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County officials optimistic about Ellicott Station while prospective tenants mull legal action

By Joanne Beck
Sep 22, 2023, 4:34pm
ellicott station ground breaking may 2022
File photo of Ellicott Station groundbreaking with city, county and company officials in Batavia.
Photo by Howard Owens

While a few prospective tenants of the stalled Ellicott Station strategize their next move, folks at Genesee County Economic Development Center apparently believe they are making headway.

A few of the tenants chosen for the Southside apartment complex are considering possible legal action against Savarino Companies for pulling out of the project that has left them dangling with hope that they might still have a new home come 2024. As one tenant said, it’s about “what Savarino did to all of us, ‘cause it’s not fair to us.”

Meanwhile, Steve Hyde, CEO of the county’s economic center, gave a brief yet vaguely optimistic statement this week that his agency has been working with Sam Savarino and the state Office of Housing and Community Renewal to get Ellicott Station back on track.

Hyde and his lead staff reviewed this past year’s activity during the county’s Ways and Means meeting. As noted in prior articles on The Batavian, City Manager Rachael Tabelski has said that developers have expressed interest in Ellicott Station, and Hyde provided further confirmation that talks are progressing.

“And, of course, our favorite project sits here, nearby. And you know, what I could say about Ellicott Station is I've been in the middle of discussions with the developer, general partner, the investors, and state housing. That's all in the sorting-out phase. But what I can say to you is it's likely we'll see a different general partner coming in at some point,” he said. “And I think what we'll end up with is a project that will be better than what we currently had or what was previously designed. 

"I think there's some additional willingness by the housing HCR to work with us and be a little more flexible. It may not be perfect, but we'll end up with a better situation than we had," he said. "I can’t say any more than that right now. But at least it's in the sorting out phase, and there's quite a bit of interest.”

As for GCEDC’s remaining portfolio, there were 75 projects that “committed $937 million of capital investment” versus the prior 76 projects at a $162 million investment, demonstrating what Mark Masse said was “just a much larger scale.”

After celebrating her 10th year on the Legislature, along with Marianne Clattenburg as EDC liaison, it’s been amazing to watch “the incredible investment that helps our local taxpayers,” Chair Shelley Stein said.

“By having these opportunities for the creation of these businesses, the careers, it enhances our entire foundation of our economy here and careers. Our schools benefit from it. Our communities benefit from the investment,” she said. “So some days are hard, some days are, you know, celebratory days. But this work is important to us here in Genesee County. Thank you.”

Some of those hard days have been dealing with and enduring the lag of that Ellicott Station project, which stopped in mid-August when Savarino announced the closing of his company due to a financial snag with a project at Alfred State College and a loss of more than $3 million. 

Since then, city and county, along with HCR officials, have said they are working on moving forward, potentially with a new developer and financial agreements and construction schedule.

Tenants that were chosen in May for the 55 apartments received word earlier this month that they might want to search out alternative housing options since there’s no guarantee about when Ellicott Station will be ready for occupancy.

NYC has change of heart, drops lawsuit against Genesee County

By Joanne Beck
Sep 21, 2023, 8:00am

They huffed and they puffed, but eventually, New York City opted to blow Batavia off of its list of defendants to sue for banning undocumented immigrants from seeking shelter in Genesee County.

County Manager Matt Landers had first issued a State of Emergency in May after receiving word that busloads of immigrants were potentially being sent to upstate New York, including Genesee County. Landers followed the move made by Orleans County, and, in dominoes fashion, counties began to react to their neighbors and filed one by one so as not to be the only county left with no protection if and when those immigrants arrived.

County Attorney Jim Wujcik informed legislators Wednesday that the plaintiffs had a change of heart.

“New York City filed for a discontinuance; they’re no longer suing Genesee County,” he said.

The official letter from Assistant Corporation Counsel Doris Bernhardt provided no explanation other than the plaintiff was discontinuing its lawsuit against the county and Landers “without prejudice and without costs to any party.”

Landers filed three executive orders, as he continued to extend the initial one two more times. New York City filed its lawsuit in June against 30 municipalities and was seeking to invalidate those executive orders, claiming that they were unconstitutional and impeded the rights of people who are legally within the borders of the United States as asylum seekers to travel and use public accommodations.

Genesee County strikes deal with two ambulance providers to cover all bases

By Joanne Beck
Sep 21, 2023, 7:55am
mercy ems ambulance 2015
File photo of a then-new Mercy EMS ambulance in 2015. Parent company Mercy Flight will be contracting with Genesee County in a county effort to provide more "accountable" ambulance services moving forward. 
Photo by Howard Owens.

After taking several months to evaluate Genesee County’s issues and needs in regard to ambulance services for residents, county Manager Matt Landers delivered a solution this week that he believes will do the job.

Landers worked with Emergency Management Services Coordinator Tim Yaeger and county Attorney James Wujcik to establish a formal contract with Le Roy Ambulance Services and Mercy Flight, Landers told legislators during the Ways and Means meeting Wednesday.

“We’ve spent about a year reviewing this issue of shoring up and strengthening our local ambulance providers between Mercy Flight and Le Roy Ambulance. We think we have all the bases covered. And this allows us to provide additional funding to those two professional ambulance providers, paid professional ambulance providers  … The one here with Le Roy takes effect Oct. 1. The one for Mercy Flight that we're negotiating with would take effect Jan. 1,” Landers said after the meeting. 

“So it provides additional funds to stabilize, it holds them, it makes them more accountable. They have to meet minimum standards for response times, or they have to meet minimum standards for number of ambulances to keep on staff. So there's minimum requirements that they must comply with in order to keep the funding throughout the county.”

Back in February, Landers confirmed that he and others had been asked by legislators to work on this issue and also clarified that, contrary to popular belief, the county did not have any formal contract for ambulance services. 

The issue of ambulance services and response times had come up during budget talks by City Council members, and The Batavian asked Landers for his input at the time. His concern was primarily on response times in the rural areas of the county, which provides “a minimum contract of $12,500 on an annual basis to go towards their Mercy Flight air,” and nothing official or directly for ambulance service.

The county Legislature is set to give the final vote next week on the resolution to pay Le Roy Ambulance Service $77,220 for ambulance and emergency advanced life support/paramedic service needs, $5,000 for related financial documents, and $187,705 for equipment and related maintenance for a three-year term beginning Oct. 1. 

The contract stipulates that Le Roy will provide pre-hospital emergency medical services within its Certificate of Need operating authority or when mutual aid has been requested by a municipality located within the county.

The total cost of $212,005 is to be offset by county sales tax proceeds.

“So Le Roy would be within the boundaries of Le Roy, and Mercy Flight will be throughout the whole county,” Landers said. “And that one we’re still finalizing, but they should come before this Legislature in October. 

“So I have many counterparts in the state that have actually had to invest in buying ambulances and having a county-run ambulance system with county EMTs,” he said. “We already have paid professional providers in our community that are doing an excellent job. This ensures their longer-term viability, their longer-term success and ensures the county doesn't have to enter into the business itself.”

