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December 8, 2021 - 7:38pm

News that Monroe County has purchased 750,000 at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits has triggered an expected response from leaders of Genesee and other rural counties in the Finger Lakes Region: Where are our test kits?

“We going to continue to beat the drum” for financial support from New York State to have access to as many test kits as needed, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers said during this afternoon’s County Legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

Landers said members of the Finger Lakes Region group of administrators, public health officials and legislators are advocating for “a similar allotment” – enough test kits for distribution among their residents.

“Erie and Monroe counties got additional CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act money,” Landers said. “We have emailed the state and the response we got is that they (too) are having a hard time procuring them.”

On Tuesday, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced that 250,000 rapid test kits will be used for school-aged children and the other 500,000 will be given to towns, villages and the City of Rochester.

Landers said he believes that more in-home testing is “one way to lessen the spread,” adding that he is confident that residents possess the knowledge to administer the tests and the willingness to take appropriate action in the case of a positive COVID test.

On another front, Landers said that Jan. 5, 2022 is the target date for the processing of the bond resolution that will fund the new county jail on West Main Street Road. He said the county expects to issue construction bids at the end of January, award the bids in March and break ground in April.

The legislature approved the following appointments:

  • Gary Graber, Darien, Parks, Recreation & Forest Advisory Committee, 12/9/21-3/31/24.
  • Lynn VanDerBeck,. Byron, Office for the Aging Advisory Council, 1/1/22-12/31/24.
  • Dr. Javeed Mir, Batavia, 1/1/22-8/14/22; Wendy Haywood, Bergen, 1/1/22-12/31/22; Kathleen Antonelli, Batavia, 12/8/21-12/31/25; Vernon Saile, Byron, 12/8/21-12/31/25, Mental Health Community Services Board.
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December 1, 2021 - 9:02pm

oip.jpgGenesee County lawmakers are being asked to consider spending $15,000 as part of a regional media blitz aimed at persuading the “vaccine hesitant” and others to protect themselves against COVID-19.

County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, County Manager Matt Landers and Public Health Director Paul Pettit are part of a weekly conference call with representatives of the seven other counties in the Finger Lakes Region.

Over the course of recent discussions, the participants have reached a consensus to contract with Rochester-based Causewave Community Partners and Common Ground Health through the end of the year on a media campaign targeting rural counties such as Genesee.

The full cost of the initiative – which would include television ads, radio spots, direct mailing and social media announcements – is $150,000. Genesee’s cost, based on population, is around $15,000, Landers said at today’s Ways & Means Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

The campaign is being coordinated by Chris DeBolt, Ontario County administrator.

“One of the things that we really liked about (the companies’ presentation) is that the focus is, one, that they're not going after the never-evers,” Landers explained. “They understand where people are and they’re not going to try to change set minds.”

Instead, he said, the goal “is to help people that are vaccine hesitant …to help reinforce people that have already gotten the vaccine to get the booster and to focus on masking -- good defenses that are out there for COVID.”

Another important aspect is that the focus will be on rural counties, Landers advised.

“Monroe County would not be participating in this, which is good, because they have a different challenge and different dilemma than the rest of the counties that surround Monroe County,” he said.

Landers said ideas include enlisting a local doctor to answer questions from a community resident – “30-second bites tailored toward our communities,” he noted – and direct mail that would target hard to reach zip codes and hard to reach populations, in general, such as Mennonite, Amish or Native American.

He said he sees the $15,000 as a relatively small amount that enables the county “to leverage a company that is going to have some uniform messaging throughout the region to similar counties.”

“And I think it's a good step given the direction that we are going with the pandemic.”

Ways & Means Chair Marianne Clattenburg pointed out that the cost breaks down to 26 cents per resident.

Stein agreed that the county could get a lot of bang for the buck.

“I know we can’t do a postcard mailing for that by ourselves,” she said. “And that is really inexpensive and, at the same time, everything is going to be focused towards a rural population, not an urban -- and the unvaccinated zip codes are also really going to be called in on and that information is available through the Finger Lakes Hub.”

She said project is another way “to get our message out … to help us stay healthy and to understand how critical it is that everybody plays a role in getting our health back under control and to help us use the tools that we have this time around with an outbreak.”

Landers said the fee is a one-time cost but is leaving the door open – upon approval by the legislature – to conduct a longer campaign. He said he plans to introduce a resolution that would be voted on at next Wednesday’s legislature meeting.

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December 1, 2021 - 9:01pm

Media blitz aimed at persuading the “vaccine hesitant” and others to protect themselves against COVID-19.

County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, County Manager Matt Landers and Public Health Director Paul Pettit are part of a weekly conference call with representatives of the seven other counties in the Finger Lakes Region.

Over the course of recent discussions, the participants have reached a consensus to contract with Rochester-based Causewave Community Partners and Common Ground Health through the end of the year on a media campaign targeting rural counties such as Genesee.

The full cost of the initiative – which would include television ads, radio spots, direct mailing and social media announcements – is $150,000. Genesee’s cost, based on population, is around $15,000, Landers said at today’s Ways & Means Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

The campaign is being coordinated by Chris DeBolt, Ontario County administrator.

“One of the things that we really liked about (the companies’ presentation) is that the focus is, one, that they're not going after the never-evers,” Landers explained. “They understand where people are and they’re not going to try to change set minds.”

Instead, he said, the goal “is to help people that are vaccine hesitant …to help reinforce people that have already gotten the vaccine to get the booster and to focus on masking -- good defenses that are out there for COVID.”

Another important aspect is that the focus will be on rural counties, Landers advised.

“Monroe County would not be participating in this, which is good, because they have a different challenge and different dilemma than the rest of the counties that surround Monroe County,” he said.

Landers said ideas include enlisting a local doctor to answer questions from a community resident – “30-second bites tailored toward our communities,” he noted – and direct mail that would target hard to reach zip codes and hard to reach populations, in general, such as Mennonite, Amish or Native American.

He said he sees the $15,000 as a relatively small amount that enables the county “to leverage a company that is going to have some uniform messaging throughout the region to similar counties.”

“And I think it's a good step given the direction that we are going with a pandemic.”

Ways & Means Chair Marianne Clattenburg pointed out that the cost breaks down to 26 cents per resident.

Stein agreed that the county could get a lot of bang for the buck.

“I know we can’t do a postcard mailing for that by ourselves,” she said. “And that is really inexpensive and, at the same time, everything is going to be focused towards a rural population, not an urban -- and the unvaccinated zip codes are also really going to be called in on and that information is available through the Finger Lakes Hub.”

She said project is another way “to get our message out … to help us stay healthy and to understand how critical it is that everybody plays a role in getting our health back under control and to help us use the tools that we have this time around with an outbreak.”

Landers said the fee is a one-time cost but is leaving the door open – upon approval by the legislature – to conduct a longer campaign. He said he plans to introduce a resolution that would be voted on at next Wednesday’s legislature meeting.

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December 1, 2021 - 6:05pm

Genesee County Manager Matt Landers this afternoon urged lawmakers to move swiftly on the financing piece connected to the construction of a new county jail.

