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October 2, 2020 - 6:26pm

Now that a police collaboration advisory group is ready to address policies and procedures of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department, County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein says she is confident of a successful response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203 on police reform.

Stein, speaking by telephone this afternoon, said the level of participation and the fact that the sheriff’s agency is an accredited law enforcement bureau in New York State put the county in excellent position to draft a plan and submit to director of the Division of the Budget by April 1.

“I am extremely pleased with the number of people that have indicated their interest in serving and their commitment to making sure that our process is full and robust,” Stein said. “I think that the fact that the State of New York has already reviewed and approved our policies and procedures in the sheriff’s department, gaining that accreditation puts us well ahead … in the process.

“New York State has already seen our policies and procedures, and have already said that they are all within good policing process. I am really grateful for that process – the accreditation that happened previously and the reaccreditation that just finished up in September.”

Last week, Sheriff William Sheron Jr. announced that his department completed the reaccreditation audit in compliance with a mandate that stipulates that an accredited law enforcement agency be reassessed every five years and must show that it has followed the 133 standards during that time period.

The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office received its initial accreditation in year 2000.

Stein and County Manager Matt Landers today released the list of members of their Genesee County Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative:

  • Community members – Julie Carasone, Perez Dinkins, Leandro Mateos, Barb Starowitz, Tyrone Woods.
  • Genesee Community College student – TBA. (Stein said a person has been identified but not yet confirmed).
  • Nonprofit Community Groups -- Lynda Battaglia, Genesee County Community Mental Health Services; John Bennett, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse; Millie Tomidy-Pepper, YWCA of Genesee County.
  • Faith-Based Leader -- John Keller, Northgate Free Methodist Church.
  • Educational Group -- Rachel Siebert, Genesee Valley Educational Partnership.
  • Local Elected Official – Gregory Post, Town of Batavia supervisor.
  • Genesee County Public Defender – Jerry Ader.
  • Genesee County District Attorney – Lawrence Friedman.
  • Genesee County Sheriff’s Department – Sheriff William Sheron, Undersheriff Bradley Mazur, Youth Officer Howard Carlson.
  • Genesee County Manager – Matt Landers.
  • Genesee County Legislature – Rochelle Stein.

Former Legislature Chair Robert Bausch will serve as the moderator.

Landers said he anticipates a resident of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation to join the group, which will include several persons of color.

Stein said all committee members are invited to attend a presentation by Sheron at a full meeting of the legislature at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Old County Courthouse. She said a “meet-and-greet” – likely via Zoom videoconferencing – will take place prior to Oct. 28 but the date and time have yet to be determined.

Stakeholder groups such as these are being formed by municipal law enforcement agencies throughout the state following Cuomo’s Executive Order issued on June 12. The governor’s mandate requires the chief executive to consult with local community stakeholders and develop a reform plan to address policing procedures. The City of Batavia and Le Roy police departments previously announced their groups, developments that have been reported on The Batavian.

Landers said that group members will convene to “openly discuss public safety needs in Genesee County, and policies will be developed that allow for police to protect the public while meeting our local needs.”

Other community members will be invited to join the panel as the process evolves, he said, and all meetings of the committee will be open to the public.

“We look forward to open and respectful dialogue among members,” Stein said, “and see this as an opportunity to collaborate and better understand others’ points of view resulting in updated and new policies that offer fair justice for all.”

October 2, 2020 - 10:20am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county, NYSAC, HEROES Act.

Local governments throughout New York State remain in a holding pattern as they wait for word from Albany on state aid levels and from Washington, D.C., on another federal stimulus bill.

“No update has been received by the Genesee County Manager’s Office regarding state reimbursements of mandated expenses,” County Manager Matt Landers said last night.

Municipalities were expecting to receive an update regarding state funding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30, one of the governor’s predetermined “benchmarks” to evaluate and inform localities of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon New York’s economy.

Until he hears something different, Landers said Genesee County is “still planning for 20-percent reductions in state reimbursements for both county fiscal years 2020 and 2021.”

The county, towns and fire districts have fiscal years that run from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

Villages’ fiscal years run from June 1 through May 31, except Alexander, which runs from April 1 through March 31. The City of Batavia’s fiscal year is also April 1 through March 31.

Landers and officials in other counties have been supported by repeated calls from the New York State Association of Counties for the White House and Congressional leaders to reach an agreement on a coronavirus stimulus package that would provide direct aid to local governments.

NYSAC’s latest plea to pass an updated HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act came on Thursday following its virtual Fall Seminar.

In its press release, NYSAC stated that an analysis of the modified $2.2 trillion HEROES Act -- which was moved by leaders in the House of Representatives this week and is still in the midst of negotiations – reveals that counties across the state would receive nearly $3 billion in federal stimulus.

“Every day that passes without a deal on direct aid to local governments, the deeper the economic hole that is being dug in our communities,” said NYSAC President John F. Marren. “Local governments stepped up and expended great resources to stop the spread of the virus and now, with state aid being withheld and revenue collection down, counties are being forced to cut services and lay off employees, which only depresses the economy further. It’s time for Washington to get behind a plan and get this done for the American people.”

The NYSAC report also indicated that through the Community Development Block Grant program, entitlement communities across New York State -- municipalities over 50,000 in population – would receive about $2.4 billion.

Other, smaller cities and localities, would receive $2.2 billion, and New York City, which has half of the state’s 19 million people, would receive $5.35 billion.

The House’s latest version of the HEROES Act is $1.2 trillion less than what Democrats proposed in May, and includes direct payments to individuals and families, and enhanced unemployment benefits.

The issue of sending funds to states and municipalities is one of the sticking points, but reportedly has the support of the Trump administration in the amount of $250 billion.

September 17, 2020 - 10:19pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia Town Board, Gregory Post, genesee county.

Town of Batavia board members are facing a potential $1 million budget shortfall as they work to develop a spending plan for fiscal year 2021 that begins in January.

“Genesee County has allocated $8 million for revenue sharing next year, of which the Town of Batavia would get $1.3 million. That’s a million dollars less than what we budgeted to receive from the county in 2020,” said Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post after Wednesday’s board meeting at the Town Hall on West Main Street Road. “We have to make that up by reducing the budget and increasing other revenue streams.”

To make matters worse, Post said the town has received about $1.1 million from the county thus far in 2020 and, despite two more scheduled distributions, likely won’t hit the budgeted amount of $2.3 million.

“We really don’t know what the numbers will be,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t help that (Six Flags) Darien Lake has been closed all summer and we won’t see that sales tax.”

In short, the board has some hard choices to make – cut expenditures (a process that already has begun), use some of the unrestricted fund balance and/or raise property taxes.

Post said a substantial tax rate increase from the current $2.42 per thousand of assessed valuation is a distinct possibility.

“We would have to double the tax rate to raise the million dollars we need to close that gap,” he said, adding that the board does not want to go that route. 

State Aid, Other Revenue is Down

The supervisor said the town has limited options on the revenue side.

“State aid already's been reduced by 20 percent – we’re not looking for that – plus we got a smaller percentage of VLT (video lottery terminal) money, we didn’t get any fine money for six months from the courts, and I don’t expect that to surge,” he said. “And building permit fees are likely going to be reduced this year because we haven’t had any significant commercial and industrial expansions and developments, and the local homeowner building permit fees generally don’t make a big difference.”

Post said mortgage taxes seems to be “on the uptick, but revenue from the sale of obsolete equipment is off the table – we haven’t been able to disperse any of that because we have to keep everyone employed in a separate vehicle due to COVID-19 and potential for contagion.”

He said the board has reviewed all revenue streams, and now is looking at putting some of its unexpected fund balance into the 2021 budget.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” he said. “This year (2020) our fund balance was budgeted at one million dollars. We’re working very hard to reduce this year’s expenditures – our target is to reduce that by $700,000, and save that $700,000 of fund balance to spread over the next couple years to buffer an inevitable property tax increase because I don’t see New York State politicking their way out of bankruptcy.”

Albany's Way or the Highway?

A fierce critic of the state’s progressive policies, Post took Albany to task for what he says is taking money from essential areas and blindly reallocating it.

“The fact that they have taken money out of highway funds, which are paid for strictly by gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, and distributed it to things that are serving people that don’t drive cars and buy gasoline, is an example of something that is destined to fail,” he said.