Air show by the numbers: scrapes, overtime, attendance and fuel sales

By Joanne Beck
Sep 19, 2023, 8:05am
wings over batavia
2023 File Photo of the Wings Over Batavia Air Show
by Philip Casper

With numbers tallied, it looks like a fair amount of overtime for Genesee County highway and airport employees due to the Wings Over Batavia Air Show: approximately $6,308.

But county Highway Superintendent Tim Hens had another number to counter that during his annual department report Monday: the 5,513.50 gallons of aviation fuel sold at the airport during the two-day show more than made up for the overtime cost, he said. Fuel sales totaled $6,599. 

Despite that boon in sales, fuel sales remained flat overall this past year, he said, trying to recover from an operating loss of $23,000 after Mercy Flight suffered the loss of a helicopter in 2022, coupled with rising fuel prices. 

Quiet was an interesting word for Hens to use about the airport, given this year’s two-day air show extravaganza. He was referring to construction at the Saile Drive facility, and for that, “it has been a quiet year at the airport,” he said. 

“It’s one of the first seasons in many years where there hasn’t been major construction in progress on the airfield,” he said during a report rundown to legislators on the Public Service Committee.

“It was one of the first years that I can remember in a long time where we haven't had a project going out there that's disrupted the runway or the fencing or the lighting or an apron. It was kind of nice to have that,” Hens said.

That won’t be for long, as a future project for 2024 includes the replacement of many incandescent runway and taxiway lights to LED versions that will generate future savings on electrical use, he said.

In other ways, the airport has been quite busy in planning for and implementing Wings Over Batavia Air Show, he said. Drawing nearly 9,000 people during Labor Day weekend, the event seems destined to be a repeater, as organizers have said they’re discussing plans for bringing it back again next year.

“We had our air show … I think the feedback that I'm seeing in the community is overwhelmingly positive. A lot of great comments. People enjoyed it. They're all asking if it's going to happen again next year,” Hens said. “I can tell you from internal, of the things that I was worried about, traffic was not an issue. Parking was not an issue. Safety-wise, we only had two very minor medical issues all weekend; it was both scraped knees where kids were running around chasing each other and fell on the asphalt with scuffed knees; that was the biggest thing we had.

“We sold 5,500 gallons of aviation fuel over the weekend to the show that covered our overtime, more than covered the overtime, tied to the weekend relative to the sweeping of the runway and the overtime for the airport guys and the facility guys to open up the fence and things like that,” he said. “So I think from a county perspective, I'm happy with how it went down and went smoothly. Again, great community feedback and a great community event.

"And there's obviously things I think we can do better in the future and have even less county involvement than we had this year. But being a first-year show, there were some things we had to get squared away," he said. "So I know there's already a move afoot to have another event next year. And again, hopefully, it goes smoother than we had this year.”

Kayak program keeps flowing at DeWitt Recreation Area

By Joanne Beck
Sep 19, 2023, 8:00am
kayak rental kiosk
A kayak rental kiosk still has some time left at DeWitt Recreation Area on Cedar Street in Batavia before the season closes. The kiosk provides everything for someone looking for a little fun on the water. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Public Service Committee members passed along a grant of $7,000 for final approval Monday for the purchase of additional kayaks and accessories for the Youth Bureau’s kayaking program at DeWitt Recreation Area in Batavia.

Genesee County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens reviewed the program and grant during the committee’s meeting and said that although it’s an Interpretive Center/Youth Bureau grant award, it also “supports kayaking at the park.”

Kayaking is an activity that has been steady at DeWitt Lake, made even more popular with lessons offered twice a year by Conservation Education Program Coordinator Shannon Lyaski. 

Hens shared that his department will be seeking a replacement for Lyaski, whose last full-time day will be Oct. 14. The committee approved Hens’ request for a part-time, temporary position to allow her to remain until the vacancy is filled. 

It will be a loss for sure, Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said. 

“She grew so much in that job and really changed it,” Clattenburg said.

The request was to create one temporary, less than full-time (19 1/2 hours per week) Conservation Education Program Coordinator position to allow the current employee to assist with the transition.

Salary for Conservation Education Program Coordinator, Management, Grade 112, Step 7, would be at the rate of $29.48, effective October 7, 2023, through December 31, for a total cost of $8,308.69. 

Another reason for the increase in kayaking is a kiosk rental that took a bit longer than expected to arrive since first reported in The Batavian in May but is finally at DeWitt. 

kayak rental sign
Rules are clearly listed on the kiosk, along with how to use it and access a brightly colored kayak and life jacket.
Photo by Joanne Beck

The set-up provides everything for someone to get a kayak, life jacket and paddle and get out on the water for some fun.  

“The feedback from the community has been positive,” Hens said.

The agreement between the county and the rental company is for a period of five years, at a total cost of $16,000, for the installation and activation of smart lockers, fully equipped with kayaks/lifejackets and locker signage. Kayak users would then pay a rental fee through the use of the kiosk that would go back to the county.

This park amenity expense will come out of the Capital Project DeWitt Improvements Phase IV, with $6,000 of this cost offset by a donation from the Association for the Conservation of Recreational and Natural Spaces (ACORNS), for a total cost of $10,000 to the county.

This latest grant that Hens reviewed on Monday is from the Youth Sports Education Funding, and once officially approved by the county Legislature, will increase the County Park Program Expense in the amount of $7,000 to be offset by an increase in Revenue in a like amount.

kayaks rental at DeWitt
Photo by Joanne Beck

Recovery Month a time to recognize 'real help, real solutions'

By Joanne Beck
Sep 13, 2023, 8:05am
lynda battaglia
Lynda Battaglia of Genesee County Mental Health Department. 
Photo by Joanne Beck.

Recovery can mean so many things to people, whether it’s rebounding from a physical injury or from other less telltale wounds that come with addiction, and those people locally who help with the latter were recognized Tuesday during Recovery Month.

The Genesee County Legislature presented a proclamation to acknowledge the importance of the topic and those agencies that are involved, including the county Mental Health Department, the Genesee Orleans Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Genesee Orleans Health Department, and the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County.

“Recovery takes a team of people to get it done. We hit it from a lot of different areas,” said Luke Granger of GCASA. “And folks that are in recovery need a lot of help, and in different ways, very practical ways. A lot of times we have, for example, we have case managers that work with some of our population on issues and problems that they’re going through that need real help, real solutions.”

Those solutions can involve everything from medical insurance and housing to Social Services, mental health, and GCASA treatment programs. 

“And we realized that it takes a community to get it done. And we have to work together, and the more that we work together, and the better we work together, it just works. We have people in prevention that go into the schools, and we hope to reach some of the kids before we have to have them in recovery, and work with them and addiction. We have peer counselors who are people who have been through recovery and can identify with these folks. And they work together with them,” Granger said. We've got programs that work with the folks that are that are housing unstable around the community, and we try to get them into permanent solutions for housing. We have other folks that work in the jails, they do counseling in jails and make referrals. And then we have a program called a reentry program that we work with folks that are coming out of the jail system. We try to get them back into the community and working through jobs.

“So it's multifaceted. It takes a whole team of people to get it done. It's hard work. But it's the most gratifying work because we don't think people are disposable,” he said. “We want to help people, we want to make them become better members of society, and we're doing so. But it's an everyday get up and do it again process.”