Landers, speaking at the County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse, said it is important for the governing body to approve a bond resolution in early January – preferably by Jan. 5 or Jan. 6 – in order for him to meet the schedule he has mapped out to solicit construction bids by early March.

“Time is of the essence and to wait until the end of January is going to be difficult with a timeline -- the timeline that we're looking at,” he said.

He outlined several items that need to be done, including approval of the State Environmental Quality Review, drafting bid packages, awarding contracts and preparing for cash outlay until the bond proceeds are received in mid-April. He noted that County Manager Scott German has sent documentation to bond attorneys and expects to have the resolution “in our hands by the fifth of January.”

“If we can pass it then … it takes 60 to 90 days, and we expect it to get closer to the 90 days just because of the pure size (of the bond),” he said.

The county is looking at financing around $70 million via a 30-year bond. Landers estimated that annual payments would be $3 million to $3.5 million.

Landers suggested taking up the matter at the legislature’s 2022 organizational meeting on Jan. 5 but, after discussion, it was decided to conduct a special meeting immediately after the organizational meeting.

In other action, the committee:

  • Approved a special counsel agreement with Napoli Shkolnik PLLC for the New York City law firm to represent the county in litigation pertaining to generic drug manufacturers' overcharging of self-insured county employees and dependents for medical care supplies and pharmaceuticals.

Napoli Shkolnik LLC previously worked on behalf of Genesee and other counties on the opioid settlement, and is doing the same in this matter.

County Attorney Kevin Earl said the latest litigation claims that manufacturers have illegally price fixed or violated antitrust laws. He noted that Genesee County will not be responsible to pay anything, unless there is a recovery, and only will have to pay based on the net amount recovered.

  • Approved a resolution to contract with Direct Energy Business, LLC, of Iselin, N.J., to supply natural gas to 20 Genesee County accounts at a fixed rate instead of the current variable pricing policy in an effort keep utility costs in check.

The contract, if approved by the full legislature, would run for 16 months, beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. The change is expected to save the various county budgets around $9,000 during that time.

  • Approved a memorandum of understanding with Cornell Cooperative Extension for the county to support the agency in the amount of $385,484 for 2022 – an increase of nearly $47,000 from this year – and a contract renewal with Genesee County Economic Development Center to provide $233,513 as its yearly contribution plus an additional $25,000 for workforce training program administration.

Landers pointed out that the increases are for 2022 only and the total amounts are subject to change in 2023.

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November 30, 2021 - 8:58am

A nearly $1 million grant may be on its way to Genesee County Public Health to boost “workforce capacity" in the department's battle against COVID-19 and to enhance efforts in other areas, Public Health Director Paul Pettit said Monday afternoon.

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse, Pettit offered a resolution – which subsequently was approved by the HSC – to accept $980,544 from the New York State Department of Health to recruit, train, deploy and manage the NYS Public Health Corps Fellowship Program.

Touted by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Public Health Corps consists of individuals of all educational levels (“fellows”) that have been accepted to participate in the program designed to “bolster and improve public health workforce capacity,” Pettit said.

The grant will run for two years, through July 31, 2023, he said, with $250,000 of the money allocated in the 2022 budget. The remaining amount will be part of the county’s 2023 budget.

Pettit said he has a list of about 15 people who have applied to join the Public Health Corps.

The HSC also approved a contract with Coastal Staffing of Naples, Fla., to serve as the staffing agency or employer for those selected into the program.

“Genesee County will interview these individuals and if they are hired, then they will go through Coastal Staffing as their employer,” Pettit advised.

In other action related to the health department, the committee gave the go-ahead to accept an $11,000 grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials for Genesee County to participate in a wastewater surveillance mentorship program. This will run from Jan. 1-July 31, 2022.

Pettit said the money will be used by health department officials to monitor the viral load in municipal wastewater systems throughout the county and to provide guidance and recommendations going forward if necessary.

Both measures will be considered by the full legislature at its Dec. 8 meeting.

COVID-19 LOCAL UPDATE

Reporting on the current COVID-19 picture in Genesee County, Pettit said the average number of cases per day over the last seven days has been steady at around 34, while the percentage of breakthrough cases is at 30-35 – up about 10 percent from what he had been seeing.

As of yesterday, there were 241 active cases – those in isolation – with 28 of those people in the hospital, he said.

Pettit said that 70 percent of Genesee County residents 18 years of age and older have received at least one vaccine shot, with that number decreasing to 59.6 percent when considering the county’s total population. That is much less than the 90 percent of NYS residents 18 and over who have received at least one shot.

He said the county health department is offering the complete spectrum of vaccinations – first shot, booster and doses for children ages 5-11.

“Booster clinics have been very steady,” Pettit said, adding that early studies show that booster shots provide a significant increase in protection from the coronavirus.

As far as testing is concerned, the county is offering testing once a week and has been meeting the demand. Pettit did point out that testing supplies are beginning to dwindle and if the state doesn’t receive the supply it has ordered, then “free” testing could end in a few months.

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November 22, 2021 - 8:49pm

Image result for nysacRural counties in New York State currently have Gov. Kathy Hochul’s ear concerning the pressing issues of the day, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers said today, and the possibility of vaccine mandates is at the top of the list.

“There is a big consensus among, especially the more rural counties, what we want to communicate to the governor,” Landers said at the Genesee County Legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse. “And we are pleased that the governor, in a phone call last evening … for county administrators and decision-makers and the governor's office .. is trying to make an effort to at least listen to the viewpoints of counties, which was something that the previous governor wasn’t doing.”

Landers said rural county leaders are “looking for less mandates, less restrictions – not the other way around.”

“We understand that it's going be difficult, but those are some of the takeaways that the county administrators in more rural counties are looking for moving forward, and less of a hammer,” he said.

County officials need more testing resources, he said.

“That's one thing that in order for us to comply with -- or are trying to dig ourselves out; having more testing resources is critical. And we are sorely lacking in a testing resources,”

He also said the state needs to put out more positive messaging, with a focus on help and communicating success stories.

“We’d like to see an endgame laid out,” Landers said. “I know that our schools are asking for this. County administrators are asking for this. What does success look like? We’d like to have an endgame laid out and a greater focus on hospitalizations and less on just straight (COVID-19) positives.”

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein added that counties are dead set against a possible state mandate “being overlaid onto rural counties.”

“That raised some ire,” she said.

Landers said state officials are looking at New York City’s low positivity rates, which have come as (partially) as a result of vaccine mandates, and could use that model for upstate counties.

“Leaders are pointing to the fact that they have vaccine mandates in place if you want to go to dining establishments and things like that, so that that comparison was provided to us,” he said. “And it's something that if our hospitalization rates don't improve then everything's on the table, even something like that.”

Landers also mentioned the situation in Erie County, which announced today that a mask mandate for all indoor public locations will start Tuesday at 6 a.m.

Rural county administrators think mandates do more harm than good, he said, and Stein agreed, adding that if mandates are required, then New York State should be responsible for enforcement.

“We also asked for the fact that if these mandates came down, that the enforcement is not something that is pushed down onto the county government but it is held at the state level,” she said. “And that's where the responsibility lies. That was very clear in that conversation.”

