hmm.

Just a thought.

News roundup: County budget passed

By Philip Anselmo

The Genesee County Legislature approved next year's budget with little comment last night, according to WBTA's Dan Fischer. The property tax rate will remain the same at $9.82 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Investigators are citing an overheated furnace as the cause of a fire that gutted a home on Fisher Park yesterday morning. The total damage was figured at $85,000.

The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign in Batavia has a little more than halfway to go to reach its fundraising goal for the season. So far, the group's volunteers have taken in $31,000. They have two weeks left to reach $65,000.

Genesee Community College Students Receive $16.7 Million in Financial Aid

By Philip Anselmo

From Genesee Community College:

Genesee Community College students received $16.7 million in student financial assistance last year, according to Joseph Bailey, Associate Dean for Enrollment Services.

Mr. Bailey told trustees at Monday's Board of Trustees meeting that Genesee students received aid to help defray their education from a variety of sources, including federal PELL grants ($5.5 million); New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grants ($3.6 million); and Stafford loans ($7 million).

Student aid is on the increase, Mr. Bailey reported. Next year, the maximum PELL award will increase. Despite problems with national credit markets, Genesee Community College has access to enough private lenders to make educational loans possible. Genesee has also been declared eligible as a federal direct loan college, meaning that students could borrow directly from the federal government for educational expenses if they needed to do so.

"We have a wide range of financial resources available to help students pursue their college education," Mr. Bailey said.

Students may contact Genesee's Office of Financial Assistance at 585-345-6900 for more information about financial assistance and veterans services programs, and for help in completing financial assistance applications.

Upstate's uncertain economy: Everyone's got an opinion... but who really knows?

By Philip Anselmo

Last night, as I sat nursing a nearly warm stout and picking at the last bits of a charred creole burger in a local sports pub, a cross-legged CNN reporter flashed her inane smiles and asked her inane questions of former president Bill Clinton on the television suspended on the wall above my head. At one point, the text bar flashed something like: "Economy will recover in three years, says former president," or some such statement. Essentially, Clinton was telling us that everything would be all fixed up by the time (conveniently) we arrive at the next presidential campaign season.

Anyhow, the prediction got me thinking. Or, to be more specific, the pretension to make such a prediction got me thinking. Meteorologists can't accurately give you the weather ten days out. Weather is subject to a little thing called chaos mathematics. Chaos. Ditto, economics. So how does this guy have it all figured out, and how is he fixing the date for us?

Over the past few days, in my perusals of our two area metropolitan newspapers—the Buffalo News and the Democrat & Chronicle—I've noted a surfeit of articles on folks making claims about the character, depth, meaning and longevity of our current recession; in particular, the recession and its affects on the economy of Upstate New York. So what I thought to do was put together a sort of pastiche, culling fragments from six articles that appeared this week in these two publications. Then we can take a look at them, side by side as it were, and see if we can't get a better look at any truths that may be lurking in the shadows.

We'll start with an article we referenced yesterday from the Buffalo News. It's about Robert Wilmers, chief executive officer of M&T Bank Corp., who claims that upstate needs "big projects" to help drive its future growth. Here's what Wilmers has to say about the recession in particular:

Wilmers was asked when he believed the recession will end. “The recession will last for a long time, and I don’t think 2009 will be a good year economically,” he responded.

An article from the Democrat & Chronicle (Tuesday) backs that claim. Not only are we now officially in our 13th month of the recession, but we New Yorkers will likely remain much longer in the grips of the recession.

New York officials and economists are wondering if this downturn will hurt the state for a longer period than the nation feels pain. Data from the state Department of Labor show that the two most recent U.S. recessions, which each lasted eight months, started sooner and lasted later in New York, costing 545,000 jobs between 1989 and 1992 and 330,000 jobs between 2000 and 2003.

Our factory production would also indicate that we're headed for a long hard slide. From a Buffalo News article (today):

“The manufacturing sector is in a recession,” said Mikhail Melnik, a Niagara University economist.