Recovery is a topic that Mental Health Director Lynda Battaglia can certainly talk about, she said. Then she began to think about it: What is recovery? What do others think that recovery is? It can mean rebounding from surgery or a broken bone, following doctors’ orders and guidelines not to push yourself, taking it easy, and following the “one day at a time” mantra, right?

“To allow yourself time to heal and to process what’s happened,” she said. “And I thought, recovery from addiction recovery, from mental illness, or suicidality, that’s what recovery is, and we need to practice those guidelines and recognize that recovery from addiction or mental illness or suicidality is a process,” she said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not something that you can do alone. If you have surgery, you need to go to rehab, you might have physical therapy, and recovery from addiction or anything else takes time.”

And perhaps most importantly, it takes support, she said. And giving yourself time to heal, to process what’s happened, and to recognize that you might have setbacks. 

“And that’s ok because nobody is perfect. Nobody is superhuman,” she said. “But to just keep moving forward and know that recovery is possible, and to have hope.”

Legislator John Deleo read and presented the proclamation to the group, which is below:

Whereas, national recovery month is observed every year in September where millions of people around the world join their voices to share a message of hope and healing, and 

Whereas, recovery and wellness encompass the whole individual, including mind, body and spirit, and 

Whereas, during Recovery Month, individuals can focus on recovery practices and the need for a strong recovery community, and service providers who help people undergoing recovery, and 

Whereas, every day residents of Genesee County seek treatment at behavioral health services and with community support begin the road to wellness and recovery, and 

Whereas, Genesee County residents have access to Horizon Health Services and the Recovery Station, a a program of  GCASA, for support, rehabilitation, and treatment services that lead to recovery and a healthy lifestyle, and 

Whereas, the permanent Recovery Month tagline “Every Person, Every Family, Every Community” emphasizes that recovery is possible for everyone, and 

Whereas, treatment and recovery make it possible for individuals, families, and communities to heal and thrive. Now, therefore, be it 

Resolved, that Genesee County Legislature proclaims the month of September 2023 to be Recovery Month and acknowledges both the everyday successes and challenges of those in recovery. 

Be it further resolved that Genesee County Legislature praises the dedication for all of the hard-working members and volunteers who work endlessly in the recovery process.

luke granger
Luke Granger of GCASA. 
Photo by Joanne Beck.
recovery month
Genesee County Legislator John Deleo, Peter Mittiga and Lynda Battaglia of Genesee County Mental Health, Paul Pettit of GO Health, Sue Gagne and Diana Fox of the Suicide Prevention Coalition, Christen Foley, Matt Martin, Luke Granger, and JoAnn Ryan, of GCASA, Cheryl Netter of the Suicide Prevention Coalition, and Daisy. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Make suicide prevention a way of life, educator says

By Joanne Beck
Sep 13, 2023, 8:00am
julia rogers
Julia Rogers, coordinator of Community Schools at Batavia City School District, talks during a Genesee County proclamation presentation for Suicide Prevention Week.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Although the topic of suicide is not pretty or often readily embraced, it is being eagerly addressed as an issue that cannot be ignored at Batavia City Schools and beyond, and, as Coordinator of Community Schools Julia Rogers said during a Suicide Prevention event this week, “we want mental health awareness and suicide prevention to be more than just events in our local community.”

“We want it to be a way of life,” she said during the Genesee County Legislature’s proclamation presentation Tuesday for Suicide Prevention Week. 

“As we face the issue of suicide prevention, we are acutely aware of the discrimination, prejudices and stigma those suffering with mental illness have to deal with on a daily basis," Rogers said. "Our entire staff’s focus has expanded to include looking out for all students. That means our disengaged and disinterested students, our middle-of-the-road students, and our very engaged and overly involved students, and those students who may also be living with a family member or friend who is suffering.”

This all-encompassing approach has led the role of educators to expand in an effort to help support and teach students, families, colleagues and community members about mental illness, she said, “with the hope to overcome its stigma.” 

It is a huge challenge, and one that cannot be accomplished overnight, Rogers said. But the school community now has a raised awareness level.

“We know suicide impacts people of all backgrounds, and we are constantly looking for warning signs,” she said. 

The high school has a Sources of Strength group that helps support students in grades kindergarten through 12 in various activities and serves as a main prevention program. Its mission is to “increase help-seeking behaviors and promote connections between peers and adults.” 

Community Schools collaborated with the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition last year and was awarded a grant through the American Academy of Pediatrics. A first-ever Youth Suicide Prevention Community Grants Program gave the district an opportunity to do many things throughout the district, including to create posters with safe messaging that were hung in various locations throughout Batavia during this month and in May during Mental Health Awareness month, she said.

“This grant opportunity led us as a coalition to think outside the box and develop Creative Communities. Starting with a Health Fest last spring, in conjunction with Community Schools, many other organizations and agencies, such as the Department of Health, Madeline Bartz Missions, Rochester Regional and the Lions Club, to name a few, our coalition plans to hold quarterly activities to expand our reach and our message,” she said.

Cheryl Netter
Cheryl Netter shares her hope for others during a county proclamation event Tuesday for Suicide Prevention Week.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Cheryl Netter, a member of the coalition who has spoken publicly about her personal story of addiction, depression and being a suicide attempt survivor, wanted to share some words for others who may be struggling.

The coalition has been a passion of hers, Netter said, while it has also given a platform for her to impact others by sharing her story and allowing — with compassion — others to do the same.

“There is definitely power and strength found when you can identify in a safe, nonjudgemental and empathetic way with someone whose life has been impacted by suicide, mental health challenges or addiction,” she said. “The Suicide Prevention Coalition has been a priority for me as well as those who are part of, and can help support, and who helped support, the coalition in offering education, resources, support and most of all, hope for those within our communities.”

Legislator Gregg Torrey read and presented the proclamation to the coalition, which is below:

Whereas, the week of September 10 to 16, 2023 is National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign observed in the United States to educate and inform the general public about suicide prevention and to warn about rising suicide rates, and

Whereas, this week aids to reduce the stigma around it and raise awareness so that more and more people can reach out for help, and

Whereas, these observances are united in raising awareness that prevention is possible and treatment is effective, and people do recover, and

Whereas, the benefits of preventing and overcoming mental health challenges, suicide attempts and loss are significant and valuable to individuals, families, and our community, and

Whereas, it is essential that we educate residents about suicide, mental health and substance abuse and the ways they affect all people in the community, and

Whereas, we encourage relatives, friends, co-workers, and providers to recognize the signs of a problem, and guide those in need to appropriate services and supports, and

Whereas, the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County is dedicated to providing suicide awareness, training, prevention and postvention strategies for individuals, families, schools and organizations in Genesee County. Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that Genesee County Legislature proclaims the week of September 10 to 16, 2023 as Suicide Prevention Week and shows great compassion for coming together as a community to educate and support each other.