He bemoaned the fact that the federal government hasn’t raised the gasoline tax in 20 years despite cars now “getting 40 miles per gallon instead of 10 miles per gallon.”

“So, revenues per vehicle have been reduced by 75 percent,” he said. “We’ve increased the number of vehicles but it’s not enough to offset the ever-increasing costs of highway maintenance.”

Post said the town’s budget “will be adjusted to the maximum degree that we can reduce but we’ve ‘leaned’ this community out 10 years ago.”

“Our highway superintendent’s salary was reduced from $58,000 to $15,000 10 years ago. We’ve got a number of people working two or three different positions and sharing jobs, so that there’s no real person here that’s not essential. Our engineering department is averaging between 25 and 75 percent reimbursement on the projects they bring in, and that doesn’t count the value of the projects they are delivering to our community,” he offered.

Town's Growth is Impressive

He said he’s proud to see 30-percent growth in the assessed value of the town over the past decade, adding that average income has gone up by a like amount during that span.

“And property values continue to escalate, and houses continue to sell for more than they’re assessed for – more than their asking price. It’s like nothing any of us have ever experienced,” he said. “There wasn’t a revaluation done last year because our apprehension was that COVID was depressing the economy to the point where real estate would tank, and we would have an increased assessment on this year’s budget and then next year we would have to drastically reduce the assessment – but exactly the opposite happened.”

Post said the town assessor will be conducting a revaluation this winter, but those new assessments won’t take effect until 2022.

“The State of New York is saying ‘these are the numbers that we’re seeing, and these are what you’re going to have to get in order to get the state aid,’ ” he said.

Not knowing accurate revenue figures at this time makes it hard to gauge how much of the town’s fund balance should be appropriated to the 2021 budget, Post said.

“How much should we judiciously use of the unexpended fund balance to offset this disaster that came from Albany, and do we adjust the property tax rate so that we don’t spend down our buffer funds, because I don’t see the end of New York State’s interference in local government distribution,” he explained. “I don’t see the state coming up next year and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to refund everybody to their full amount.’ I don’t see that happening, so we need to guard the cash that we have very carefully.”

Public Hearing Set for Oct. 21

Along those lines, the town board passed a resolution to set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Oct. 21 for a local law to override the state’s limit on the amount of real property taxes that may be levied by the town for the fiscal year 2021, which is based on the calendar year.

“How can that person in Albany tell me that I have to cap my revenue stream when they’re cutting us by up to 35 percent?” he asked.

A special meeting has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 30 to distribute the tentative 2021 budget.

Post is calling on more residents of the town to participate in the process or at least educate themselves on how the process works.

“Ultimately, the people in the community are going to have to assist our town board and contribute their thoughts and their ideas, and be more informed. We have very little participation in our community until there’s a controversy,” he said. “When we don’t get any participation or nobody asking questions, we’re obligated to figure it out on our own. I would be happy to educate anybody that may be interested in knowing how this process comes about.”

Census Deadline is Sept. 30

Post encouraged citizens to make sure they fill out their census form as it determines representation and funding levels as follows:

  • Determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives;
  • Defines congressional and state legislative districts, school districts and voting precincts;
  • Determines the annual allocation of $675 billion in federal funding for Medicaid, SNAP, highway planning, Section 8 housing grants, special education grants, national school lunch program, Head Start and other social programs;
  • Provides insight to governments, business and community planning groups.

The deadline to complete and submit census forms is Sept. 30.

September 9, 2020 - 10:22am

Genesee County officials have had direct input into a report issued by the New York State Association of Counties that consists of more than 80 recommendations to help the state and municipalities bounce back from the severe financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Manager Matt Landers on Tuesday said that he and former manager Jay Gsell submitted a few suggestions to NYSAC, which then created the report, "Reforming and Re-imagining Government Service Delivery Part I: Overcoming the Current State-Local Budget Crisis," and forwarded it on to the NYS Division of Budget.

“I participated with adding a few things to that,” said Landers, also noting that Gsell sent in some suggestions as well prior to retiring last month.

Landers said that he offered the idea of excluding payment in lieu of taxes agreements from the tax cap formula.

“It’s a numbers-driven one, shocking that came from me being a CPA, and Jay put in a couple other ones that I agreed with, such as a state takeover of Medicaid,” he said.

From the report, under the Property Tax Cap heading, Landers’ submission reads as follows:

Exclude PILOT agreements from the tax cap formula. To encourage economic growth in their communities, counties often include a PILOT agreement as a means for a new revenue stream – typically on a parcel of land which has not been generating tax revenue for the county. However, the benefits of a PILOT agreement quickly disappeared after the property tax cap was established because governments are required to reduce their property tax levy by the value of the new PILOT agreements. Excluding PILOTs from the tax cap formula would aid counties in raising revenue, while also incentivizing economic growth and prosperity.

Landers said the idea to have New York State take over the Medicaid program came from Gsell, who consistently pointed out the heavy burden of the state-mandated program upon counties.

From the report, under the Medicaid heading:

The State must complete the takeover of the administration of the Medicaid program from local districts as required under the law. Counties have downsized their Medicaid administrative operations as part of the process so far, but the state continues to layer more responsibility for administering the most complex parts of the Medicaid program on counties. The state’s objective was to reduce costs through improved efficiency by consolidating the administration at the state level, while also ensuring greater uniformity in the administration of Medicaid, which can only be fully accomplished if the takeover is completed.

Gsell also submitted action regarding county jails, which aligns with Genesee’s proposal to join forces with Orleans County on a new jail:

Allow and incentivize shared county jails. Change NYS statute, Commission on Corrections restraints and use shared services dollars to enhance net savings of counties sharing a jail.

The report contains recommendations across various sectors, including county sales tax actions, property tax cap, cannabis legalization, borrowing authority, thruway tolls, community colleges, environment, gaming, Medicaid, public health, personnel/labor, public safety, social services and transportation/infrastructure.

In a press release, NYSAC leaders said the report includes “recommended actions submitted by county leaders across the state as a means to preserve county services in the face of massive declines in local revenues and the withholding of state aid.”

“The recommendations include programmatic reforms to lower costs at both the state and local level, the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to Redesign State-Local Service Delivery (which was supported by Genesee County), short-term revenue options, temporary bonding authority, and property tax cap flexibility,” they said.

The state Division of Budget administrators are exploring mid-year cuts to localities, NYSAC said, and are starting to develop budget recommendations for the 2022 State Fiscal Year.

NYSAC indicated that the report could be a useful tool for state legislators when they return to Albany to consider “additional relief legislation to aid counties and other entities in COVID-19 response efforts.”

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario emphasized that county governments across the state have worked diligently to cut costs over the past six months.

“When this pandemic first swept across the state, local governments stepped up with innovative solutions to manage a crisis that none of us were prepared for,” he said. “Now counties are providing the essential services that New Yorkers depend on during this recession, and we need the state to consider these recommendations to help us address the lack of revenue and their budget cuts.”

September 2, 2020 - 2:14am

Utilization of public libraries is about to take off, mirroring what happened following the Great Recession of 2007-2009 when the housing industry crashed, banks faltered and the stock market plummeted.

That’s how Bob Conrad, director of the Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia, sees it, and he expressed those views and more on Monday during a departmental review for the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee.

Conrad said the peak year for public libraries in the United States and this county was 2010 as Americans responded to the economic downturn.

“And we’re in the midst of another one,” he said, noting that library services are in greater demand due to the trying times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accompanied by directors from five other Genesee County libraries and Tom Bindeman, executive director of the Nioga Library System, Conrad asked legislators to not reduce their annual financial support of these institutions.

“Please keep funding the library (at the 2019 level) and we will do what we can on our end to keep the facilities open … and maintain funding from our primary funders,” Conrad said, adding that Genesee County’s contribution amounts to about 10 percent of the what the libraries spend on materials.

Per the libraries’ written report, “County funds are earmarked for library materials only, so the money will go towards books and other resources to help children learn to read, to help people get through hard times, and to help people develop skills and find jobs.”

County Manager Matt Landers revealed that the libraries will receive $41,680 for 2020, but couldn’t guarantee that figure for 2021. The amount will depend upon budget proposals submitted by county department heads (and ultimately approved); outside agencies such as the libraries will be considered after that.

Richmond Memorial Library, by far the largest of the six Genesee County facilities, receives about half of the county funding, which is distributed according to a formula based on service population, circulation and the amount of spending on materials.