With the nationwide financial crisis causing consumers to tighten their purse strings and companies to hold back on spending, Melnik said he does not expect a quick turnaround by the local economy.

“The situation is expected to worsen over the next several months,” he said.

If you think that's bad. According to another article in the Buffalo News (today), it's only going to get worse.

The U. S. service sector shrank far more than expected in November, as employment, new orders and prices plunged, hurting retailers, hotels and airlines. Meanwhile, Americans hunkered down heading into the holidays, forcing retailers to ring up fewer sales and factories to cut back on production.

The Institute for Supply Management’s closely watched gauge of activity in service industries, where most Americans work, showed that for every company adding jobs, eight cut payrolls last month. That ratio led some economists to boost their forecasts for layoffs for November to levels not seen since the early 1980s.

As for the unemployed, expect to see many more of them over the next year. With the jobless rate expected to hit 6.8 percent by the end of the week, analysts are predicting that we'll see an increase to near 9 percent by this time next year.

But wait a second! We've got another prediction. From this same article:

“I am looking for this recession to last 18 months, ending in June,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York.

Eighteen months! But Bill Clinton said three years. As for "New York officials," they seem to expect this sucker to pick up more steam as we head into the New Year. Plus, we've got Wilmers telling us that we're in it for at least another year or more.

But we're shopping. Or... at least, we were on Friday. An article in the Democrat & Chronicle (today) is literally entitled: Shoppers forgot about recession on Friday. This first line especially is worth a laugh, which may have even been intended:

The economy has officially been in a recession for the past 12 months, but apparently no one told Black Friday about it.

We even spent an average of $25 more per shopper than last year—which, at this time, it ought to be pointed out, was also in recession.

Bargains prompted many to buy more than usual. Spending more during the big sales — some New York retailers offered discounts of up to 60 percent off normal prices — can mean saving money in the long run.

"I'm always the bargain shopper, and this year this is our Christmas present" said Kerry Bryan, 28, of Chili, who bought a $600 television at Best Buy on Friday morning for herself and her fiancé. "If we get it early, it's just a bonus."

A $600 television! Is that really the purchase of a recession-stricken American? And she even calls it a bonus! We're expected to near double digit unemployment rates by the end of next year, and we've got people spending hundreds of dollars on luxury items. Maybe things aren't that bad.

One guy is willing to go out on a limb and say just that. This is from another article that appeared in the Democrat & Chronicle (yesterday).

Charles Plosser, president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said growth should resume in the second half of 2009, though overall economic expansion for the year will be tepid, probably falling short of 2 percent.

Plosser forecast that the national unemployment rate, currently 6.5 percent, will rise above 7 percent in 2009.

But the former dean of the Simon school at the University of Rochester said he does expect a turnaround to begin late in the year.

"The housing sector should finally (hit) bottom and the actions taken by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury will gradually help financial markets return to some semblance of normalcy," Plosser told the audience at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester.

So, things should start looking rosy again come Christmas time next year. Oh, except for the more than 7 percent of the population who will be out of work.

I don't know, folks. We've got a lot of information here. A lot of different people telling us a lot of different things. Who do we believe? Any of them? Does the guy falling off his barstool on the other end of the bar any less qualified to make predictions than Bill Clinton or Charles Plosser or "New York officials"?

Check back later today Friday for our look at the credit crisis here in Genesee County.

News roundup: No more prison farms

By Philip Anselmo

A dozen prison farms across the state will be closed down over the next six months, according to WBTA's Dan Fischer. That includes the farm in Attica. The State Department of Corrections has said that the cost of maintaining the farms exceeds the revenue brought in by the produce. Don't know about anyone else, but I was surprised to hear that these farms still existed.

A JP Morgan Call Center based in Albion will remain open, and its 850 employees will remain at work. Fischer reports that there had been concern over whether the center would remain open after Chase acquired Washington Mutual two months ago.