Suicide Prevention group
Genesee County Legislator Gregg Torrey, left, presents a proclamation to Julia Rogers as Sue Gagne, Peter Mittiga, Lynda Battaglia, Paul Pettit, Cheryl Netter, Rae Frank and Diana Fox, with Daisy, all represent the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Trends for Genesee County: homelessness on the rise

By Joanne Beck
Sep 7, 2023, 8:00am
carla mindler
Carla Mindler
Photo by Howard Owens

Annual departmental reviews can sometimes be rather mundane, as they list various numbers, staffing activities and government programs.

However, trends also emerge from the statistics, such as a “very significant increase in homelessness” since the COVID-era eviction moratorium ended in 2022, Social Services Commissioner Carla Mindler says.

Mindler reviewed the reasons for Genesee County’s apparent rise in people losing their rentals or otherwise not having housing during this week’s Human Services meeting. 

Landlords who could not evict their tenants during the pandemic because they accepted Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds have this year been able to evict them and are “actively doing so,” she said.

“We have had a huge increase in homelessness. The eviction moratorium ended in 2022. But not all of the landlords could immediately evict because if they took advantage of ERAP, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, they had to sign something saying I will not evict this individual for 12 months due to nonpayment of rent. So now, some of those cases that sat for a while, the landlords are now taking them in and evicting them,” she said. “So we're having homeless individuals, and because of that, there is a shortage of the very low-income housing, and those are the individuals that were getting in. Some people are fleeing the other counties, you know, (due to) the crime rates in Rochester, sometimes in Buffalo, they're coming here and saying we just want to start new.”

New York State ERAP applications stopped being accepted after Jan. 20, 2023, at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Individuals will not be able to submit applications or complete applications that have been started but not submitted after this time.

According to an article by the Associated Press in June 2023, “Upstate New York evictions are rising after a moratorium lifted last year.”

“Forty of the state's 62 counties had higher eviction filings in 2022 than before the pandemic,” the article states, “including two where eviction filings more than doubled compared to 2019.”

So Genesee County isn’t alone, and officials are doing what they can, Mindler said.

“We, of course, encourage people to move here. However, as you know, homeless are where they’re found, so if they truly do not have a home to go back to in those counties, then they become ours. And people are also coming here sometimes for a temporary purpose and end up staying,” she said. “So if they are open in another county, they have to keep them open for a couple of months, but then they do want to stay here.”

There is an active bill in the state Senate called the "winter moratorium on evictions act of 2023,” which states that evictions are linked to all-cause mortality and lead to an array of negative mental and physical health outcomes, including higher rates of emergency room utilization, mental health hospitalizations, suicide, children's hospitalization, and depression and directly result in job loss and disruption to a child's education.

Evictions are a significant cause of homelessness, both directly and indirectly, it states, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development identified at least 91,271 homeless individuals throughout New York State as of January 2020, including 77,943 individuals in New York City and 13,328 individuals throughout the rest of the State. 

The bill is in committee at this point and yet to be passed onto the Senate floor in an effort to pass a moratorium on evictions during winter months.

Recovery tied to solid housing and transportation access, mental health official says

By Joanne Beck
Sep 6, 2023, 7:55am

It’s hard enough battling mental health issues and opioid addiction, let alone trying to do so without a solid and safe place to live or a way to get around for wellness appointments and necessary travel, Lynda Battaglia says.

The Genesee County Mental Health director talked about those obstacles as she made some related requests for funding to the county’s Human Services Committee Tuesday.

The number of deaths from opioid overdoses has risen from 15.6 per 100,000 in 2021 to 27.8 per 100,000 in Genesee County, she said.

Lynda Battaglia

“We’re just seeing this increased pattern,” she said during Tuesday’s committee meeting. “And they’re highly addictive. You have the pharmaceutical ones that are prescribed and approved by the FDA, like oxycontin, and then you have the ones that are created on the streets and are illegal, and the overdose rate is just increasing across the state. Housing is one of those areas that if you can have stable housing, that is a social determinant of health.

“So when you think about ‘what do I need in order to just have a healthy life,’ housing is a top priority because when you can establish some housing, other things start to fall in place. When you don’t have housing, then you are in dire straits; you’re roaming the streets, you’re couch-surfing, you are going from friend to friend, if you have friends, or you’re going to areas or environments that have high usage. And the temptation is always there.”

And if you’re also trying to recover, that’s a setup to fail, she said. Genesee Orleans Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse has requested $100,000 for housing to help people with that needed step, plus funding for harm reduction, prevention services and public awareness. 

“I do believe it is extremely needed for Genesee County,” Battaglia said. 

The Mental Health Department brought a request to the county committee members with allocated state Office of Addiction Services and Supports grant funding available. Human Services approved the request of $130,000 and will pass that on to the Ways and Means Committee before it goes for a final vote by the county Legislature. 

There will be no budget impact for the county because the state OASAS funding will cover the amount. 

Battaglia also requested $95,907 on behalf of Horizon Health Services for treatment ($75,000), public awareness ($6,332), and transportation ($2,500) costs to assist Genesee County residents with their mental health needs.

“This is specific for Genesee County as well, for the residents of Genesee County at their satellite office, located just outside of town here. This was reviewed by the community services board. They are a duly licensed clinic,” she said. “So they provide mental health services and support services. So they don't typically receive state aid through my office. But this was a good opportunity for them to just get above and beyond what they need in order to provide services to the community.”

She was asked if the requested funding for transportation was enough to meet program users’ needs.

“It's hard to say. Transportation is just another barrier, I think, for individuals to access services across the board. It's not just support. And it's not just mental health, it's medical care as well. So is $2,500 enough? Probably not. But we'll see what happens with the 2,500 when we look at next year's funding because this is going to be the same process from year to year. Everybody's going to have to resubmit,” Battaglia said. “And if the need for transportation increases, then the funding could increase as well. I guess we'll just have to see. I also didn't want to allocate too much to it.”

The committee also approved this request and passed it on to Ways & Means and the county Legislature for a final vote.

Genesee County's summer hours to end Tuesday

By Press Release
Sep 1, 2023, 7:00am

Press Release:

Effective Tuesday, September 5, Genesee County offices and departments will return to their general business hours of 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., concluding the summer hours of operation, which are currently 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The adjustment in business hours will not affect the total number of hours that County offices are open to the public.

Six rural counties join litigation aimed at overturning changes to WROTB governance

By Mike Pettinella
Aug 28, 2023, 5:41pm

Lawmakers in six of the 15 counties that benefit from revenues generated by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. have passed resolutions to participate in a pending lawsuit to overturn changes to the structure and voting format of the public benefit company’s board of directors.

Legislative bodies in Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming, Livingston and Seneca counties have joined Genesee County in an effort to nullify bills passed by New York State -- during budget negotiations in May – that eliminated the board at that time and shifted voting to a weighted system.

Albany’s action transferred the voting power from the rural (predominately Republican counties to the urban (predominately Democratic municipalities of Erie and Monroe counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

Genesee County Attorney James Wujcik today said that he has been talking to lawyers representing the rural counties, confirming that six have signed on thus far. Others rural counties that may opt in are Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Oswego, Wayne and Steuben. The status of Schuyler County is unknown at this point.

“So far, six counties have passed resolutions authorizing their county attorneys to enjoin litigation,” said Wujcik, who added that a draft of the lawsuit is forthcoming.