Landers said the ability to enforce has to be clear as well.

“If left open to local interpretation, it's not going to be effective. The enforcement, the ability, the right, the law, whatever you want to say, (needs to be) clear cut and able to be enforced and the state has to provide resources on the enforcement side.”

Turning to resolutions, as expected, the legislature adopted the county’s 2022 budget – a $158,502,898 All Funds spending plan that keeps the property tax levy the same as the 2021 budget.

The 2022 General Fund (operating) budget is set at $119,394,176, about $9.1 million more than the 2021 budget.

By keeping the same tax levy, the property tax rate falls from $9.80 to $9.18 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. This was accomplished by using an additional $680,000 in unexpended reserves than originally proposed.

In other action, the legislature approved:

  • Revision of Local Law Introductory No. 6, which changes the Genesee County Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax Law to include Airbnb-type short-term lodging sites.

Landers commended County Attorney Kevin Earl for his efforts to close any “loopholes: and to “clean up” the wording of the law, which was supported by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. Key revisions reduced the number of units from six to one and stipulate that the property would have to be rented out for more than 14 days in a year.

Short-term sites such as Airbnb now will be subject to the 3 percent “bed tax” that is added on to hotel/motel bills.

  • Funding five capital improvement projects as Genesee Community College – four next year and one in 2023 – at a maximum cost of $1.7 million as long as New York State commits the same amount.
  • Holding a public hearing on Dec. 8 to consider a local law to set the salaries of the following county elected or appointed fixed term employees: Commission of Elections, Director of Human Resources, Commissioner of Social Services, Director of Real Property Tax Services, County Clerk, Treasurer, Sheriff, and Highway Superintendent.
  • Reappointing Molly Haungs, marketing manager of LandPro Equipment, to a two-year term on the GLOW Workforce Development Board and James Kingston of Elba to a two-year term to the Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District board of directors.
November 17, 2021 - 6:01pm

While deeming all five of the capital improvement projects proposed by Genesee Community College President Dr. James Sunser as “necessary,” members of the Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon decided to partially fund four of them next year – as long as New York State lives up to its end of the bargain.

The committee, after hearing of the county’s plan of action from County Manager Matt Landers, voted in favor of spending up to $1.7 million, which equals half of the cost of the following projects:

  • Replacement of the soccer/lacrosse turf on the field adjacent to the Richard C. Call Arena (Total cost $950,000).
  • Replacement of the cooling tower (Total cost $410,000).
  • Renovation of a connective corridor (Total cost $180,000).
  • Complete roof replacement on the Technology Building (Total cost $1,060,000).
  • Replacement of the Conable Technology Building parking lot (Total cost $800,000).

The resolution passed at a meeting at the Old County Courthouse today is subject to final approval by the full legislature. It reiterates what Sunser communicated to the committee on Nov. 3 – that New York State would contribute 50 percent of the funding as long as Genesee County did the same.

Landers said the county will appropriate money for the first four projects listed above in 2022 and hold off on the Technology Building parking lot until 2023.

“If the state says no, then we’re back to the drawing board,” Landers said. “These are necessary projects, but we’re not on the hook if there is no state support.”

In other action, the committee:

  • Approved using an additional $680,000 from unexpended reserves to keep the 2022 budget tax levy the same as it was in 2021 -- $31,451,727.

This action, reported first on The Batavian last week, drops the property tax rate to $9.18, which is less than the $9.37 that was proposed in the preliminary budget. The 2021 tax rate was $9.80.

The full legislature is expected to vote on the budget at its meeting next Monday.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein commended management, staff and her colleagues for conducting a budgetary process that was “clear, direct, concise and responsive to the questions asked by the community” and for not raising the tax levy.

  • Scheduled a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Old County Courthouse to consider Local Law Introductory No. 7, Year 2021, that puts the salaries of county elected or appointed fixed term employees at the following levels:

-- Commission of Elections (Richard Siebert and Lorie Longhany), $51,055.
-- Director of Human Resources (Anita Cleveland), $93,341.
-- Commissioner of Social Services (David Rumsey), $93,993.
-- Director of Real Property Tax Services (Kevin Andrews), $5,000.
-- County Clerk (Michael Cianfrini), $100,749.
-- Treasurer (Scott German), $107,966.
-- Sheriff (William Sheron), $110,243.
-- Highway Superintendent (Tim Hens), $124,626.

  • Approved monthly premium rates, effective Jan. 1, 2022, of the county’s Self-Funded Health Benefits Plan to reflect an across-the-board 4.5 percent increase over the 2021 rates.

The county offers Partnership Plus and Traditional Plans (for some Genesee Community College employees), and Health and Wellness Plans (for all county employees) with rates ranging from $727 a month for single plans, to $2,844 a month for family (three or more) plans.

County employees also have access to dental and vision benefits.

On average, the county pays 87 percent of the premium and the employees pay 13 percent, Landers said.

  • Reappointed Molly Haungs, marketing manager of LandPro Equipment, to a two-year term on the GLOW Workforce Development Board and James Kingston of Elba to a two-year term to the Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District board of directors.

Previously: Genesee Community College president asks county for up to $1.7 million to help fund five infrastructure projects

November 12, 2021 - 6:47pm

Image result for genesee county ny sealThe Genesee County Legislature, during its final budget session on Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse, reached into their “unexpended fund balance” pocket to keep the property tax levy for the 2022 fiscal year at the same level as this year.

Lawmakers have tentatively agreed to add $678,519 to the $1,396,675 in reserves initially proposed by County Manager Matt Landers – action that will keep the tax levy at $31,451,727 and, more importantly, drop the property tax rate from the proposed $9.37 to $9.18.

The $9.18 rate represents a 6.3 percent decrease from the 2021 property tax rate of $9.80.

These changes in the spending plan will be considered by the legislature’s Ways & Means Committee next Wednesday and, upon approval, by the full legislature for a binding vote on Nov. 22.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein today said she was happy to report that her colleagues capitalized on the opportunity to keep the levy at the same rate “and still be able to fund the initiatives and the mandates that we have in front of us.”

“It's most important that we are able to do that by sharing most fairly across all of our constituencies and municipalities … and to be able to fund our operations and not take one penny more than we need from the taxpaying public.”

The lower tax rate will lessen the burden to varying degrees of property owners, many of whom saw their assessments go up over the past several months. For the median residential household in Genesee County assessed at $122,935 that did not have an assessment change from 2021, this will result in an annual net tax decrease of $76.22.

Stein said legislators have much to confront in terms of necessary and mandated projects, such as funding the new county jail, the Countywide Water Project and infrastructure.

“So, being able to do that really represents good hard thought of what we have to tackle in the future, especially funding the new positions at the county jail according to the (New York State) Commission of Correction, and also getting some of our departments right-sized,” she said.

The county also is continuing to commit $1 million from sales tax earnings to repair and maintain roads, bridges and culverts.

“Doing those types of investments in our infrastructure are just critical to making sure that we stay ahead of those big ticket items,” she said.

Landers said he supports the legislature’s decision, noting that about $2.5 million from the unexpended fund balance was used in the 2021 budget.