Will our new guy break through the divisiveness in Albany? Let's ask him...

By Philip Anselmo

Earlier this week, Robert Harding of the Albany Project posted his suggestions on how to tackle the state's budget crisis: Cut taxes, cap spending and tax millionaires. As always, Harding makes a great case for each, whether or not you're willing to go along with him on it or not.

Meanwhile, at the capitol, leading state legislators bickered and taunted and mocked one another at a special session that cost tax payers in excess of $100,000 and saved them nothing. Nor was anything acheived from the meeting. Outside, more than a thousand protestors gathered to decry any cut in revenue for whatever special interest group they happened to represent.

In short, New York proved yet again that it is more than worthy of the epithet: the nation's most dysfunctional legislature.

So I thought, OK, we've heard over and over again, every day this week, more about the dysfunction, and how nothing is getting done, yet this nothing is costing us more than ever. Well, we've got a few new faces that will soon be heading to Albany. One of them is our own Mike Ranzenhofer, representative of the 61st District. All eyes will certainly be upon him. He ran a solid, hard-fought campaign and got elected to represent us. We will now wait for him to deliver.

But isn't that a lot of pressure? Can Ranzenhofer really change things in Albany, home to the hulking, ineffectual organism that is our state Legislature?

Well, I called to ask those very questions. Here's what he had to say.

"One of the things I've always been able to do is... I'm able to work with members on both sides of the aisle," said Ranzenhofer.

He went on to explain that many new members will be heading to the Legislature at the beginning of the year.

"I'm hoping these members will prevail on some of the more established members to stop all the bickering and finger pointing and come to the realization that changes need to be made," he said. "We're in unprecedented times. We need to encourage members of looking at new ways of doing things."

Ranzenhofer had an inciteful response to just how one goes about getting the otherwise recalcitrant members of the Legislature to "look at new ways." He described the situation as being similar to someone who is going through a "personal" problem.

"First, you have to acknowledge that the problem exists, then be able to adopt strategies to deal with it," he said. "A lot of people in Albany are in denial. They don't realize there's a problem. We first need to identify the problem."

One such problem: We just don't have the revenue to support the amount of spending that has been approved.

Ranzenhofer has talked about his plan a lot before: cut spending across the board.

"I don't think this should be dictated by the governor or by the Assembly," he said. "We need to go to the workforce, go to the department heads and ask them about where they think cuts need to be made."

What's more, he said, we need to consider that it is "not acceptable" for anyone to say: 'Hey, it's this other department that's the problem, not mine.'

So, the real question, though, is how would Ranzenhofer—or any state representative, for that matter—make the case to his constituents, to the people of the 61st, that he's doing his absolute best to get things done, even if the atmosphere in Albany doesn't change. Bringing home the pork has been the standard mode of conduct. But shouldn't we start expecting more than just a gift of Christmas lights to smooth over the utter failure of our state representatives to run things with at least a modicum of efficiency? What if establishment rule carries the day, and no matter what you do, the stalemate, the bickering, the political charades—what if all that continues, despite your efforts? How do you let your people know: 'Hey, I'm still doing my best.'

"There are several things you (such a representative, that is) can do to tell them (the constituents) what's going on," he said. "It really involves communication: through venues such as your own or newsletters or telephone calls or town hall meetings. It's important to let people know that you're trying to make the changes. It's important to communicate with the people you represent in your district."

"I think I've done a good job of that in the (Erie County) Legislature, communicating the efforts I put forth trying to make changes. There are no guarantees. But you certainly have to have the energy, the vigor and the attitude that you're not going to give up."

Batavia Daily News for Thursday: No home yet for the Pavilion post office

By Philip Anselmo

Pavilion residents do not yet have a replacement for their post office which was destroyed by fire several weeks ago, according to the Daily News. But those who used to pick up their mail from the post office at least have an alternative to driving to Le Roy to get it. Residents can now head to the Pavilion Fire Hall once a day in the middle of the day to pick up mail.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service told the Daily that there has not yet been a decision on whether to replace the post office in Pavilion. About 200 people pick up their mail direct from the post office.