He also confirmed a report in the Niagara Gazette that Genesee, Niagara and Orleans counties have committed $5,000 each to retain the Lippes Mathias law firm of Buffalo. According to a story on Aug. 1, the newspaper reported that the firm’s lead attorney, Dennis Vacco, will be paid $400 per hour as the “coordinating attorney of all activities” while three others will be paid $375, $350 and $280 per hour.

Should 12 counties sign on to the lawsuit, each would be expected to pay the same amount in attorneys’ and related fees.

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said that premise of the litigation is “to protect the counties’ Home Rule rights” – the one-county, one-vote format -- that have been in place since WROTB’s creation 50 years ago.

“Genesee County’s position is that we must protect our citizens who, by a referendum, voted to join Western Regional,” Stein said. “People trying to change the result of an election is an overreach, and we can’t let that occur in New York State.”

A portion of the resolution passed by the Genesee County Legislature in June refers to the Home Rule provision, noting that:

WHEREAS, the New York State Court of Appeals recognized in Matter of Moran v. La Guardia, 270 N.Y. 450, 452 that “To repeal or modify a statute requires a legislative act of equal dignity and import.” Nothing less than a Home Rule Message from a majority of the founding counties will suffice, i.e. “the doctrine of Legislative Equivalency”. The doctrine of legislative equivalency has uniformly been applied with respect to the modification and or amendment of prior legislation, and,

WHEREAS, none of the founding counties, especially Genesee County, the home County of WROTB, enacted Home Rule Messages requesting that N.Y. Rac. Pari-Mut. Wag. & Breeding Law § 502, be modified and/or amended, and never authorized a relinquishment of control of WROTB to Erie County, Monroe County, City of Buffalo, and City of Rochester, and WHEREAS, Batavia Downs is located in the Town and City of Batavia in a residential area and this is an important quality of life issue for the host County of Genesee to not be negatively impacted by any change to the Board of Directors make up.

Democratic State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo initiated action to dismantle the WROTB board and change the voting structure in light of a state Comptroller’s audit that found fault with the corporation’s use of tickets to sporting events (notably, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres) and concerts; “gold-plated” health insurance for directors, and for President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek’s use of a company vehicle.

Wojtaszek has said that the corporation has taken corrective measures since then, recently stating that management is working on new health insurance options for employees, but not board members.

Tenney reintroduces bill to retain qualified immunity for police officers

By Press Release
Aug 23, 2023, 12:26pm

Press Release:

File photo of 
Claudia Tenney

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24), alongside Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), today reintroduced the Local Law Enforcement Protection Act, which protects qualified immunity for police officers serving at the state and local levels nationwide.

The legislation reinforces the principle established in the Supreme Court case Saucier v. Katz, which ruled that a police officer can only be held liable if there is a clear violation of an individual's constitutional rights. The Local Law Enforcement Protection Act prevents state and local governments from seeking specific federal grants if they strip away qualified immunity protections for police officers.

The year 2021 was the deadliest year for our law enforcement officers in over two decades, and 2023 is not much better. So far this year, 226 police officers have been shot, and 75 have died in the line of duty. With numerous states and localities significantly cutting police budgets and chipping away at qualified immunity safeguards, the Local Law Enforcement Protection Act serves as a crucial legal safeguard, providing necessary protection to police officers who dutifully serve communities with dedication and honesty.

“With crime rates continuing to surge across our country and assaults against our brave police officers on the rise, it is deeply concerning that Democrats in Congress and Albany continue to advocate for defunding the police and ending qualified immunity,” said Congresswoman Tenney. “Our law enforcement officers risk their lives every day for our communities, and they deserve to be able to perform their duties without fear of frivolous lawsuits. By introducing the Local Law Enforcement Protection Act today, Rep. Garbarino and I reiterate our call for members on both sides of the aisle to stand in solidarity with our police officers. I will always stand with our men and women in blue who risk their lives every day for our community.” 

“The Left’s assault on essential police protections is inexcusable and only makes it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs keeping our communities safe and criminals off the street,” said Congressman Garbarino. “For years, qualified immunity has served as legal protection for law enforcement officers from being sued for lawful actions undertaken as part of their official duties. At a time when police recruitment and retention is at staggering lows and crime remains at record highs, I am proud to co-lead this legislation to discourage state and local governments from taking harmful policy action against our law enforcement community.”

Read the full text of the bill here.

Additional $2M toward county's third-phase water project 'certainly helps'

By Joanne Beck
Aug 22, 2023, 7:17pm

Water is one of those things that doesn’t evoke much interest until the well runs dry, and county officials have been steadily working on a plan to ensure that doesn’t happen, they say.

And that doesn’t happen without funding, which will be needed for the upcoming $150 million third phase.

Tim Hens
County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens

“We are currently designing and evaluating the needed improvements for Phase 3, which brings 7.6 million gallons more per day. This quantity of water was intended to replace the City of Batavia Water Treatment Plant production. Part of this transition requires a Source Supply Change Study to make sure water chemistry does not cause issue in the city’s old pipes and services,” county Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said. “This study is intensive and will take approximately three years to complete. During this time, we will continue to design the overall Phase 3 project. There are parts and pieces within Monroe County that are not controlled by the Source Supply Study that will advance ahead. The county is continuing to seek federal and state funding to complete the project that has a total estimated cost of $150 million.”

Some good news came this month in the form of a $2 million grant from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Office. That money will go towards a new water tank on North Road in Le Roy, County Manager Matt Landers said. While there’s still much more expense to go, it “certainly helps,” Landers said, and is “$2 million less that we have to borrow and pay interest on.”

As for how to pay for the remaining project?
“We are certainly hopeful for future grant assistance.  We recently submitted for a $30 million Water Infrastructure Improvement grant with NYS and submitted for $1.7 million in Congressional earmark funding through Congresswoman Tenney’s Office,” Landers said.  “We plan on submitting annually to both NYS and the federal government for as long as phase 3 is being designed and constructed.

matt landers
County Manager Matt Landers

“We are searching for federal and state grants, expecting to raise some of the funds through a bond issuance and having a small increase in the water rate to cover the rest,” he said. “In addition to the $2 million recently announced, we are also applying $8 million of federal ARPA funding towards phase 3. We have not paid for phase 3 yet because it is still being designed.”  

Remember those county press releases reminding residents to temper their water use during summer months? Those reminders, and the need for spray parks in Batavia and Le Roy to be closed temporarily this summer, are all related to city and county water infrastructure issues and the rising need for water, officials say.

“Demand continues to outpace water supply, and this trend will only get worse in the coming years,” Landers said.  “Clean reliable water is essential from both a public health standpoint and from an economic development perspective." 

There haven’t been any reminders lately about restricting water use, so does that mean the situation is better?
“Recent repairs at the City water plant (repair of a well pump and replacement of a low service pump) have helped supply keep close with demand,” Landers said. “In addition, the county is moving away from the peak demand season, which will relieve some of the pressure on the city water plant.”

Some areas of NY seeing more COVID, Genesee has moderate increase

By Joanne Beck
Aug 21, 2023, 6:05pm

While some areas in New York are seeing an uptick in COVID cases — enough to warrant stricter masking policies — that hasn’t been the case in Genesee County so far, Genesee and Rochester Regional Health officials say.