Bindeman reported that the Nioga Library System of 21 libraries in Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties is facing a 24-percent cut in funding from New York State this year and possibly more in 2021.

“We’re looking at laying off three people and I’m taking a 5-percent cut in my salary, and we’re looking at reducing services,” he said. “There are rumors it could go up to 40 percent and then we’d be looking at a merger or really going down to barebones.”

He said Nioga was able to receive $108,000 in Payroll Protection Program funds.

“If I didn’t get it, our deficit would have been over $300,000,” he said, which represents about a third of its annual budget. “So, that would have been tough.”

Libraries are open, but functioning under strict guidelines as mandated by the state. Those restrictions include no sitting, reading, gathering, playing, and no in-person library programs of more than 25 people.

Conrad said Richmond Memorial saw a big after-school crowd during a normal year, but he doesn’t expect that to continue.

“Our current safety plan allows people to come into the building and check materials out and to use an assigned computer for essential purposes only,” he said. “We’re expecting almost zero school and after-school presence. It’s going to affect our stats and our numbers, but not necessarily our circulation.”

The subject of internet access for students, especially in rural areas, also was discussed.

Kim Gibson, director of Haxton Memorial Library in Oakfield, said she and her staff are committed to “doing whatever we can” to (social distance) students so they can do their homework.

She said Oakfield-Alabama Superintendent John Fisgus suggested a partnership between the school district and the library, something that would be beneficial if O-A’s plan of 100-percent in-person learning had to be changed.

“We’re very fortunate to have a nice size library, building-wise,” Gibson said, noting that the library increased its bandwidth for Wi-Fi.

She also said that 30 percent of O-A families do not have access to the internet.

“We have access to Wi-Fi upstairs and downstairs …,” she said. “I want to be there for these kids. We have it (Wi-Fi) open 24/7 outside and I see these kids out there trying to do their homework.”

The other directors at the meeting were Diana Reding, Corfu Public Library; Josselyn Borowiec, Hollwedel Memorial Library, Pavilion; Nancy Bailey, Byron-Bergen Public Library, and Betsy Halvorsen, Woodward Memorial Library, Le Roy.

Three of the libraries – Richmond, Woodward and Corfu – are connected to (but not regulated by) school districts and receive the bulk of their funding from property taxes as voted on by the public.

The Byron-Bergen, Pavilion and Oakfield libraries are of the municipal type, with funding derived through sales and income taxes from the towns and/or villages they serve. Bailey reported that the B-B library is in the process of changing to the school district variety.

August 17, 2020 - 5:53pm

Unlike the process used during New York’s four phases of business reopening – where all decisions were in the governor’s hands, local governments will have a say in the way gyms can finally welcome back customers after five months of a COVID-19-generated shutdown.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced that gyms can reopen as soon as Aug. 24, but only at 33-percent capacity and with masks to be worn by everyone inside at all times.

However, “localities” will have a role, the governor said, in that local elected officials and health department leaders will be able to make some decisions. Furthermore, health departments will be required to inspect the facilities either before opening or within two weeks of reopening.

He didn’t share more details – a fact not lost upon Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein.

Speaking at today’s Public Service Committee meeting, Stein wondered aloud what code the health department should be using when doing the inspections and asked whether the gyms could hold classes.

“There may have to be a conversation in regard to gyms and with (county Public Health Director) Paul Pettit,” Stein said.

She said that it looks as though “new powers” are being given to the public health director, and hoped that a “checklist or template” would be made available by the state to assist members of the Finger Lakes Region control room.

“This is just seven days away from today,” she said.

County Manager Matt Landers said the county has the right to “delay classes indoors” and to delay the openings of gyms until Sept. 2 although he doesn’t expect to go down that road.

A state requirement to have MERV13 air filters* installed in all gyms could pose a problem for fitness centers housed in older buildings.

Landers said he is realizing there are more gyms in Genesee County than he thought, with four or five in Le Roy alone.

“There will be a lot of fun stuff over the next couple weeks,” he said, implying there is plenty of work ahead.

Movie theaters continue to be on the outside looking in as no announcement was made on their reopening.

“Maybe movie theaters should file a lawsuit and then they’ll be able to open. That seems to be how it works,” Stein said, alluding to the fact that more than 1,500 gym owners filed a class-action suit last week against the governor for not lifting his closure mandate.

*From Wikipedia: MERV is the acronym for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, a measurement scale designed in 1987 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers to report the effectiveness of air filters. 

August 16, 2020 - 12:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in matt landers, county manager, genesee county.
Video Sponsor

Yesterday morning, Matt Landers was sworn in as county manager for Genesee County, replacing Jay Gsell, who retired Friday after 26 years and 364 days of service.

Reader-submitted video.

August 14, 2020 - 7:15pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Jay Gsell, genesee county.

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While no longer on the payroll, outgoing Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell gave himself a new title as he bid farewell this afternoon at a ceremony attended by about 50 dignitaries, current and former legislators, local government colleagues and friends in front of the steps of the Old County Courthouse.

Gsell, directing his remarks to City Council members Eugene Jankowski Jr. and Kathleen Briggs, said that “Geno, since I walk the streets of Batavia on a regular basis, I’m on weed patrol now. So, Kathy (Briggs) you don’t have to worry about sending the city crews out. I’ll take care of this side – you get them to just do the Southside, and we’ll be good.”

The 45-minute event marked the end of a 27-year (actually 26 years and 364 days) career as the county’s chief administrative officer – a tenure that saw the county grow exponentially under Gsell’s guidance, energy and optimism.

After the presentation of proclamations, commendations and gifts, Gsell and his wife, Ann Marie, led a balloon launching, which served as a touching tribute to their daughter, Claire, who passed away in March 2009 at the age of 27.

“It was going to be her 28th birthday (on Sept. 6), so we decided that every year we would put 27 balloons out,” Gsell said. “In this case, we’re going to do it now. We figured why not, this is our favorite place.”

Getting 'Guidance' from Mary Pat

In a four-and-a-half-minute speech that capped the festivities – remarkably short for the effusive New Jersey native, Gsell talked about his daughter’s driving experiences, recalled meeting (the late legislator) Florence Gioia when he was about to be hired in 1993, expressed his pride in the team that leads the county and assured all that he and Ann Marie were in Batavia to stay.

“As it turns out, her (Claire) consistent guidance at Batavia High School was (guidance counselor) Mary Pat Hancock, and we always knew when we got a phone call, it was because Claire had gone to her first before coming to us with regard to what was or was not appropriate – including wrecking a car and also hitting somebody else in the parking lot. In fact, I think it was B.R. DeWitt’s wife,” Gsell remembered.

Hancock was the legislature chair when Gsell was hired and was one of today’s guest speakers, along with U.S. Congressman Chris Jacobs, State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, State Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, City Council President Jankowski, NYS Association of Counties President Jack Marren, current Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein and former Legislature Chair Robert Bausch.

Gsell said Claire went to Hancock first “to break the ice” before informing them of what had transpired.

“And, also, Rosalie Maguire, our insurance agent (who also was in attendance) had to keep changing the cars that were in our portfolio because Claire went through six cars in five years at one point,” he said. “She never got hurt except when one of our sheriff’s (deputies) had to actually pull up to her on Dodgeson Road and her car was facing the opposite direction from where she was headed to Darien Lake to work out there.

“She went to avoid a squirrel and ending up wrapping herself around a tree. So, needless to say, Frank Falleti (of Falleti Motors) was also our best friend as far as cars were concerned.”

Teamwork: 'It's How I was Raised'

Gsell said he knew he made the right choice when taking the Genesee County job – “the teamwork and cooperation, and how we get things done. This is really what I wanted to do. It’s how I was raised and also we as a group … things are in good hands with Matt (Landers, his successor); Vicki (Muckle, executive assistant to the county manager), and Tammi (Ferringer, recently appointed assistant county manager).”

As far as life after retirement, Gsell said “we call this home.”

“People keep saying, ‘So where are you going next? When’s the for sale sign (going up).’ There’s no for sale sign. The house is paid off, the dogs are happy, Ann Marie is reasonably happy except when I get anywhere near the television or the remotes, and as far we’re concerned, Genesee County and the City of Batavia are home, plain and simple,” he said.