In other news, Genesee County legislators continue to make the changes needed to the county budget to keep the tax rate from increasing. An original budget proposal called for a tax rate of $10.23 per $1,000 of assessed value. Legislators hope to reduce that to the current rate of $9.82 per $1,000.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at

"Something else": New Yorkers' solution to the current state budget crisis

By Philip Anselmo

For those of us who didn't wake up to two feet of snow this morning, our news channels and radio waves likely included a bit on the ongoing scuffle in Albany over the state budget. Everyday, this brouhaha over the budget resembles more and more the raucous cloud of dust that signals a barroom brawl in a Warner Bros. cartoon. If you look closely enough, you can see a foot or a black eye or a projectile mug—but we won't know anything about the winners and the losers until the dust settles, and by then, it will already be time for another skit.

Nor do we, the people of New York, even know who we're rooting for.

From the Albany Times Union:

It seems that New York's legislative leaders really do reflect the views of their constituents, according to the latest Siena Research Institute poll.

The poll, released Monday, found that 75 percent of registered voters want spending cuts instead of tax increases (which are favored by 10 percent) or borrowing (9 percent) to address the state's budget gap.

But when asked what they want to cut, voters won't get specific: 44 percent opted for "something else" when offered a list that also included health care (6 percent), education (7 percent), transportation and infrastructure (18 percent) and aid to local governments (23 percent).

Health care and education are the biggest components of the state budget, with local aid coming in third. Localities, of course, often choose to make up the shortfall that results from state cuts with increases to property taxes.

"Something else"—isn't it always something else? Didn't the pollsters know what they were doing when they included "something else" as an option? Didn't they know that people would invariably opt for the intangible unknown for the very reason that it can't be specified and therefore isn't much of a threat?

Well, members of some groups that have already been named as potential losers under the cuts proposed by Gov. David Paterson have some ideas about what that something else could be. And why wouldn't they? Something else, for them, necessarily implies something other than themselves.

From the WXXI newsroom:

Groups who would suffer the most from the $2 billion dollars in cutbacks that Governor Paterson has proposed are urging the legislature to consider alternatives, before saying yes to the governor's ideas. In interviews, and at a series of hearings by the Assembly, they listed a number of options that they say the governor has so far ignored.

State worker unions, who met with the governor a few weeks ago, say they offered numerous suggestions, which did not become part of Paterson's proposals. Ken Brynion, President of the Public Employees Federation, says the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating private contractors, and letting state workers perform the tasks, like inspecting bridges, promoting tourism, or offering IT advice.

"It's a complete waste of money," Brynion said.


Other ideas include revamping the state's costly economic development programs. Critics have long contended that companies do not have to prove they actually create jobs with the funds from Empire Zones or Industrial Development Agencies. Many have mentioned enforcing laws that require the collection of sales tax on cigarettes sold on Indian lands.

Fran Turner, with the state worker union CSEA, joins others in saying that perhaps personal income taxes should be restructured to extract more money from the state's wealthiest.

Meanwhile, back at the capitol, while busloads of protestors unload to decry the potential cuts, things took a turn for the anticlimactic.

From the Times Union:

As of Monday evening, it seemed likely today's session will result in very little progress. In a 9 p.m. press conference from the Red Room, Paterson announced that he would meet with legislative leaders at 12:30 p.m. today to discuss the immediate future of his proposed cuts.

Earlier in the evening, Senate Republicans had said the chamber would vote on Paterson's proposals, designed to close an expected $1.5 billion gap brought on by the collapse of Wall Street, but they are almost certain to turn it down.

So where to next? What's your something else?