“As requested, I presented legislators with different scenarios and they honed in on the scenario of keeping the levy flat from last year,” Landers said. “There'll be no levy increase whatsoever, so it definitely was a good conversation.”

He said the legislature, which consistently has voted against overriding the New York State tax cap of around 2 percent, will have a bit more flexibility next year.

“We will have the ability to grow it (the cap) by an extra $480,000 because we didn’t take any of the allowable levy this year. That gives us time to see, between now and 12 months later, after getting more information about the water project and jail construction,” he said.

Landers said management and the legislature are at the mercy of the Commission of Correction, which has final say over the number of employees needed at the new jail on West Main Street Road (which is scheduled for the start of construction next spring).

“One of the biggest factors that is causing pause of our legislature in terms of concern is the CoC’s ability to dictate how many posts are in this new jail,” Landers said, explaining that each “post” represents about five positions. “Even with the jail designed -- even with virtual reality goggles so that an official can walk through the jail virtually and see where everything is -- the CoC won't make a determination on the posts until they physically walk into the jail.”

CoC officials could determine that more posts are required than have been budgeted for, Landers said, and each post would add $500,000 to the annual operating costs of the jail.

The county’s All Funds budget for 2022 totals $158,502,898, which is $15,298,219 more than the 2021 adopted All Funds budget.   The 2022 recommended General Fund (operating) budget is $119,394,176, which is $9,118,039 more than the 2021 adopted General Fund budget. 

Stein credited every legislator for making his or her voice heard in this process.

“It’s been really terrific working with nine independently-thinking people and coming to this same place in our budget and the consideration and a consensus,” she said. “So, I'm very proud to lead this group.”

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November 10, 2021 - 6:19pm

Image result for covid testing mandatesVaccine mandates are one thing; testing requirements are another.

Concerning the latter, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers is advising Genesee County legislators to be prepared to make a decision on how to govern the COVID-19 testing mandate that he believes is coming to municipal employees.

“With recently, the stop-start, stop-start 100-employee mandate out there for testing purposes, I have been meaning to reach out and give an update,” Landers said during today’s legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

Landers said he is operating “under the impression” that there will be a testing requirement for all unvaccinated county employees only, with the big question being who will pay for the testing – the county or the individual employees?

“We are developing procedures to gather that data in a more formal manner. We already have a good handle on that number because our own policy internally has been if you wanted to have your mask off, you had to show proof of vaccination.”

He said more “rigorous steps” are on their way, including the need to have vaccination data available for inspection.

“We’re going through that process right now with HR (Human Resources) and implementing a recommendation in the internal side. This is going to be coming before the legislature for consideration on a policy on how we want to handle this because there's a lot of questions out there,” Landers said.

The county manager said some counties are covering testing and some aren’t. He said he will ask the HR manager’s office and public health department to draft some “solid recommendations” on the implementation before getting back to the legislature.

“I can see the arguments going both ways of us providing the testing, and also us not – and there’s good arguments on both sides,” he said in his comments to lawmakers. “So, be ready for that discussion coming up in a few days.”

In other developments, the legislature passed the following resolutions:

  • Scheduling of a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Old County Courthouse for citizen input on legislators’ desire to replace the county’s hotel and motel occupancy tax law to include short-term residential lodging sites. The measure had been recommended for approval last week by the legislature’s Ways & Means Committee.

The principal changes reduce the current number of units being rented at a location from six to one and set the number of days at 14 or more over the course of a year.  These revisions would align properties under the auspices of booking companies such as Airbnb and VRBO with hotels and motels and make them subject to the 3 percent occupancy or bed tax.

The new law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and runs through Dec. 31, 2024.

  • An agreement with the City of Batavia to apply for a grant through the Water Infrastructure Investment Act for necessary renovations and repairs at the city’s Water Treatment Plant. The Batavia City Council passed its resolution on Monday night. The WIIA Act grant provides up to 40 percent of capital project costs. The WTP projects are estimated to cost around $3.4 million.
  • Appointment of Chad Brade of Oakfield to fill an unexpired term as county coroner until Dec. 31, 2022, and Chandy Kemp to the board of directors of the Genesee County Economic Development Center.
  • Acceptance of a $176,662.14 grant from the New York State Department of Health for the Genesee County Health Department to promote and increase COVID-19 and other vaccine initiatives, and funding for COVID-19 vaccination clinic operation costs.
November 4, 2021 - 8:30am

bed_tax_graphic.jpgA public hearing regarding Local Law Introductory No. 6, which modifies the Genesee County Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax Law to include Airbnb-type short-term lodging sites, has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Old County Courthouse in Batavia.

The Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday voted to set the public hearing as required by Municipal Home Rule Law while approving a resolution to replace the occupancy (or bed tax) law that initially was adopted as Local Law No. 2, Year 1995, and has been amended several times since then.

The current version is set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year.

County Attorney Kevin Earl said the primary changes focus on the number of units and the number of days in which properties are rented. The proposed amendments have been discussed at length by legislators and officials of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce in recent months, 

“Our current law only applies to six or more units," Earl said. "So, we eliminated that threshold to apply to single units. In other words, if somebody rented out their house, it would apply now. But they would have to do it for overnight accommodations and rent it out for more than 14 days in a year.”

Earl said the 14-day provision was put into the wording to exempt a homeowner who may rent his or her house occasionally, such as for a couple days or a week.

The restated law also includes a definition for booking companies, Earl said, notably Airbnb, Flipkey, Home Away, VRBO and Relators. The new law, if approved by the full legislature next week, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and run through Dec. 31, 2024.

The revision certainly will increase the county’s bed tax income as these short-term, home-based properties would be subject to the 3 percent fee that already is added on to hotel/motel bills.

Exemptions to the fee include permanent residents for a period of occupancy in excess of 30 days; persons placed in a hotel or motel by the Department of Social Services, the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other similar organizations due to emergency housing needs; housing for indigent or homeless persons; or exempt organizations.

Earl told legislators that a formal agreement between the county and Airbnb is in the works as the revised law will result in greater responsibility of those renting out homes or similar facilities.

In a related development, the committee approved a resolution brought forth by Kevin Andrews, deputy county treasurer, to use up to $2,250 from the bed tax reserve to fund an audit on the amount of money generated in occupancy tax from local hotels. The Freed Maxick accounting firm has been selected to perform the audit.

Andrews said that, to his knowledge, an audit of this type has not been done before, and that the treasurer’s office will be providing records from three hotels in the county for the audit.

In other action, the Ways & Means Committee approved the following resolutions:

  • An intermunicipal agreement between the county and City of Batavia to the Water Infrastructure Investment Act, which provides up to 40 percent of capital project costs in grants since it is the county’s responsibility to fund and provide for capital improvements at the City Water Treatment Plant.

County Engineer Tim Hens said the total cost of several planned projects at the plant are expected to be around $3.4 million, adding that the improvements are necessary to maintain production as the Countywide Water Project moves into Phase 3. He said the City of Batavia will act as the lead agency in the grant application process.

  • Acquisition by the county of an easement of a parcel of land on the west side of the South Lyon Street bridge in the city in order to keep the replacement of the bridge on schedule. The bridge, which was constructed in 1910, is closed now and due to be replaced in 2022.