Two Upstate Medical hospitals recently reported revised policies to reinstate mandatory masking for all staff, visitors and patients in clinical areas of the hospitals’ spaces, and masking was also strongly encouraged for non-clinical areas as well, according to news reports

Genesee Orleans (GO) Health’s Public Information Officer Kaitlin Pettine said that there’s been an increase in COVID cases in the second week of August, but there has not been any new masking policy considered.

Her agency is reflecting the recommendations set forth by the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at this time, even though “medical centers/systems can also determine their protocols at their own discretion.”

"For the week of August 9 to 15, Genesee County had 10 new cases,” Pettine said. “As expected, we are seeing new strains of COVID. Each strain will present with varying levels of transmissibility and severity.  We will continue to monitor activity in our communities and provide recommendations as indicated."

Rochester Regional Health is seeing some increase in COVID inpatient admissions, but the number is considered “rather small,” communications specialist Cristina Domingues Umbrino said.  

“We are not considering reinstituting the mask mandate at this time,” she said. “Some restrictions remain in high-risk areas.”

Hospital restriction policies are available HERE.

As everyone moves into the fall season, Pettine encourages residents to practice the following public health advice for all respiratory illnesses: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often. If soap is not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider and get vaccinated. 

If you're curious about local cases, GO Health updates COVID-19 data on Wednesdays at the GO Health website 

Taking walkability to the street: finding ways to make crosswalks safer

By Joanne Beck
Aug 19, 2023, 8:00am
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
A pop-up demonstration Friday in downtown Batavia showed pedestrians and motorists alike ways to slow traffic and make crosswalks safer. 
Photo by Howard Owens

Ann Falco made a special trip to visit downtown Batavia Friday afternoon to share her many thoughts about sections of Bank Street being safe to cross -- or not.

Members of a county health committee had set up displays of potential future curbing, lights and artistic license to demonstrate ways to help slow down traffic and make crosswalks a more viable way to cross over from the east and west sides of Bank Street at three points between Main Street and Washington Avenue. 

“I came just for this,” Falco said as organizers were wrapping up their survey stations. “It’s a joy to drive down Park Road. I want to see that replicated here.”

Falco said that she didn’t want to use the crosswalk leading closest to the Senior Center, and therefore she spoke to The Batavian as organizers were on the opposite side of the street moments before it began to rain.

She had given the matter careful time and consideration, writing down a page's worth of notes about what’s been done on Park Road at the crosswalk in front of Batavia Downs Gaming. Falco appreciates the small, young trees every five to six feet along the road, the speed bumps before and after the crosswalk, yellow warning cones with reminders to “stop” when pedestrians are in the walk — three of them at the Downs — and decorative street lamps and flags, she said. 

In similar fashion, why can’t Bank Street have speed bumps, more warnings to motorists, and decorative embellishments, she wondered. She hopes that her suggestions will be taken.

Emily, who asked that her last name not be used, was pleased with the new look on Friday. She takes that crosswalk all the time to YMCA, and she liked the new, albeit temporary, setup.

“It definitely made me go slower when driving and definitely alerted me of the crosswalk,” she said. “I work at the Y, and one of the worst parts is crossing the street. Anything they can do to make it safer is a good thing.”

She was one of the 94 people that gave positive feedback during the nearly four hours the Genesee Orleans Health Department staff surveyed walkers.

GO Health workers
GO Health staff Meghan Sheridan, Emily Nojeim and Cora Young.
Photo by Joanne Beck

“Everyone loved the set-up. They said the greenery was really pretty,” Emily Nojeim said. “They want safer places to walk.”

She had ticked off 93 people by about 1:45 p.m. after beginning at 10 a.m. She and fellow staff members also asked why people chose that crosswalk over another makeshift one set up several feet north, and most people said because they parked directly across from it in the lot. 

Parked on the sidewalk at the other crosswalk, County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari had tallied up 70 pedestrians. 

“They said it was more functional, and it’s a pretty artistic crosswalk. With the bump-outs, it’s a shorter distance to walk, they said. ‘It’s about time’ we had this, and ‘this is where I used to jay-walk,’” Oltramari said. 

There were two people that said his group members were wasting their time and that people will cross wherever they want to, he said. A delivery driver suggested that they reconsider the turf with straw curbing directly across from the Senior Center, as it makes a convenient place to park the truck for deliveries, and a grassy area may not be optimal for that, he said. 

bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Felipe Oltramari, left, works the other side of Bank Street during the pop-up demonstration Friday. Pudgie's Lawn & Garden donated the use of more than 250 plants to help out with the beautification effort.
Photo by Howard Owens

So how did this all begin?
“We had a 10-week course that was funded through the Health Department. And it's to help with reducing instances of chronic disease. So the health department received this grant, it's actually funded originally from the CDC, and it goes through this not-for-profit organization. Five of us took this 10-week online course to learn how to promote walkability in our communities,” he said. “And this is kind of like our final project, we're required to do a popup demonstration somewhere. So we took an existing site design that the city had proposed for this road. And we decided to implement that with temporary materials like we got turf donated from Batavia Turf, and we got straw wattle, that's got straw inside to kind of show where the curbs are. And we got lighting, to show where the new street lighting would be, and planters, to sort of present where some of the things like trees might be, and the new curb extensions. It helps promote walkability but makes it safer to walk across Bank Street and more enjoyable, also, to walk down on the sidewalk.

“So hopefully, some of the comments and the feedback that we get as a result of doing this pop-up will inform the decision makers at the city that will finalize the design for the street when it gets finally redone in a year or two.”

There’s an expected surge in traffic on Bank Street with the impending new police facility right on Bank and Alva in the next year or two, and the Healthy Living campus on the opposite side behind where the current YMCA is now to be completed by the end of 2024. City officials have an infrastructure project planned to coincide with the developments, at which time there would also be upgrades to the streetscape layout. 

Given that this was a county-led project, why was it only implemented on Bank Street?
“We needed to come up with this because walkable places are usually located in villages or cities. The county really doesn't have jurisdiction over those roads. We don't have anything as a county that we could implement on a road like this. So it was just an opportunity that we had,” he said. “So if the village or another village or hamlet or something like that wants to do something like this before they finalize their final street design, we can sort of roll this up and do it in a different community. So that's part of the process; the grant setup was basically to create a committee that could serve to be as kind of informed decision makers along in other parts of the county that might have designed something that will have other communities to kind of take advantage of their knowledge.”

So what’s the next step?
“So we have to create a report. We'll present that to the city as well, just as a document for them to review. And then, hopefully, they'll take that into consideration as to the design of this road,” he said. “And then, like I said, hopefully, other communities take advantage of the knowledge that our team has gained through going through this process, and maybe we can implement this somewhere else in the county.”

bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Aerial photo courtesy Genesee County.
bank street walkability demonstration 2023
Aerial photo courtesy Genesee County.

GC participates in STOP-DWI end of summer campaign

By Press Release
Aug 17, 2023, 9:30pm

Press Release:

Genesee County law enforcement agencies, including the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, City of Batavia Police Department, and Village of LeRoy Police Department will be participating in a coordinated effort with the STOP-DWI program to bring awareness to the dangers of impaired driving.