Ann Marie took a few minutes to affectionately “roast” her husband, rattling off a number of his idiosyncrasies, including his technological impairment when it comes to Wi-Fi and TV remotes – “We call his TV chair the handicap parking spot,” she joked – and compulsive clearing of the dishes before people are done eating.

On a serious note, she went back 44 years ago when she was a single mother.

“I was a single mom with a 2 ½-year-old son and I couldn’t have chosen a better dad for my son,” she said, speaking of Christopher, who lives in Brooklyn.

Now It's on to the Next Chapter

Jay Gsell acknowledged that things will be “different come Monday, for the first time in 46-plus years.”

“And I’m not sure how I’ll react to that, but I think I will find a way,” he said. “And I know there are certain things like United Way and Rotary (Club) and also HomeCare & Hospice that will keep me busy at least on a volunteer basis.”

In closing, Gsell, who turns 69 on Saturday, said it was an honor to serve in Genesee County and the City of Batavia.

“We’re still going to be here, just know that – and again I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to work for this public sector government here for pretty much more than half of my career. So, thank you, thank you and thank you.”

Tributes from State, Local Lawmakers

  • Marren presented Gsell with a mirror, coffee cups and a T-shirt with the words “Whisper words of wisdom … Let it be” on the front.
  • Ranzenhofer mentioned Gsell’s expertise in working on the county water project, and extended the hope for “a great retirement with days filled with pleasure and joy.”
  • Jacobs congratulated him on his “career of service in professional governing and the many other things you do for the community.”
  • Hawley harkened back to the “Men of Rotary” calendar before saying that “no one has given more service to the Rotary Club and to the community than Jay Gsell. ... The guy is a workaholic … and an asset to the community,” he said.
  • Jankowski said he will miss Gsell’s “enthusiasm and energy” and thanked him for helping the city whenever it needed help.
  • Stein, calling it a special day for us, said “we all appreciate who he is and all he has done for our lives,” noting that Gsell served under six legislative chairs and 39 different legislators. “He wore us down with his enthusiasm and ability to keep going,” she said.
  • Hancock recalled realizing Gsell’s professional experience, education and moral fiber during the interview process, “but we had no idea about the energy. ... He certainly was the man for the job, and he put his heart and soul into it,” she said, adding that she hopes Gsell starts his retirement with a nap.
  • Bausch applauded Gsell for moving the county forward, mentioning Genesee Community College, the County Court Facility, Genesee County Airport, bringing water into the county and overall economic development.

Previously: Jay Gsell, 'Dean' of county managers, enters final week of his distinguished career

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Photo at top: Jay and Ann Marie Gsell standing next to a chair, specially hand-painted for the occasion by Batavian Ed Leising; Photos at bottom in order -- Gsell (at right) and others releasing balloons in memory of the Gsell's daughter, Claire; U.S. Congressman Chris Jacobs congratulating Gsell; Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, left, and Fire Chief Stefano Napolitano sharing a moment with Gsell; Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Mary Pat Hancock with the Gsells and the flowers presented to Ann Marie.

Photos by Mike Pettinella.

August 14, 2020 - 8:03am

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo advised Chris Jacobs to “take a course on basic math” after the freshman congressman on Thursday accused the governor of sitting on $3 billion of unspent federal stimulus money that is intended to help New York state counties, cities, towns and villages.

“I know he just got there, but clearly the congressman should take a course on basic math and budgeting because in about 120 days the state spent $2.2 billion on COVID-19 expenses, nearly half our allocation, and simple math would tell you we’ll spend it all by the end of year,” Deputy Communications Director Jason Conwall said.

Conwall said the money is going for personal protective equipment, food banks and coronavirus testing efforts.

“This is just misdirection by a congressman who knows Washington has yet to deliver and will ultimately determine the depth of the state’s spending reductions and how damaging they will be to the schools, hospitals and our most vulnerable neighbors that are supported by the state,” Cornwall added.

Earlier in the day, Jacobs issued a statement indicating that Cuomo is “hoarding” the CARES Act funding that was intended to help local governments, and wants to see stronger language in any additional stimulus legislation to demand greater accountability in the utilization of these funds.

“This is taxpayer’s money intended to help people during this crisis; it is not the governor’s personal ‘piggybank,’” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said he was “shocked” to learn that New York has spent only 42.3 percent of the $5.1 billion in CARES Act funding. An additional $2.1 billion was allocated to seven large municipalities, including Erie and Monroe counties, which received $160 million and $130 million, respectively.

According to Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, the state’s 50 other counties did not qualify for any of the CARES Act money, other than funds to help offset Medicaid expenses and to reimburse specific agencies for COVID-19 costs.

The CARES Act was set up to compensate states and municipalities that had populations of at least 500,000 or that met Community Development Block Grant requirements.

“We got our FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages) money – reducing our Medicaid weekly shares by $24,000 well into next year – and about $100,000 for the Office for the Aging and health department,” he said.

Gsell continues to urge the federal government to pass another stimulus bill, this time with funding for local governments. Today is the final day of his 26-year, 364-day career as the county’s chief administrative officer.

He also said there’s no guarantee that the state will release any of the $3 billion that Jacobs says is in its coffers to local governments, so he is imploring the feds to step up with what looks like a final federal stimulus package to support counties, cities, towns and villages. Gov. Cuomo also has warned that the state may reduce its aid to municipalities by 20 percent or more.

“We have been arguing that if there is going to be a Fed Stim 4-5 that part needs to change,” he said. “The HEALS Act that (Sen. Mitch) McConnell put together brings us nothing – it only suggests that the state still has some money and they might be able to give some of it to other jurisdictions in the state.”

Gsell said if Congress passes one last stimulus bill, they need to do it quickly.

“This is the time and this is now. Not after November; not two and a half months from now, before the election. Address it now, before you go home and start doing the hand shaking and baby kissing at the legislative levels,” he said.

In a related development, John F. Marren, president of New York State Association of Counties, reinforced the need for assistance to counties as he commented on the quarterly state budget update for 2021. The financial plan projects a $14.5 billion revenue decline in the general fund and a 15.3 percent decrease in “all funds” tax receipts.

“This quarterly state budget update is bad news for New York, and bad news for every local government, service agency and local taxpayer in the state,” Marren said. “The loss in revenue and budget gaps will decimate every local health, safety and human service program, construction project, and job in their path.”

August 5, 2020 - 7:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jay Gsell, genesee county, batavia, Batavia Rotary Club, news.

img_2416jaygsell.jpg

In honor of the retirement of Jay Gsell's retirement as county manager, the Batavia Rotary Club -- he's a member -- has purchased yard signs and they've been distributed around the city.

Gsell will be guest on a special hour-long segment of WBTA's Main and Center tomorrow morning (Thursday), from 9 to 10 a.m.

July 29, 2020 - 11:57am

As he prepares to become the next Genesee County manager, Matthew Landers said he considered it a priority to appoint someone with a track record of exceptional job performance to replace him as the tammi_ferringer_1.jpgassistant county manager.

That’s why he moved quickly to offer the position to Tammi Ferringer, a Genesee County employee since 2005 who has served as the municipality’s compliance officer since September of last year.

Both Landers and Ferringer will begin their new assignments on Aug. 15, the day after County Manager Jay Gsell retires after 27 years at the helm.

“I have had the opportunity to closely view Tammi’s work the past year as the compliance officer and have been impressed with the efficient and accurate manner in which she does her job,” Landers said. “During this pandemic, she continued to shine by taking on whatever project was tossed her way and was able to carry it to completion with little guidance.”

Landers also spoke highly of Ferringer’s work that began in the mid-2000s as senior financial clerk-typist and then as a supervisor and administrative officer/budget officer at the County Health Department.

“(I recall that) rather abruptly, the two highest ranking positions in the department left county government, leaving a large financial/administrative hole that needed to be filled,” Landers said. “Being in the treasurer’s office at the time, I can remember wondering how all of the financial/budgetary administrative work was going to get done.”

He said that “without missing a beat,” Ferringer stepped up and filled the gap until the other positions were filled.

“Many others could have simply said that work is outside of my title, or it isn’t my responsibility, but Tammi jumped right in and made a significant difference,” Landers said.

Ferringer, a 1997 Batavia High School graduate, said she has always taken a proactive approach when it comes to getting the job done.

“I remember when that happened it was a sign for Matt and I to take over the state aid piece (at the Health Department). So, we got some training in Utica, figured things out and just ran with it,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me working outside of a title.”