Hens said the county previously acquired properties at the four corners of the bridges, and the only easement remaining was an area “through the (Tonawanda) creek bed, along the west side of the bridge.”

He also said that, according to land records, no individual owns the parcel in question.

“So, you’re essentially acquiring an easement from an unknown entity or not an entity at all,” he said. “It’s a very hard thing to describe.”

After discussions with New York State officials, Hens said acquiring the easement – equating it to using eminent domain on an unknown owner -- would be the fastest way to put the county in position to replace the bridge.  

  • The appointment of Chad Brade of Oakfield to fill an unexpired term as county coroner until Dec. 31, 2022.
  • The appointment of Chandy Kemp to the Genesee County Economic Development Center board of directors through June 30, 2024, replacing Amy Vanderhoof, who resigned on Sept. 28.

Previously: Lawmakers continue to ponder whether to impose a bed tax on internet lodging booking agencies

November 3, 2021 - 6:43pm

Categorizing five potential projects as “long-standing critical needs,” Genesee Community College President Dr. James Sunser today requested that Genesee County enter into a 50-50 agreement with New York State to fund up to $3.4 million that would be required to complete all of the work.

Speaking at the County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse, Sunser outlined five projects that he said are part of the college’s Facilities Master Plan approved by the GCC Board of Trustees, and submitted to the Genesee County and to the Dormitory Authority of New York State.

“They’re all under that plan that would allow for 50 percent funding from the state should our local sponsor, Genesee County, approve those plans and commit a similar amount,” he said, adding that the five plans fall into the college’s “deferred maintenance type of issues.”

Under the college’s proposal, the county and the state each would contribute $1.7 million upon completion of all five projects.

Sunser said these projects aren’t new construction, but items that “we have long-standing need for that we’re looking to work on.”

Specifically, the five initiatives proposed are as follows (with the county, if approved, paying for half of the total cost listed):

-- Replacement of the soccer/lacrosse turf on the field adjacent to the Richard C. Call Arena (Total cost $950,000).

Sunser said the field was part of a previous capital project sponsored by Genesee County.

“What we're talking about replacing is not the facility itself, not the underpinnings of it, not the lighting and the electrical, it's merely the covering -- the surface of the field that is now going on 13 years old and had the expected lifecycle of about 10 years,” he said.

He noted that the field will be used for a women’s national soccer tournament starting next Wednesday – an event that will include the GCC squad.

-- Replacement of the cooling tower (Total cost $410,000).

Sunser said the cooling tower handles the cooling for all of the college’s original buildings -- through the original buildings and into the Conable Technology Center.

“That cooling tower is well past its useful life … and that does need replacing at this point. And we're asking for some assistance in doing that,” he said.

-- Renovation of a connective corridor (Total cost $180,000).

Sunser said the corridor connects the original buildings from the cafeteria areas into the fine arts building and theater, adding that he believes the initial design was “flawed.”

“And it's been a long-standing issue where the entrance on both sides of that connecting corridor is below the building levels,” he said, causing water backup and icing in that area. “That’s been one of the areas that we find that we have slip and falls periodically throughout the winter.”

-- Replacement of the Conable Technology Building parking lot (Total cost $800,000).

“That’s our oldest lot now on campus, and it also has an area that is prone to some icing and some issues, and another area we have documented claims against the college for slip and falls,” Sunser said. “The drainage is much like what was in the drainage and the other lots before we've made those improvements during the last major capital plan on campus.”

That particular lot measures 95,000 square feet and is approximately 17 years old.

-- Complete roof replacement on the Technology Building (Total cost $1,060,000).

The structure was built in 2000 and the 26,000-square foot roof has been developing leaks due to end of life failures in stress points, according to the project justification report.

When looking at the big picture, Sunser said if the projects are approved by Genesee County, they can be submitted to the state in the current budget cycle.

“It has been indicated from SUNY (State University of New York) that there would be receptivity to those at this point,” he said. “If they’re approved, then we can work along with the county and the legislature in the future to determine when they'll actually be handled as far as the work being done.”

When asked about the impact to the county’s 2022 budget, Sunser said, “I would imagine that traditionally the counties when they've gone up for bonding on projects, that this would get incorporated into that plan as well.”

Legislator Gary Maha brought up that the county has already committed to spending $70 million for a new jail and that another nearly $2 million is “kind of hard to swallow in one year.”

Sunser said he could “appreciate” that, adding that GCC leaders are “working as hard as we can to take as much pressure off the county as we can – in terms of critical maintenance.”

“These are all long-standing critical needs as far as the infrastructure of the campus. And one of the things that we've been really focused on over the past year is that everywhere we've had the ability to use appropriately (specialized) funds to reinvest in the facilities of the campus, we’ve done that.”

However, he said he viewed the projects as investing in a county partnership facility that you can, I hope, rest assured that the college has been investing in -- in good faith right along -- to try to make sure that we don't have these kind of going back to the old Fram oil filter and pennywise, pound foolish type of mentality. And we've done quite a bit over the course of the summer -- investment in the facility wherever we could to take pressure off the county and not have to make these kind of requests.”

At that point, Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said lawmakers were not prepared to make a decision today, but would discuss it further.

“We do have your numbers,” she said. “We appreciate the fact that you're here, and if you have any other questions, we will get them (answers) to you.”

This summer, the legislature approved a $2.6 million contribution to GCC for 2021-22 -- an amount that represents about 7 percent of the college's $37.4 million budget. County Manager Matt Landers said that percentage is one of the lowest in the state for counties that support community colleges.

October 7, 2021 - 12:24pm

opioid_image_1.jpgA Genesee County legislator believes that county departments dealing with substance use issues -- whether in the form of education, prevention, treatment or enforcement – should be first in line to receive money awarded to the municipality through New York State’s settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Speaking at Wednesday’s Ways & Means Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse, Marianne Clattenburg said any list of ways to spend the $1 million or so expected to be distributed to Genesee County should start with initiatives supporting county units, such as the Youth Bureau, Mental Health and the Sheriff’s Office.

“This isn’t really that much money. And I think between the Youth Bureau, and their prevention efforts, and Mental Health and the issues that have arrived, especially with children and therapies that are going on because they’re dealing with drug abuse of parents and foster parents (would be the best use of the funds).”

Clattenburg said substance use and its effect upon other areas of society warrant immediate attention.

“I think there’s enough need inside the county that those stakeholders need to be focused on – those dollars staying in the county before we talk about other agencies …” she said. “I’m just concerned that outside agencies … are already asking how much money they’re going to get from this.”

County Manager Matt Landers responded by saying that representatives of Genesee County Mental Health, Sheriff’s Office, Public Health and Youth Bureau would be on the committee.

In a story posted on The Batavian on Monday, Landers said that Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, an outside agency that receives some funding from the county, and possibly other non-county organizations, will be involved.

Contacted today, he said the committee “will be weighted in favor of Genesee County departments," but will include John Bennett, GCASA executive director.

“It’s a fluid process,” Landers said. “As we move forward, we may see more partners to bring to the table.”

He said the first committee meeting is scheduled for later this month.