Law enforcement officers across New York State are taking to the roads in an effort to stop impaired driving, prevent injuries and save lives. The statewide STOP-DWI Campaign will start on August 18 and will end on September 4.

This event is one of many statewide enforcement initiatives promoted by the New York State STOP-DWI Association with additional funding from the New York State STOP-DWI Foundation and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.

STOP-DWI efforts across New York have led to significant reductions in the numbers of alcohol and drug related fatalities, however, still too many lives are being lost because of crashes caused by drunk or impaired drivers. Highly visible, highly publicized efforts like the STOP-DWI High Visibility Engagement Campaigns aim to further reduce the incidence of drunk and impaired driving.

Always remember impaired driving is completely preventable. All it takes is a little planning.

Tenney defends hunting and archery classes in schools

By Press Release
Aug 17, 2023, 9:29pm
le roy clay target team training 2018
The Le Roy High School Clay Target Team during a practice at a range in Le Roy in 2018.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Press Release:

File photo of
Claudia Tenney

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24) today introduced the Protecting Hunting and Archery in Schools Act of 2023 to protect hunting, archery, and shooting sports programs in schools.

Additional cosponsors include Reps. Russ Fulcher (R-ID), Jim Banks (R-IN), Brandon Williams (R-NY), and Andy Ogles (R-TN). 

Specifically, this bill strikes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s (ESEA) current restriction on ESEA funds on “the provision to any person of a dangerous weapon… or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”

This provision was added to the ESEA by the so-called “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” in 2022. Now, the Biden administration is intentionally misconstruing Congressional intent and using this provision to prohibit ESEA funds from being used to fund hunting, archery, and shooting sports programs in schools. 

“The Biden administration continues to advance its radical anti-Second Amendment agenda by prohibiting ESEA funding for archery and shooting sports programs,” said Congresswoman Tenney. “Upstate New York schools offer hunting, archery, and shooting sports programs to teach students how to responsibly handle firearms and respect our Second Amendment rights. The Biden Administration’s attempt to defund these outdoor recreational programs is a power grab and flies in the face of Congressional intent. This important legislation will protect these popular after-school programs and end the Biden Administration’s attack on our constitutional rights.”

“Biden’s extreme agenda is being thwarted by our Constitution, and our First and Second Amendment Rights remain their main targets,” said Jack Prendergast, Chairman of The Board, New York State SCOPE. “The Left fears citizens that can speak the truth and defend themselves. That’s why the Biden administration is working to drive legal gun retailers out of business and pass laws that will make owning guns unaffordable to all but their elite. With the twisting of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, they are working to discourage another generation from enjoying their constitutional rights. Thank you to Rep Tenney for her leadership on working to restore federal funding to our youth hunting and archery programs.”

GO Health addresses vaping issues

By Press Release
Aug 16, 2023, 6:29pm

Press Release:

What is a Vape?

Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes), better known as vapes, have become a widely used product for teens and young adults. Vaping is the action of inhaling vapor created by an E-Cigarette device. The devices can look like flash drives and come in many different flavors, sizes, and brands. The vape device works by heating an oily liquid until it becomes vapor. The liquid in the device, also known as vape juice, contains chemicals and can contain marijuana distillate or oil. The liquid also contains some mix of flavorings, aromatic additives that could smell and taste fruity or minty, depending on the flavor of the device.

Is Vaping Bad For You?

“There are still many unknowns about vaping and its long-term effects, including the vape liquid contents,” stated Paul Pettit, Public Health Director for Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments (GO Health). “Although vapes have been advertised as a way to quit smoking regular cigarettes, vapes still contain nicotine, the same addictive chemical in cigarettes. They also contain chemicals that have the potential to damage the lungs and there are no real regulations on how much nicotine and other chemicals are added.”

Vaping Associated Risks

Our lungs are not built to take in chemicals and oils over time. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the oily liquid from vape devices could have the ability to coat the lungs and cause chronic lung diseases such as lipoid pneumonia, a form of lung inflammation. A National Library of Medicine research review article discussed that
nicotine can lead to brain development risks and may cause anxiety. Nicotine also raises blood pressure and spikes adrenaline. The heart rate then increases, increasing the risk of heart attack. The risk of becoming a regular cigarette smoker and or developing other addictions is high. Reasons for quitting not only involve the health risks, it is also financially expensive and sports performance can dwindle as vaping may lead to lung

Tips on Quitting

  • Pick a day on a calendar when you plan on quitting, and let friends or family know.
  • Download an app that helps you track your sober days, build new healthier habits, and provide motivation– visit for free apps to download.
  • Get rid of all vaping devices.
  • Understand what the withdrawal symptoms are such as headaches, hunger, trouble sleeping, and concentrating are just a few.

Feeling the urge to vape? Try these instead:

  • Chewing gum or drinking water
  • Exercise
  • Yoga or meditation
  • Keeping your hands busy

The sooner one quits, the quicker the body rebounds and repairs itself. For more help or information, contact your healthcare provider. You can also text, chat or call the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) or visit the New York State Department of Health website.

For more information on GO Health programs and services, visit or call your respective health department at:

  • Genesee County: 585-344-2580 ext. 5555
  • Orleans County: 585-589-3278

Follow GO Health on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at GOHealthNY.

Tenney unveils three-pillar ag and tax plans to boost 'potential of rural communities'

By Press Release
Aug 9, 2023, 4:44pm

Press Release:

File photo of 
Claudia Tenney

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24) unveiled her agriculture plan and tax plan that work to support small and locally owned businesses and family farms across New York’s 24th District.

Earlier this month, Tenney visited multiple family farms and local businesses in Cayuga County and Wayne County to discuss their concerns and the Congresswoman’s efforts in Congress to support our farming and business community. To outline her work to support our NY-24 producers and employers, Tenney unveiled her three-pillar agriculture plan and tax plan. 

Her agriculture plan focuses on supporting NY-24 specialty crops, bolstering New York’s dairy industry, and protecting American farmland from foreign interests. Her tax plan centers around her work on the House Ways and Means Committee to build on the successes of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, revitalize our communities, support our families, and ensure essential taxpayer protections.

“Small businesses and family-owned farms will always be the backbone of NY-24’s economy,” said Congresswoman Tenney. “I’ve toured numerous small businesses and farms across the district to learn more about their daily operations and the challenges they face. It is imperative that we put forward policies in Congress that address these concerns and deliver lasting results for our community. Today, I released my agriculture plan and tax plan to highlight my efforts to unleash the potential of our rural communities and to give farmers, producers, and small business owners the certainty and opportunities they need to succeed.”

To view Tenney’s full Agriculture plan, click here.

To view Tenney’s full Tax plan, click here.

Protecting birds and bees shouldn't have to cost farmers, consumers: local farmer speaks up

By Joanne Beck
Aug 3, 2023, 6:08pm
seed maggot
Textbook photo of a seed corn maggot.

The Birds and Bees Protection Act is a seemingly simple enough and all-natural sounding title that most anyone would be for it, wouldn’t they?