After about nine years at the Health Department at County Building 2 on West Main Street Road, she moved to the other side of town, accepting the director of fiscal operations and child support position at the Department of Social Services on East Main Street Road.

“I really enjoyed working at the Health Department, but the opportunity at DSS came with a significant pay increase and I realized that unless I went back for my master’s degree, I had hit my peak there,” said Ferringer, who earned an associate degree in Business Administration from Genesee Community College and a bachelor’s degree in Business Finance from Brockport State College.

Hired by former Social Services Commissioner Eileen Kirkpatrick, Ferringer’s knowledge and ability served her well at DSS, and opened the door for her to become the county compliance officer.

“In June of 2019, Matt reached out and offered me the county compliance officer position. I wasn’t looking for a new job, but when the county manager’s office calls ... I figured there would be room for growth,” she said.

Landers said Ferringer has “continually exceeded expectations in her different roles in the county, leading to a series of promotions and advancements. Her unique skill sets in both finance and compliance make Tammi a great fit for the needs of the assistant county manager position.”

In her new role (working out of the Old County Courthouse downtown), Ferringer will assist with budget preparation and monitoring duties, oversee the STOP-DWI program and the county workers’ compensation program that includes virtually all of the towns, villages and school districts in the county, Landers said.

“She will also cover a variety of compliance responsibilities, including the County’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator, the fair housing officer and privacy officer, to just name some of the compliance hats,” he said.

Landers said that Ferringer also will lead the county’s shared services initiative and coordinate its safety plan and monthly safety meetings.

“These are just some of the assigned duties. There will be countless projects and issues that arise during the normal course of government that Tammi will plan a critical role in solving and completing,” Landers added.

Ferringer joked that Landers already has begun “transitioning some of the duties and he’s been smiling all along the way.”

Salary for the position currently is at $85,000.

A Town of Batavia resident, Ferringer represents the town on the Genesee County Youth Board and also serves on the Genesee Area Family YMCA Board of Directors.

She has two children, Jacelyn, 20, an employee at Richmond Memorial Library, and Caleb, 13, who will be entering Batavia High School this fall.

July 28, 2020 - 11:15am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, HEALS Act, HEROES Act, genesee county, NYSAC.

U.S. Senate Republicans are calling it the HEALS Act but, in Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell’s opinion, the latest federal stimulus proposal does nothing to cure the wounds being inflicted upon state and local governments.

Hoping that the bill offered on Monday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “dead on arrival,” Gsell took the GOP to task for failing to include funds to help financially strapped municipalities such as Genesee County.

“They just left the realm of local governments and even additional resources for states on the outside with the idea that apparently they want to keep waiting to see what the economy will do … all across the country, not just in New York State,” he said.

The $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools Act, or HEALS Act, is the Senate’s answer to the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, that was passed by House Democrats in May.

Gsell believes the stimulus package (the fifth since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March) will likely be the last economic rescue package prior to the November presidential election.

“This Senate bill and the House of Representative bill are diametrical ends of the spectrum … and hopefully (they’ll meet) somewhere in the middle to get bipartisan support in both chambers to get this thing done by August 7th,” Gsell said. “Once they come back in September, they may put anything else in terms of fed stim off past the election and maybe not even then.”

Gsell said states and local governments are facing significant losses in revenue from several sectors, primarily sales tax, but also from hotel bed tax and gaming distributions. He took exception to a provision in the HEALS Act that calls for the construction of a new FBI building in the nation’s capital.

“It is insulting that there is money in this bill to build a new FBI building in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Where does that come out with what should be a federal stimulus bill?"

Reportedly, money for a new FBI headquarters was put in the bill at the request of the Trump administration.

“The economic dislocation is still significant. For what happened yesterday, to pretend that that’s not the case, to me is both disingenuous but also shows a lack of understanding of what’s going on with regard to the national economy and what’s going on with local governments,” Gsell said.

According to the latest report from the New York Association of Counties, the state’s counties and New York City could lose up to $13.5 billion in revenue in 2020 and 2021, a situation that could result in cuts to services and permanent layoffs.

NYSAC projects a $4.9-billion loss in sales tax in the next two fiscal years in light of unemployment soaring to 13 percent (up from 4 percent in 2019) as well as an 80-percent decrease in hotel occupancy taxes and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of gaming sites across the state.

Furthermore, NYSAC forecasts that state reimbursement cuts of at least 20 percent will cost counties outside of New York City more than $670 million a year.

While acknowledging that the NYSAC figures are worse-case scenarios, Gsell said Genesee County officials are “looking at it from the standpoint of what have we experienced so far in the quarters of sales tax payments that we have seen since the beginning of this calendar year” and hope for federal support.

“If the McConnell bill somehow survives, and I hope to gosh it doesn’t, that will engender the State of New York to start doing across the board 20-percent cuts, if even that low percentage wise, in state reimbursements to county governments and other local governments,” he said. “That’s when some of the numbers you’re seeing here (in the NYSAC report) could be visited upon a county like Genesee in our budget. That’s why the governor has yet to institute his across the board reimbursements that he was given the power to do when the state budget was adopted.”

July 1, 2020 - 1:12pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, city of batavia, genesee county, town of batavia, covid-19.

City of Batavia, Genesee County and Town of Batavia leaders reported that they have received four-fifths of the video lottery terminal funds owed to their municipalities by New York State.

“Our VLT money came in today (Tuesday) – 80 percent of the $440,000,” said Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski.

The City’s actual number was $440,789, so that means that $352,631 is being added to its coffers at this time.

City Council President Eugene Jankowski said that although the money doesn’t change the recently passed 2020-21 budget that calls for a 7.48 percent property tax increase, it certainly will help ease the pain.

“That’s really good news, actually,” Jankowski said. “The budget is fixed – we’re set with that – but the additional money will help to offset some of the damage done by the COVID-19 situation.  It offsets some of the loss of sales tax revenue and other income because of the virus.”

Jankowski said City officials are expecting a 30 percent loss of income due to the pandemic, but he’s hoping it’s not quite that bad.

“I’m looking forward to see the June numbers to see if we’re continuing in a positive direction,” he noted.

Tabelski said the VLT funds generated at Batavia Downs Gaming aren’t enough to alter the City’s ultra-conservative approach as it deals with COVID-19.

“It still doesn’t change our austerity budget planning,” she said. “We can’t open up the flood gates in spending.”

Tabelski said that management created a COVID austerity plan several weeks ago, halting purchases, travel and training and instituting a hiring freeze to decrease expenses. The City did not furlough employees, but did lay off part-time employees, including those who ran the summer youth program.

“A victim of that (hiring freeze) was our summer youth program,” she said. “We have 150 kids throughout the city that come in – and from the town -- to utilize the parks. That was a hard decision, but in light of COVID and not knowing the social distancing, it also made it an easy decision.”

In March, City Council passed its 2020-21 budget with the tax increase based on the assumption that the state would be withholding the VLT money. The board appealed to Albany and solicited the support of Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.

Reached today by telephone, Hawley said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo released “what he believes he can do to remain solvent (80 percent) … as it is directly tied to the horrific situation that we’re in.”

Still, he says that if the economy recovers or federal stimulus money is forwarded to the state, the other 20 percent of the VLT money should be given to the municipalities.

Hawley said that he hopes newly-elected Congressman Chris Jacobs would fight for federal funds for municipalities. He also blamed Cuomo for the state’s financial dilemma.

“The State of New York hasn’t been managed smoothly in terms of balancing the budget,” he said. “He (Cuomo) entered with $6.2 billion deficit going into his 2020-21 budget and now that COVID is upon us, the (deficit) numbers from the governor doubles and quadruples. Some states have been run in a prudent fashion and others have not – with New York State being one of them.”

Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post said that the Town will be getting $128,310 in VLT funds – 80 percent of the full amount of $160,388.

“We are constantly fighting an uphill battle for them (state leaders) to perform the way they expect us to perform,” Post said.

Genesee County Treasurer Scott German said that $160,313 has been received. That also is 80 percent of the county’s full allocation of $200,392.

June 25, 2020 - 3:18pm

In a rare piece of positive financial news during the COVID-19 pandemic, Genesee County is in line for a $23,525 weekly savings in Medicaid costs through next March.