Ways & Means Committee members were asked to consider a resolution approving a proposed settlement with McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and their multiple subsidiaries – the “Big 3 Distributors” – that could result in the county receiving anywhere from $1,055,674 to $1,864,833, with payments made over 18 years.

County Attorney Kevin Earl said the New York City law firm of Napoli Shkolnik, which is representing municipalities across the state, “brought a number of actions not only against the people who manufacture the opioids, but the distributors – claiming that they violated certain laws by not accounting for where this stuff was going. In other words, they contributed to the proliferation of the opioid crisis.”

Earl said the monetary amount depends upon how many communities participate in the class action proceedings.

“Just like the other (Johnson & Johnson) settlement, (it comes) with a sliding scale,” he said. “The more people that … sign on to join the settlement, the more Big 3 Distributors are willing to pay because their exposure lessens. The likelihood is pretty high that we will get the high end of the settlement.”

Funds received have to be targeted toward substance use treatment, prevention, training and enforcement, he added.

“Within those categories, there is some flexibility but we can’t spend the money for water funds or bridge funds.”

While Earl said this money is addition to funds from the J&J settlement, it is unclear exactly how much the county will receive at this point.

Landers said he and Earl will be speaking with the attorneys representing the county in this matter to determine the dollar figure, but estimates an award of at least $1.3 million.

The county manager said the plan is to meet with all stakeholders and make recommendations that would be forwarded to the legislature.

The first payment is expected in February 2022, Earl said.

Previously: NYS AG reports that Genesee County is in line for up to $1 million in opioid settlement funding

September 23, 2021 - 8:20am

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Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron Jr. was a man of few words on Wednesday afternoon as he accepted a proclamation from the Genesee County Legislature designating the week of Sept. 19-25, 2021 as Sheriffs’ Week in Genesee County.

Those words were well placed, however, as the county’s top law enforcement official gave all the credit to his staff who are on the front lines each and every day.

“I consider it a privilege to serve as sheriff in Genesee County and to be associated with such tremendous people before me (acknowledging Maha, the former sheriff, and Legislator Gordon Dibble, retired chief deputy),” Sheron said.

“I take this on behalf of all the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office. They’re the ones that are out there daily, providing service to the public, and they do it in such a professional manner.”

Maha, chair of the Public Service Committee, read the proclamation, which recognizes the Sheriff’s Office as “an integral part of the criminal justice system in New York State and in Genesee County since its inception in 1777, and establishment as one of the original constitutional offices of Genesee County in 1802.”

The proclamation states that the “Office of Sheriff has evolved into a modern, professionally accredited, full-service law enforcement and public safety agency, manned by fully trained police and peace officers, as well as civilians, using state-of-the-art technology and applying the latest and most-advanced theories and practices in the criminal justice field.”

Photo by Mike Pettinella.

September 23, 2021 - 7:50am

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As someone who has felt the pain inflicted by suicide and addiction, Lynda Battaglia was filled with emotion as she accepted a proclamation Wednesday from the Genesee County Legislature designating Sept. 5-11, 2021 as National Suicide Prevention Week and September 2021 as National Recovery Month.

Battaglia, the county’s director of Mental Health & Community Services, said she spoke as a “survivor” of suicide and substance use disorder, having someone close to her who attempted suicide and survived and also losing someone to addiction.

“When someone dies by suicide, the attack ripples through the community and leaves an everlasting effect,” she said, urging society to do more to promote wellness and decrease the stigma associated with mental health disease.

She said that suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States.

“Every 11 minutes, someone dies by suicide … around 48,000 per year, and every single number represents a person,” she said.

With a group of mental health and social work professionals in attendance, Battaglia commended service providers for their “tough love commitment to improving education and awareness on suicide prevention and commitment to acknowledging recovery – and how you decrease the stigma of both.”

“You’ve seen them at their worst and their best, and everything in between … and you provide treatment and care without judgment.”

Accepting the proclamation on behalf of service providers, she concluded, “All of you are lifelines for Genesee County residents and I thank you for your dedication.”

The proclamation, presented by Legislator Gregg Torrey, Human Services Committee chair, states, in part, that “in these challenging times messages of hope and healing are more needed than ever; and the benefits of preventing and overcoming mental health challenges, suicide attempts and loss, and substance abuse are significant and valuable to individuals, families, and our community at large.”

“The Genesee County Legislature proclaims the month of September 2021 as Suicide Prevention and Recovery Month: Finding Hope, Building Resiliency, and Supporting Recovery."

Photo: Accepting the proclamation are, from left, John Bennett, Lisa Clattenburg, Bob Riccobono, Lynnell Schreiber, Lynda Battaglia, Julie Brinkman, Kate Hawks, Rachel Mieney, Sue Gagne, Lisa Glow, Cheryl Netter, Gregg Torrey. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

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September 20, 2021 - 4:52pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Genesee County Jail, genesee county legislature.

Prior to the construction phase, Genesee County will need to have its four-member corrections’ officer transition team in place to write policies and procedures covering the $70 million, 184-bed county jail proposed for West Main Street Road, just east of County Building 2.

County Manager Matt Landers last week updated legislators on the progress of the jail, continuing to express confidence that groundbreaking will take place next spring.

Appointing those to be on the transition team and reviewing and approving engineering specifications are current priorities, he said.

“We’ve always known that there was going to be a jail transition team that would be responsible for writing all of the policies and procedures of the new facility, and the (New York State) COC (Commission of Correction) requires that this team be hired as soon as the first shovel is in the ground,” Landers said.

The plan is to take four current county corrections’ officers and assigning them to the transition team, and then to “backfill” the positions that would be open afterwards.

“And that’s when we would hope to increase our efforts to hire more female COs because we will be housing females in the new facility,” he advised.

Landers said Assistant Engineer Laura Wadham and Deputy Highway Superintendent Paul Osborn are poring over the drawings to make sure “everything from a technical engineering perspective is being considered on the site.”

The county is continuing the State Environmental Quality Review process, working with the SMRT architectural firm of Portland, Me.

“Hopefully we can go out to bid near the end of the year and be in position to award contracts in the spring,” Landers said, adding that the new four-pod jail would include a backup E-911 Center. Currently, that service is located in the Genesee Justice building at 14 West Main St.

The county is planning to take out a 30-year bond to pay for the jail, with annual payments estimated at $3 million to $3.5 million, Landers said.

“Interest rates are historically low right now, which is in our favor,” he said. “Plus, this (financing of the jail) is one of the reasons for the restructuring of the sales tax distribution agreement with the towns and villages so we can utilize more of that revenue to pay off the jail.”

Landers said that portions of the sales tax proceeds and reserves would go to the debt service payment.

“Over the next decade or so, we would use less and less reserves on an annual basis, and more of the sales tax as sales tax revenue grows,” he noted.

In another development, Landers today said the Genesee County Legislature will be conducting a Committee of the Whole meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse.

That meeting has been set up for legislators to go over the results of the 2020 Census as they pertain to population shifts in the county’s nine legislative districts.

"For us, we utilize weighted voting in Genesee County … so we have to go through the process of updating our calculations – updating the weighting of each legislative district," he said.