Well, not everyone. Shelley Stein, CEO of Stein Farms in Le Roy, said she had to speak up as a farmer and "a person who understands the ramifications of policy on our farmers, and our consumers, and what this is going to mean to the economy of Genesee County."

Stein has stood up against the act, now approved by the state Senate and Assembly and is awaiting signature by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

What it is
The county legislature chairwoman has her work cut out for her, not only going against a bill meant to protect nature’s precious wildlife, but also against a purported expert extolling the virtues of a Cornell University study to back up the move to prohibit the “sale, distribution or purchase by any person within the state of corn, soybean or wheat seeds coated or treated with pesticides with the active ingredients clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, or acetamiprid,” as of Jan. 1, 2027.

In the simplest layman’s terms, Stein’s position is for coating the seeds in the ground with chemicals to kill maggots that wreak havoc with the crops and allow farmers to continue with their current soil management practices that encourage earthworm activity. Once the crop emerges from the ground, she says, the chemical does not harm the birds and bees in the air waiting to pollinate and feed.

If they did not treat the seeds and maggots were allowed to grow, farmers would have to more aggressively till the soil, destroying the earthworms and related best soil management practices they’ve had in place, she said, and more pesticides would potentially be used in the air to save the crops.

What does all this mean for the end result — the crop and the consumer? Potentially less harvest and more expensive produce.

Stein wrote a rebuttal to the "Times Union" after it endorsed the act and urged the governor’s approval.

Why it's important for NYS and specifically Genesee County

Shelley Stein 2023

"New York farmers have only one shot each year to grow a crop of corn or soybeans, and waiting under the soil are insects like the seed corn maggot that love to gobble up seedlings before they emerge," she said in her opinion piece. "Coating minute amounts of neonic pesticides on corn and soybean seeds is a proven practice to keep the maggots away and assure a successful crop — but legislation passed this year would take this tool out of New York farmers’ toolbox."

Things to consider with this bill: it’s being touted as a “first-in-the-nation” measure, one that hasn’t passed in any other state. Why is that? Stein believes she has at least part of the answer. And it isn’t that the other 49 other states have less knowledge about “neonics” being used on the crop seeds. The same senator who was involved with this measure on the West Coast is now leading the charge in the East. 

"It's an important topic for farmers in New York State to win because we're the only state that these neonics will be taken away from in the U.S.," she said. "And I will just say this, it's really an alluring title of this bill. You know, Saving the Birds and Bees Protection Act. Yeah. Everybody would say well, that's a great idea. Sure, a really great idea. And we believe, as farmers and as an agricultural community, that we can absolutely do that and still be able to mitigate losses of crops and do this to the seed corn maggot. And it's the same maggot that takes its bite out of soybeans as well.

"And so this is the senator who brought this forward; he represents a portion out of Manhattan. And I believe that he thinks, according to the title, I think he thinks it's a great idea. He doesn't have any committee assignments that have to do with food and agriculture. And when the  Natural Resources Defense Council tried to do the same thing in California, California got wise and they turned him down. And so he becomes this champion, even though his district doesn't grow any corn or soybeans."

Background study #1
What about that in-depth Cornell University study that showed no economic benefits to users or provided safer, effective alternatives rather than the neonic coatings (pesticides) on corn, soybean and wheat seeds?

This assessment is based on averages, Stein said, and not on individual farm risk assessments.  

"A catastrophic loss on one farm means everything to that farm business, yet statistically, it gets lost in the shuffle when averaged over all farms," she said.

She used her own dairy farm as an example of items to be assessed, and that cannot be "averaged away" with risk factors "and expect to have sufficient feed for my herd."

Those considerations include relative seed corn maggot threat level in each of her fields, the date of planting and field soil temperatures, and the market price of feed -- corn grain and silage, and soybean meal -- to replace potential loss of crops.

Who's involved
There is quite a list of advocates for the ban, including the Sierra Club, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Clean + Healthy, the New York League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, the Bee Conservancy and Physicians for Social Responsibility of New York.

New York beekeepers claim they have lost more than 40 percent of their bee colonies largely due to neonic pesticides. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Brad Holman-Sigal, represents the 47th district in Manhattan and is a staunch supporter of banning the seed pesticide use in a string of platforms he has run on and endorsed for rights pertaining to the environment, civil liberties, LGBTQ, child victims, housing, transportation, public education and seniors.

The New York Farm Bureau has led a coalition of opponents in urging lawmakers to reject the bird and bees proposal, as it is counter to New York's sustainability goals within the New York Climate Action Council and will force farmers to use less environmentally friendly means of pest control, as Stein said, including increased tillage and airborne pesticides.

Treating the seeds, however, is environmentally superior to aggressively tilling the soil -- making more trips across the field -- to destroy maggot habitats, Stein said, which requires fossil fuels and releases carbon to the atmosphere. Best soil management practices "help make soil more fertile, more robust, if you allow earthworms to do their jobs," she said.

Pollinator experts have also identified other issues impacting pollinators, she said, such as bee parasites, malnutrition, declining habitat and diseases, "that are far more significant than judicious pesticide use."

Background study #2
Stein also pointed out that there is another Cornell study that has been ignored by politicians. The first one was done "only on economics, and it used averages. The second study that was done by Elson Shields, who's an entomologist, so he's the Bug Guy ... it is the study that's actually practical in the field," she said.

That field study, related to the seed corn maggot, corn crop and economic viability of using untreated seeds, was performed in 2021.

Research data collected in controlled studies during 2021 at the Cornell Musgrave Farm located in Aurora showed that in corn production following a cover crop, seed corn maggot economically damaged 54 percent of the non-insecticide seed-treated plots ranging from 11 to 62 percent stand losses.

These losses would be economically devastating to a farmer, where the farm loses yield on 54 percent of their acreage, ranging from $40 to $400 per acre.  Since predicting which fields will be attacked by seed corn maggot prior to planting is difficult and imprecise, the prevention of yield losses ranging from $40 to $400 per acre on a third of the acreage "easily compensates and is economically justified for the $5 per acre cost of the insecticide seed treatment for all acres," the study stated.

"Given that conservation practices such as reduced tillage and planting cover crops to reduce erosion and runoff are not only encouraged but also incentivized in New York State, it is important to understand that in the absence of these seed protectants, farmers may revert to planting fewer cover crops to avoid losses to seed corn maggot," it stated.

Go HERE for the full study. 

Final word
The Batavian asked Stein if politicians -- Gov. Kathy Hochul at this point in time -- are equipped to be making this type of decision for farmers and those that depend on them.

"The (Environmental Protection Agency) allows this practice in every other state in the nation, except for the actions of New York State, and there are those that would tell you that New York State doesn't want any agriculture anymore on our lands, which doesn't make any sense, because agriculture is New York State's number one industry as far as the economy goes, and land use goes. There's a push for high-quality local affordable food. This bill takes that away from us as well," Stein said. "Do I believe that Governor Hochul is well equipped to be making this final vote? Here's what I know. The governor represented our area as a congressperson. She is well aware of what our economy in the center of the state is based on. And she knows the negative impacts of the policies of the Democratic Party and the toll that it's taken on agriculture. I find it hard to believe that she would put one more nail in our coffin."

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