Pontillo's brothers may head to court

By Philip Anselmo

Last week, The Batavian reported that Pontillo's Pizzeria owed in excess of $112,000 in state taxes. That report came on the heels of an article in the Daily News in which Sam Pontillo claimed that he closed the restaurant in order to make renovations and officially purchase the property. A second article appeared in the Daily a couple days after our post that further confounded an already ambiguous story. Since then, more information has become available that may help us to ask some better questions in the hopes of getting some better answers.

On October 31, a civil suit was filed in Genesee County in which all three Pontillo brothers were named. That suit was brought by Buffalo attorneys Amigone, Sanchez, Mattrey & Marshall LLP on behalf of the plaintiff: John Pontillo. Listed as defendants in that case are: Sam, Paul and Salvatore Pontillo. No other details of the case were available at the Office of the Genesee County Clerk, and we have so far been unable to contact any of the brothers. We had left messages for Sam Pontillo last week that were never returned.

A week later, on November 7, a mechanic's lien was filed with the county by Roy H. Turnbull Inc. againt the estate of Elizabeth Pontillo and Pontillo's Batavia Pizzeria Inc. in the amount of $1,181.29. No specifics were listed in the record.

Those are the most recent facts. A search earlier today revealed no new filings with the county. Let us now take a moment to review the news as it was reported in the Daily. We feel that there are some contradictions and ambiguities that may help to shed some light on the situation.

From the first article, which appeared on November 4:

(Sam) Pontillo was advised that it would be better to just close the shop down and then re-open under new ownership. He regrets that he had to cancel a pre-election night party ... But he had no choice, Pontillo said. He was told that renovations were to happen now.

Firstly, who "advised" Sam Pontillo to close and "told" him that renovations had to "happen now"? In the same article, Beck writes that: "Sam has been on site running the Batavia and Le Roy operations the last several years." So if he's running the place, who is telling him to close it? Secondly, what are these renovations that they cannot be postponed even a single day so that the restaurant could cater a local party?

What's most confusing, however, is that in this first article, Sam Pontillo claims responsibility for both operations, in Le Roy and in Batavia. He would have to be running the place in order to make the decision to close it down, right? But in the article that appeared in the Daily on November 7—after The Batavian broke the news that the Batavia restaurant owed some $112,000 in unpaid taxes to the state—Sam Pontillo is quoted as saying: "I was locked out of the whole operation. John and Paul worked there (in Batavia). John was operations manager." Doesn't that contradict the claim in the previous article that Sam has been running the place for "years"?

Joanne Beck writes:

It was only after (Sam Pontillo) started the paperwork to buy the city property that Sam Pontillo became fully aware of the tax situation, he said. He doesn't dispute that tax warrants have been filed by the state Finance Department and Genesee County Clerk's office against the family business, which includes Pontillo's Batavia Pizzeria, Inc. and Sam's Tomato Pies, Inc.

But he doesn't claim them as his, either. The business is still owned by his mother and was not run by Sam, he said.

What!? Does Sam Pontillo run the business or not? What does it mean to be "fully aware"? Could he have been "partially" aware? What would that have signified? How can Sam not claim the tax warrants filed against Sam's Tomato Pies?

It is also reported in the most recent Daily News article that: "Genesee County records did not show any outstanding tax warrants on the Le Roy Pontillo's." That's true. As Sam Pontillo himself says of the Le Roy location: "I don't owe one cent for this place."

But Pontillo's Le Roy Pizzeria Inc. has been named in a civil suit filed by the Workers' Compensation Board of the State of New York that was filed on October 20. The Board also filed a money judgement in the amount of $1,250 against the Le Roy operation. As for any outstanding tax warrants, there are none. Pontillo's Le Roy Pizzeria Inc. was, however, served with a tax warrant by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the amount of $700.63 in November, 2007. That was paid.

All in all, there are more questions than answers at this point, and I have yet to see a single car parked at the Batavia Pontillo's, which is supposed to be undergoing renovations right now. I guess we ought to take Sam Pontillo at his word when he says: "The remodeling won't be an obvious change that patrons will notice."

Authentically Local