“We are finally getting what we have been waiting for (since the first Federal Stimulus bill),” said County Manager Jay Gsell in response to the state Division of Budget’s announcement of the disbursement of $323 million in enhanced Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage funds to counties.

The funds were part of the Families First Coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by the President in March and are earmarked for states and counties to help them in the midst of the novel coronavirus.

Gsell said all counties were notified today via a letter and a note to county treasurers that “80 percent of the money will be coming to us via our adjustment in our weekly shares.”

That reduces the county’s weekly shares of Medicaid from $177,332 to $153,807 – a difference of $23,525 – starting with the first week of July 2020 and running through March 31, 2021.

Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, thanked Sen. Charles Schumer for his continued advocacy to provide enhanced federal funding for New York State’s Medicaid Program.

“Senator Schumer has a long history of fighting for enhanced federal Medicaid assistance at times we needed it most, including after the tragedy of 9/11, during The Great Recession, as part of the Affordable Care Act, and now during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Acquario said in a press release. “These valiant efforts have provided the state and county taxpayers with billions of dollars in relief over this period of time.”

In a related development, NYSAC today put out another press release, renewing its call for federal coronavirus funding for states and counties in light of a new report from Moody’s Analytics that projects an additional 4 million layoffs from states and local governments across the nation.

According to the release:

“The report, detailed in recent news accounts, underscores the need for Congress and the President to act on an additional federal stimulus package that provides direct funding for states and local governments facing unprecedented funding shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession.”

June 11, 2020 - 2:43pm

From the USPS -- Buffalo:

The number of U.S. Postal Service employees attacked by dogs nationwide fell to 5,803 in 2019 — more than 200 fewer than in 2018 and more than 400 fewer since 2017. For Postal Service officials and mail carriers, one bite is one too many.

The Postal Service has new technology tools to help reduce dog attacks and is championing a local program as well.   

In the Western NY District (ZIP Codes 140 through 149), there were 55 dog attacks in 2019; one more than the year before. (See full chart below of where dog attacks occurred.)

The theme for the 2020 U.S. Postal Service National Dog Bite Awareness Week, June 14-20, is “Be Alert: Prevent the Bite.” The campaign addresses aggressive dog behaviors that pose serious threats to the more than 80,000 Postal Service employees delivering mail and how communities they serve can play an integral part in their safety.

“During this difficult time, our letter carriers are delivering mail and they need to do it safely,” said Western NY District Manager Gary Vaccarella. “We are using technology and a dog awareness program to assist our customers and carriers in reducing bites.”

According to Vaccarella, technology supports carrier safety in two ways: Mobile Delivery Devices, handheld scanners used by carriers to confirm customer delivery, now include a feature to indicate the presence of a dog at an individual address; and Informed Delivery, which alerts customers to mail and packages coming to their homes, allows customers to plan for the carrier’s arrival by securing dogs safely.

In addition, Post Offices around Western NY have started using a Dog Paw program where stickers are placed on mailboxes to alert carriers that a dog is nearby. Some Post Offices piloted the program last year; a district-wide rollout is occurring for many others.

Karen Mazurkiewicz, spokeswoman for USPS in Western New York, told The Batavian this afternoon that since she's been in her job, going back to 2016, records show no postal employees in Genesee County were bitten by a dog. That's why no community in this county is on the list below.

"They've must have done a good job getting the word out," Mazurkiewicz said. "And we train our workers to use best practices to help keep them safe."

For example, if a mail carrier approaches a residence with a barking dog, and the resident opens the main door to receive mail, the carrier is encourage to place a foot against the bottom corner where the screen door opens, in case it's unlatched and the dog comes bounding out. Once the dog is safely under control, they can hand off the mail.

Mail carriers alert others who may be substituting for them on their route about aggressive dogs by filling out bright orange "dog warning" cards that are kept on file in the delivery truck.

The Postal Service offers the following safety tips for dog owners:

  • When a carrier delivers mail or packages to your front door, place your dog in a separate room and close that door before opening the front door. Dogs have been known to burst through screen doors or plate glass windows to attack visitors.
  • Parents should remind children and other family members not to take mail directly from carriers in the presence of the family pet. The dog may view the carrier handing mail to a family member as a threatening gesture.
  • If a carrier feels threatened by a dog, or if a dog is loose or unleashed, the owner may be asked to pick up mail at a Post Office location or other facility until the carrier is assured the pet has been restrained. If the dog is roaming the neighborhood, the pet owner’s neighbors also may be asked to pick up their mail at the area’s Post Office location.

Here are the Post Offices in Western NY that had a dog bite in 2019 (Post Offices listed alphabetically):

ALBION

  1

BOSTON

  1

BUFFALO

  15

CORNING

  1

DUNKIRK

  1

ELMIRA

  4

ENDICOTT

  1

FAIRPORT

  1

FREDONIA

  1

GRAND ISLAND

  2

HORNELL

  1

ITHACA

  1

JAMESTOWN

  2

LAKEVIEW

  1

LOCKPORT

  1

NIAGARA FALLS

  2

ORCHARD PARK

  3

PENFIELD

  1

PENN YAN

  1

ROCHESTER

  14

No Western NY District Post Offices were in the national top 20 offices for dog bite attacks, as noted today in a national press release.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

May 28, 2020 - 5:00pm
posted by Billie Owens in Bethany, news, genesee county, Shared Sales Tax Revenue, notify.

From Carl Hyde Jr., Bethany town supervisor:

At an emergency financial Town Board Meeting in Bethany last night, May 27, after discussion on the FACT of Genesee County breaking its agreement with the towns and villages for Shared Sales Tax Revenue it agreed to, the Town of Bethany made some hard choices.

The Sales Tax Revenue Sharing has made up 50 percent of the town's budget for decades to keep town taxes low.

The Genesee County Legislature ended that on the evening of May 13, 2020.

The Town of Bethany's budget was passed in November of 2019 for the 2020 year; taxes came in and plan were made for 2020, the county dropped a BOMB on all towns and villages.

The Town of Bethany voted unanimously to furlough the Highway Department from June 1, 2020 through Aug. 31, 2020. The employees will be brought back on occasion in emergency situations.

With the revenue to the town cut off, we need to have money to get through the winter plowing.

The Bethany Town Board is planning budget adjustments and cuts in spending to plan for the 2021 budget, which will likely have a tax increase if the county keeps the sales tax revenue going forward.

May 6, 2020 - 2:58pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county, Jay Gsell, covid-19.

For nearly eight weeks, the nation’s economy has been ravaged by the coronavirus, making the phrase “business as usual” a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future.

Governmental leaders are facing momentous decisions pertaining to expenditures -- weighing what is absolutely necessary against what can wait until the smoke clears.

And business sectors such as furniture, gasoline, clothing, sporting goods, department stores and food service are experiencing sales decreases of 25 percent and more.

As New York State inches closer to the first of four phases to reopen the economy, The Batavian reached out to Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell today with five important questions – a “Q&A with Jay,” if you will – to provide readers with the current state of affairs at the local level.

What is Genesee County doing to prepare for town and village reopening?

The towns and villages and city and county are under the same general 50/50 essential workforce everybody else is pretty much either working from home or at home and so we've been working on that basis. Certain parts of our workforce and some of the other communities like the City and the Village of Le Roy, we have law enforcement and those kind of things, our health department and our EMS department. None of them have been, quote, unquote, not working.

Overall, the goal was to have the 50/50 proposition almost right out of the gate as far as the state was concerned. We've all been following that. Now, as we're starting to prepare for May 15th, every Saturday morning we have a conference call with all of the local elected officials, the City, towns and villages, county legislators and (Assistant Manager) Matt (Landers) and myself, (Health Director) Paul Pettit and (Emergency Management Services Coordinator) Tim Yaeger to just get a status report on what's going on. That's starting to focus on what kind of return to work guidance is there. It really doesn't seem to differ except for those of us who have highway departments because we can bring them back now anyway because they're considered both essential and also construction activity kind of projects.

Our county highway department came back full force this week, our facilities management people also -- half of them were staying home, week on week off -- the towns and villages and City are starting to look at changing that also and again following all the protocol. So that's why all of our conference calls on Saturday start with the public health director and with the emergency management people -- Do they need resources? Do they need masks and face coverings? Do they need PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and gloves and things like that? We try to do what we can to get that stuff in their hands -- distributing massive quantities of that kind of stuff to the extent that it's available.