He said the process includes hiring a consultant to certify the results and then a public referendum on the November 2022 ballot to ratify the changes, which would take effect in January 2023.

The regular County Legislature meeting will follow the COW session.

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File photo of, clockwise from left, lobby, kitchen, dayroom, visitation area of facility similar to proposed new Genesee County Jail.

September 16, 2021 - 4:30pm

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The Genesee County Legislature's Public Service Committee learned a lot about the history – and future – of the South Lyon Street bridge on Wednesday afternoon during a departmental review by Highway Superintendent Tim Hens.

Because of a recent inspection by the New York State Department of Transportation that revealed two “red flags,” the one-lane truss bridge (photo at top) was closed to traffic at the end of August. And it will stay that way for about a year, said Hens at the PSC meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

“That was not a surprise to us; we’ve seen that one coming,” Hens said. “It has been like a slow motion train wreck. We had our fingers crossed that we could make it through one more season.”

Hens said a new two-lane truss bridge is on the schedule to be replaced next spring and will take several months to rebuild. It’s unfortunate as motorists hoping to get from West Main Street to South Main Street (or vice versa) will have to use either the Oak Street roundabout or the River Street bridge.

“The (recent) inspection -- it couldn’t pass the (minimum) load limit of three tons, which is about the size of an average car,” Hens said.

The bridge, which Hens said accommodated about 2,500 cars per day on average, was in bad shape with secondary girders so “rusted out that you could poke a string through them.”

Built in 1982, it did, however, last much longer than the five to 10 years that were anticipated.

Hens said the bridge was selected for federal aid in 2011 but, two years later, that funding was withdrawn. In 2014, the DOT did not accept the application to replace it. Three years later, it was resubmitted – again unsuccessfully.

In 2020, the county learned that it would be scheduled for replacement in 2023, but now, in light of the red flags, it was been moved up to 2022.

Hens said the new bridge will be a truss style, as well, wider for two lanes and including a sidewalk on the west side. It also will be turned slightly to the west for easier access from South Main Street.

Other topics in Hens’ report included funding, roads, equipment, tree removal, airport, parks, facilities, water and grants.

He reported the highway department applied for 24 bridges and culverts under the 2021 BRIDGE-NY program, using a similar strategy as in 2018 by having the county’s towns apply for structures under Genesee’s ownership and maintenance jurisdiction. This number was less than the 34 applied for 2018 because the state DOT advised the county “not to flood the application pool.”

County crews replaced bridges on Sandpit Road in Alexander, South Main Street Road in Batavia, Wortendyke Road in Batavia, Macomber Road in Batavia and Alabama, and Browns Mill Road in Bethany repaired a bridge on Francis Road in Bethany.

Currently, the bridge on Colby Road in Darien is closed for repairs.

“Colby Road was a little different,” he said, calling it the biggest surprise he has seen in his career as far as bridge inspections are concerned.

After it was red flagged in 2020 for problems at the north end of the span – closest to Route 33 -- major repairs were made. Eight months later, another inspection revealed similar issues on the south end.

“We literally went from no flags, no load restrictions to, like holy cow, we’ve got to close the bridge tomorrow because it is bad,” Hens said. “It literally rated at negative two tons; supposedly it couldn’t support anything and we had cars drive over it for two months (before closing it per DOT).”

Repairs are being made now on the north end of the bridge, said Hens, adding that it should reopen to traffic in a few weeks.

Several other bridges were or are on the federal aid replacement schedule, including Upton Road in Batavia which reopened yesterday.

Other highlights of Hens’ report are as follows:

More Highway Funding Than Expected

“Between the governor and the assembly, we got an even bigger boost in our annual CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) and PAVE-NY funds,” Hens said. “At the end of the budget season, we were already probably at 160 percent of our normal funding. We got a ton of money going into the season.”

With that added funding – and despite a rainy July – the county is on pace to have all heavy roadwork done by Columbus Day, “which even in a normal year we’d be happy to be done that early,” he said.

Hens reported that more than 100 miles of the county’s 260 miles of roadway have been widened to 30 feet over the past several years and that will continue even if asphalt prices continue to climb (costs are up by about 15 percent over 2020).

Emerald Ash Borer is Creating Havoc

The emerald ash borer is a green buprestid or jewel beetle native to north-eastern Asia that feeds on ash species. Also known as EAB, it is causing severe problems in Genesee County, Hens said.

Thousands of dead ash trees throughout the county need to be removed as they are infringing upon roads and exposing the county to liability.

Hens said highway crews typically remove 160 or more trees from the right-of-way each year from November through April, but for 2022, he is asking for a year-round tree removal crew with two more motor equipment operators and two more seasonal flag persons.

County to Save on Snow and Ice Removal

Hens said recent mild winters will result in about a $175,000 savings to the county as the 2021 rate paid to the towns for snow plowing will be $5,825 per mile – down from $6,515 per mile in 2020. Salt prices remain stable at $51.29 per ton.

As far as fuel prices are concerned, diesel is up 13 percent from last year and unleaded is up 21 percent from 2020.

Airport Fuel Sales Rebound

Hens said that fuel sales at the Genesee County Airport are back on pace with 2019 figures, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic did not impact fuel sales as much as expected. Furthermore, small plane traffic has increased, keeping the waiting list for hangar space at more than 20.

A new eight-bay hangar is available for rent, he said, and reconstruction of the apron (funded by a Federal Aviation Agency grant) is anticipated for next year.

The county is seeking a grant from Upstate Aviation Economic Development and Revitalization to fund a $13 million project to build a large corporate hangar, equipment storage facility, apron and parking at the west end of Saile Drive.

“If we get that grant, just submitted today, there would be an equipment storage bay attached to that building that would be 100 percent funded,” he advised.

Genesee Justice Building Needs Much Work

The stonework at the Genesee Justice building at 14 West Main St. (in front of the county jail) needs significant restoration and safety work, Hens said, estimating the cost could reach $1 million.

The county has been unsuccessful in obtain an historic grant, but will reapply this fall, he said.

Hens also said the county is studying the best way to renovate Holland Land Office.

Water Project Entering Phase 3

With Phase 2 just about finished, the county is in the planning stage of Phase 3, which could cost up to $85 million.

He said the City of Batavia Water Treatment Plant is in need of significant infrastructure, possibly costing around $2.6 million, to keep it operational in the short term. Phase 3 eventually calls for the city to shut down the plant when it becomes a retail customer of the Monroe County Water Authority.

The county also is looking into getting water from Niagara County to help support the Western New York Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing site in the Town of Alabama.

County Considers Huge Grants

Hens said the county could be in line for a $10 million federal grant for the water project if the reconciliation bill makes it through Congress.

Additionally, he called the Economic Development Administration Build Back Better Regional Challenge “a giant opportunity, potentially up to $100 million in funding for a regional project.”

“We’ve had several phone calls with the EDA regional director … and will try to schedule another Zoom call Friday to further discuss whether it is worth putting our eggs into this basket,” he said. “It’s a lot of steps (to complete the grant), but a great opportunity for us, if it’s the right fit.”