And we also have to follow all the state guidelines with regard to social distancing, protective equipment, washing hands, not touching face. Even as we start to bring and plan for our office people and DSS (Department of Social Services) and Mental Health people, starting to bring them back in much greater numbers, we all have to have a plan to protect them and to deal with our clients and the customers.

At this point (furloughed employees) will not return for the first 30 days -- and that's presuming that May 15th is the date. Even the recovery restart, even in a region like Finger Lakes, could take upwards of a month just to get through the phases that they've outlined as to which businesses can or can't come back. We are putting together our internal plan ... for both our workforce and the public will deal with each other going forward.

How is Genesee County supporting the work of the City, neighboring counties?

I have daily conversations with (City Manager) Marty Moore and our department people communicate with each other – Human Resources, assistant county and assistant city manager, people like that -- and also with the counties and the whole statewide association, NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties), which has been very engaged. There's at least one or two or sometimes three phone calls a week with regard to what the rest of us are doing.

Sharing plans, sharing information -- we do that ad nauseum. It's not academia so plagiarism is not really a concern. If somebody's got a good plan, we just do it -- take from each other and those kind of things. So, we've been doing that consistently right from the get-go. Our friends from NYSAC from a statewide standpoint and us have interacted and interfaced with the governor's office and his executive staff that are out at this end of the state ... and in Albany, there's a daily COVID-19 conference call and it's been that way for the last five or six weeks.

That gives us information but also allows us to ask questions -- could you check this out and could you dispel this myth? -- things of that nature. When we get clarity, we pass that on to others of us who are of that (mindset) "inquiring minds want to know."

As specifically as possible, what is the fiscal impact of the pandemic upon Genesee County?

That's a really big unknown ... Right now, it has been suggested by our NYSAC colleagues that we can see anywhere from a 5 to a 25 percent reduction in sales tax, starting probably in the reporting period that covers the month of April going forward, but we don't know that yet. So, that could be anywhere from $3.6 million to $11 million in potential lost revenue just in 2020 in the county for sales tax.

Then we've lost DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) revenue -- already probably about $80,000 of what we get to keep from the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we normally process on a monthly basis just in the first three months since this started. Mental Health has lost about $96,000 in billable hours of service. Now, they're still doing tele-health and in some emergency cases, they're still dealing directly with clients, but there has been a significant loss as far as contact, in terms of therapies and other things that, again, has been quantified to the tune of about $96,000 year to date from March 1st.

Same thing, I know the county treasurer in regard to what he has invested. There have obviously been lost earning opportunities with our investment portfolio through the three+one program that (County Treasurer) Scott (German) has been using for the past couple years. And there are other fees and charges such as health department fees for events like the Rotary pancake breakfast where charges for permits are incurred. Events that have been cancelled will mean a loss of revenue there; we haven't quantified that yet because really the start hasn't happened.

Even park reservations -- that's a really big thing. We'd like to think that after May 15th we'll see some pick up there, but again with all the conditions and the protocols, it will not likely be what it's been in years past as far as the number of reservations and the finances that go with that.

How is Genesee County bracing for cuts in revenue and state reimbursement?

We have put on hold or rolled over to another year probably about a million dollars’ worth in the county highway department, basically capital projects and activities that (County Highway Director) Tim (Hens) and company were going to be engaged in during this 2020 calendar year.

The uncertainty there -- in addition to that and including some airport construction -- is how much of the CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) funding and the extreme weather funding that was in the New York State budget that was adopted on April 1st, how much if any of that gets reduced when the governor and the budget director come out -- probably this week -- with their first hit. Loss of state revenue means loss of state aid to everybody else. That's a really big unknown.

Plus, we’ve got 48 people approximately on furlough and we have another 44 positions on the strategic hiring freeze; together those things represent about $200,000 a month in expenses we're not incurring. And we're also looking at what else we can do to rein in other expenses.

It's on multiple fronts and this is just to get through the next 30, 60, 90 days. Then when we start putting together a 2021 budget, things may carry on from here right into that process and throughout that year.

How important is the need for federal funding for Genesee and other counties in New York State?

That's for all local governments because there is a palpable loss of revenue. The way that the (federal stimulus) 4.0 is apparently being structured, there will be the opportunity for New York State county governments, city governments, and town and village governments who are not part of the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) entitlement program in this next round of stimulus funding to actually receive direct aid -- not going through the State of New York, but direct aid because of the fed stim 4.

So, what that could mean, obviously is, to a certain extent based on the figures we just talked about, some part of those would be potentially backdropped (to local governments) by virtue of this federal stimulus money. The problem is ... we have a range of options. You can go from just getting a crew cut in terms of revenue loss to a literal beheading -- and right now the beheading looks a lot more probable than the crew cut with regard to state aid, state reimbursement, loss of sales tax and what may or may not be coming out of the federal stimulus program. That's something that hopefully we will know by the end of the month of May.

But even today as you look at the back and forth between the federal government and the House versus the Senate, and in some cases, the governors, it's very partisan and quite ugly with regard as to where do we fit in to what is supposed to be a revenue replacement program coming out of fed stim 4.

To summarize, there are significant cautions and concerns out there, and there are a few opportunities and hopeful horizons. We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

April 28, 2020 - 9:16am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, 2020 U.S. Census, city of batavia, genesee county.

cenus_logo_1.png

Stand up and be counted.

Actually, you can sit at your desktop computer or at your dining room table with a pen in hand but, either way, Genesee County and City of Batavia officials are urging citizens to fill out and submit a 2020 U.S. Census form, an action that County Manager Jay Gsell says is central to the legislative and economic future of the community for years to come.

Gsell and County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari addressed the local census situation at Monday night’s City Council videoconference meeting, with both men sounding the alarm that self-response rates need to increase significantly.

“It is vitally important that we get that number up because of where we are unofficially and what we saw over this past decade as far as population in general,” Gsell said. “We need a response rate easily in the 85 to 90 percent range, if that’s possible. There are parts of this country that have achieved that in the past.”

Gsell said that the response rate thus far in Genesee County is 52 percent, in terms of people filling out the forms and sending them back, with another 45 percent on the internet side of things. He said that is a far cry from the 73 percent number in 2010.

If the rate doesn’t climb, it would negatively affect the county in several different ways, he said.

“Our 2010 census number was 60,079 people. Unofficially right now, as of 2019, we’re at 57,280 – so we’ve lost people representation-wise and potentially funding-wise in the future if our response rate is not as good as or better than what we did in the 2010 census,” Gsell said.

He added that about 19 percent of the county population consists of people 65 and over – “a vital statistic in terms of how this community is profiled, but also as far as the official count and what is normally a fairly high rate of participation for we senior citizens.”

Gsell said the census determines representation as well, and that New York is expected to lose one, maybe two, Congressional seats after the 2020 census based on the 18 million who live in the state.

“Two other things become critical – what happens as far as federal funding is concerned and how we are ranked as a community as a micropolitan area (between regions that include Buffalo and Rochester) and also what happens to our 27th Congressional District … when redistricting occurs after the 2020 Census,” he said.

In the City of Batavia, the self-response rate is currently at 47.7 percent, with three wards “somewhat underperforming,” Gsell said. Those are the Second, Fifth and Sixth wards, which range from 40.2 to around 46 percent.

According to census figures, the population of the City of Batavia was 15,465 in 2010.

He urged Council members to “encourage more people to fill out the form … it only takes less than five minutes to fill it out on the internet.”

Oltramari said paper forms have been mailed to anyone who has yet to respond, “so there’s really no excuse at this point to not return the census.”

“It’s like nine questions … it’s fairly simple to fill out and it’s a confidential thing,” he said, adding that by law, information on the census form cannot be shared with any federal agency for 72 years.

Census figures determine the amount of funding that comes into Genesee County, he said.

“This really helps us bring in revenue to our county and it’s not just government grants and those kinds of things, it’s actually Medicaid, Medicare, housing vouchers for people, energy assistance, adoption assistance, crime victims’ assistance … federal programs that fund every person basically in our county,” he said.

Oltramari also reported that for every person who is not counted, the county loses about $30,000 over 10 years.

“If we as a community have lost 2,500 people, that’s $75 million … that doesn’t come into our community."

He said the planning department is including fliers on the census to “grab-and-go” meals at Jackson and John Kennedy schools in Batavia, and that he knows that towns and villages are taking steps to maximize participation, singling out Pavilion and Pembroke as communities that are overperforming.

For those who haven’t responded by the end of May, enumerators will come to each household and leave notices. Completing a U.S. census form is mandated by the federal government.

To access the 2020 Census, go to www.my2020census.gov or to the City of Batavia and Genesee County websites. Also, a map showing the current self-response rates can be found on the Genesee County Planning Board website.

April 20, 2020 - 12:27pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county, NYSAC, covid-19.

“There are no good signs in our local economy right now, if you think about.”

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, who is paid not only to “think about” the local economy but also to “act upon” it, summed up the current situation today in light of a recent report by the New York State Association of Counties that predicts the county could lose between $1.8 million to $5.6 million in sales tax because of COVID-19.

Gsell echoed a phrase used by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in describing what looms ahead.

“I keep using the same term that I hear the governor say, ‘the new normal,’ and it’s not a good ‘new normal.’ It’s quite the mixed bag,” he said.

Full year projections in the NYSAC report estimate that sales tax revenues in Genesee County would decrease by $1.8 million – or 4.5 percent – in a “mild” scenario and by $5.6 million – or 13.7 percent – in a “severe” scenario.

In both cases, industries related to tourism, recreation and restaurants are the hardest hit.

“We’re in a shutdown through May 15 and for every two-week period, NYSAC says the numbers are going to get moved further into the higher percentage of loss,” Gsell said. “They’ve been showing us numbers in terms of the overall impact on general parts of the whole sales tax portfolio … auto buying, electronics, gas stations, and all those percentages, with the exception of grocery stores, are in the 20 to 50 percent loss as far as sales as compared to the year prior.”

Gsell acknowledged that all levels of government are facing the same adverse effects.

“Albany, obviously, is seeing this type of thing as well because they get 4 percent of the 8 percent (sales tax). The state is seeing a precipitous drop in their revenue streams, not only in terms of sales tax but also state income tax, millionaires’ tax and mortgage tax,” he said.

Most recent financial data, for December through February, was favorable for the county, Gsell said, but statistics starting in March should tell quite a different story, Gsell said.

“We know that starting this month, which is a new quarter, that the kind of numbers that NYSAC is showing us as far as the various sectors of our economy are going to be negatively impacted. Then we will foresee the same kind of implication for our local sales tax proceeds.”

Statewide, the NYSAC report estimates the total loss to county sales tax revenue in the “mild” scenario at about $350 million (excluding New York City) and in the “severe” scenario at $1 billion. Sales tax is the largest source of locally generated revenue in the average county, accounting for 43 percent of local revenue.

Gsell said he and his staff are “focusing on how to maintain some semblance of our county budget and how to deal with the issues with regard to our own workforce and the services that we provide.”

Auto sales, for example, have fallen dramatically, putting a huge dent in the sales tax budget.

“We’re basically doing just some of the mail-ins and some of the limited car sales that are occurring over the internet,” he said. “The dealers used to bring to us 60 and 70 allotments a week have trickled down to almost nothing. Something as revenue-driven as the county auto bureau under the county clerk’s office could be seeing a significant change even in the future of the kind of business that we have over there.”

He said the county is waiting for its share of the federal stimulus money to help with its weekly Medicaid costs.

“The state has gotten two of their federal Medicaid advances already since that stimulus package was voted on, passed and signed and we haven’t seen a dime yet,” he said.

Looking ahead, Gsell said he believes the recession (to whatever degree) is going to be with us through the end of the year – and he also is wary of a second bout of the coronavirus.

“If that starts to come back and they talk about another wave potentially in September, how do you go out and say, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to pay attention to that. We don’t care what the governor says and therefore, let’s have our economy start coming back,’ ” he said. “That to me is the height of folly.”

Estimated March 2020 Sales Compared to March 2019, U.S. Census Bureau
-- Motor vehicles & parts dealers -- Down 23.7 percent
-- Furniture & home furniture stores -- Down 24.6 percent
-- Gasoline stations -- Down 18 percent
-- Clothing & clothing accessories -- Down 50.7 percent
-- Sporting goods, hobby, music, etc. -- Down 22.7  percent
-- Department stores -- Down 23.9 percent
-- Miscellaneous store retailers -- Down 4.9 percent
-- Food service & drinking places -- Down 23.0 percent

April 15, 2020 - 8:46pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county, covid-19, Ways & Means Committee.

 Update: April 16, 10:30 a.m.

County Manager Jay Gsell said that of the nine cases that are being evaluated, none of them are due to a county employee being infected with the coronavirus.

"We have to have these policies in place because the federal and state legislation require us to be able to notify employees that deal with a circumstance that either somebody can't come to work or is caring for an individual or is in the protocol due to isolation or quarantine because they came in contact with a person who might be positive or they themselves might be positive," he said. "But the people that we're presently dealing with -- none of them at this point had a positive test as far as being a county employee and therefore being in the much more heightened County Health Department C-19 protocol."

---------------------

Genesee County management, taking its cue from recent state and federal laws that protect workers stricken by the coronavirus, has developed a COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Policy to cover its employees.

The policy is effective retroactively to March 18, the date that both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Trump signed into law measures that provide emergency paid leave benefits.

“I think we have nine cases right now that we’re evaluating …,” Human Resources Director Anita Cleveland reported on Wednesday to the County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee.

Committee members approved a resolution establishing the policy and sent it to the full legislature for a final vote at its April 22 meeting.

The NYS COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Law guarantees job protection and pay for New Yorkers who have been quarantined as a result of COVID-19, while the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act creates two new emergency paid leave requirements -- the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.

The new federal statutes allow certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of expanded family medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19 (effective April 1).

Cleveland said the local policy combines provisions of both the state and federal statutes, with her department charged with evaluation on a “case-by-case basis.”

“When we know of somebody being out, we’re sending them a letter and asking them to return the application along with documentation and then we’re reviewing that across each law to see what they qualify for,” she said. “We’re having them use their sick time at this point and if they qualify, we will go in and adjust them to the appropriate law that they fall under.”

When asked whether any of the affected employees are new and have no sick time, Cleveland said that was not the case.

“Most have had leave credits so they can use some kind of a leave credit, whatever the contract allows, and then we will be reimbursing them if they qualify,” she said.

County Manager Jay Gsell said he sees the policy as additional support to an already substantial benefit package.

“What this is, really for a lot of employers unlike county governments and local governments that don’t have a lot of leave benefit credits and things of that nature, this is a floor underneath a lot of people who because of the illness and the protocols that are established for determining a direct relationship, guarantees the employees something that they normally wouldn’t get,” he said.

“We have a fairly adroit and rich benefit package that includes paid sick leave already, but we have to adapt into this just in case – such as somebody who just started with us and came down with it.”

Cleveland noted that in most cases, employees would get up to a maximum of 80 hours depending upon the number of hours they work in a week.

“And depending on what the issue is – if it’s a child care issue – they actually would get two-thirds pay and they can supplement that with leave credits,” she said.

The county policy was crafted by its labor and relations attorneys, using guidance from the state Department of Labor, Cleveland said.

“Once the Department of Labor releases their forms, we will use their forms. But in the meantime, we’ve created our own by using their guidance – which changes daily,” she said, adding that the law will be in effect through the end of this year.

On another front, Gsell said he is waiting to hear from New York State leaders concerning the distribution of $1.6 billion in federal money “that is literally in Albany, part of which has our name on it, and I mean all 57 counties.”

“We have heard little or nothing as far as the State of New York is concerned as to what they’re going to do with what I believe is a required benefit to the counties to the tune of $1.6 billion, including the City of New York,” he said. “It’s not some kind of (money to be used at the) governor’s discretion.”

Gsell said the state is receiving $5.26 billion in Medicaid aid from the first and second federal stimulus bills and $1.6 billion of that is earmarked for county governments who are paying Medicaid weekly shares (such as Genesee).

“We need to see what the plan looks like as we make all these contingency plans for our county government to survive going into the next two quarters and what we will see likely as changes in our sales tax proceeds,” Gsell continued. “It is disappointing that the counties are not getting that kind of clarity and understanding what the plan is for that benefit to be derived into our budget.”

On another resolution, Ways & Means voted in favor of a measure establishing a pair of capital projects -- a highway department fire alarm system for $97,161 and a 5130 Main St. alarm control panel for $15,000 – to be funded by the 1 percent sales tax.

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