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September 15, 2021 - 6:49pm

The Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon responded to a call from the New York State Association of Counties to oppose Gov. Kathy Hochul’s order forcing all healthcare workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 27 or risk losing their jobs.

The committee passed a resolution urging Hochul and new Health Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan to modify the COVID-19 mandate by providing options such as regular testing for those opting to not take the vaccine at this time. It will be presented to the entire legislature at next Wednesday’s meeting.

“This came as a result of the letter that was sent from the nine counties in the Finger Lakes Region (expressing) our concern in regards to the healthcare crisis that is facing us on September 27th,” Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said. “It was delivered to the NYSAC folks, and they sent a letter immediately but they’re asking for counties to please send resolutions urging the same.”

Ways & Means Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg echoed Stein’s thoughts, stating that “there will be a crisis in healthcare if all of these people who are not vaccinated are forced to resign their positions without any kind of alternative testing options.”

Stein pointed out that many healthcare facilities are closing departments as workers have already decided to quit.

“Just this week, Lewis County shut down – their hospital shut down their maternity ward, St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany is shutting down a whole wing and Wyoming County Hospital’s nursing home is looking at 50-plus people resigning over the vaccine mandate,” she said. “And the result is going to be overwhelmed hospitals and we’re going to be in a worse position than we were last March, April and May in New York State.”

Clattenburg said that the committee is encouraging other options, such as twice-a-week testing and masking -- “everything we’ve been doing in order to keep our healthcare workers working.”

Stein agreed, noting that while “everyone is encouraged to take their vaccine as a preventive … those who are not, this would at least give them an opportunity to continue in the care for our communities.”

On Aug. 28, New York 28 issued the order requiring healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes to get at least their first vaccine shot by Sept. 27. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Utica temporarily blocked the state from forcing medical workers to be vaccinated, following a lawsuit by 17 healthcare workers, who contend that not allowing religious exemptions to the mandate violated their Constitutional rights.

The state has until Sept. 22 to respond, and if it opposes the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary court order blocking the vaccine mandate, an oral hearing will take place on Sept. 28.

The Genesee County resolution stipulates that copies be sent to Hochul, Sullivan, State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay and Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt.

In a related development, about two dozen people -- mostly healthcare workers -- gathered at the Main and Ellicott in downtown Batavia around 6 p.m. yesterday, holding signs stating "Coercion is Not Consent" and "If it's Forced, Are we Free?" and protesting what they proclaimed is a loss of freedom. The protesters found support for their cause by passers-by honking horns and giving thumbs up.

September 9, 2021 - 7:53am

Although the process to drafting a 2022 budget has just begun, Genesee County Manager Matt Landers is predicting a modest decrease in the property tax rate.

Speaking after Wednesday’s Genesee County Legislature meeting (and the first of several legislative budget workshops), Landers said he could see a 30- to 40-cent reduction in the rate, which was set at $9.80 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2021.

The county’s fiscal year runs from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

“Our discussion today focused on a schedule to adopt the budget, a (New York State) tax cap review and outside agency funding, and legislators were unanimous that they are not going to override the tax cap,” Landers said. “We also plan on flat funding (of outside agencies); there are no planned cuts.”

He said the tax rate hinges upon two key factors: “quantity change” (the growth that the state allows for new construction) and “allowable growth” (the lower of the 2 percent tax cap or inflation). For 2022, the tax cap is much less than the rate of inflation.

Landers said the amount to be raised by taxes – the tax levy – may increase by up to the cap number of 2.16 percent, but even with that, the tax rate will drop due to the increase in property assessments.

“The assessed valuation is still in flux,” he offered. “While that amount is based on the roll as of July 1st, it may come down due to court challenges and corrections. Still, I foresee the tax rate somewhere around 30 to 40 cents less (than 2021).”

For 2021, the county adopted an All Funds budget of $143,204,679, with $31,451,727 of that from property taxes – an increase of $400,069 from 2020.

Landers reported that first- and second-quarter sales tax revenues this year are up by about 10 percent from the same period in 2020, but that’s not a fair comparison since the first six months of last year were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales tax this year is up slightly from the 2019 corresponding figures as well, he said.

On another matter, Landers said the county has started a monthly employee recognition program, honoring those who have “gone above and beyond” on its Facebook page. The initial selections are Rachel Mieney, Mental Health clinic supervisor; Vicki Athoe, Probation principal clerk, and Chelsea Elliott, Youth Bureau program coordinator.

In other developments, the legislature:

-- Extended a Local Law pertaining to hotel/motel room occupancy tax for three months through the end of the year, with no changes, to provide more time to consider subjecting short-stay lodging places, such as Airbnb and Vrbo sites, to a bed tax. Landers said the matter will be addressed early in 2022.

-- Approved eliminating a full-time Registered Nurse position and creating a part-time RN position to allow the continued employment for a Mental Health Continuing Day Treatment program nurse who has indicated she can no longer work on a full-time basis. This enables the department to cover critical nursing hours for continuity of care as it restructures its schedule.

-- Approved the creation of a full-time public health educator, full-time epidemiologist, and full-time senior financial clerk through September 2026 to be funded by a $248,226 grant from the Center for Disease Control for childhood lead poisoning prevention and surveillance of blood lead levels grant activities. 

-- Approved acceptance of $342,558 from the state Department of Health for additional COVID-19 contact tracing, overtime and supplies, with the funds to be allocated in the 2022 & 2023 budgets. Funding will be used to offset costs of COVID-19 response activities, all other COVID-19 costs over $342,558 will be partially (36 percent) offset by state aid.

-- Approved using DeWitt Park on Cedar Street to host the Batavia Kiwanis Club’s chicken barbeque fundraiser on Sept. 25. Proceeds will go toward the purchase of books by local libraries.

Previously: Future early voting location weighs heavily on minds of county election commissioners.

Note: The resolutions indicated in this story also were approved on Wednesday by the full legislature).

casey_sworn_in.jpg

Photo: Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, left, swears in Lisa Casey to her new position as Clerk of the Legislature as Casey's mother, Sandra Casey, proudly looks on. Casey's sister and brother-in-law, Rita and Joe Pencille, also attended the ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

September 1, 2021 - 9:41am

Nioga Library System personnel have gone above and beyond to provide essential services in the face of a global pandemic that continues to rock our way of life.

That’s the message conveyed Monday by four Genesee County library directors and the executive director of the 21-member Nioga Library System, who appeared before the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee to seek the same level of funding in 2022 as in this year and to articulate how they have responded to the challenges to meet the needs of their clientele.

The committee received a letter from Kimberly Gibson, library manager at Haxton Memorial Library in Oakfield, asking the legislature to sustain the current 2021 level of $41,680 to support the purchase of library materials for county residents.

County funding covers about 13 percent of Genesee’s six public libraries budget for materials and technology, such as computers, books, music, movies and magazines – including downloadable information, Gibson wrote.

“As we work to maintain our levels of service to our patrons during these difficult times, we face rising costs across the board and, for some of our libraries, we are working with a budget that was drastically cut from the prior year,” the letter continued.

During the meeting, Gibson reported that her library’s budget was slashed by 30 percent and the Byron-Bergen Public Library’s budget was cut by 20 percent.

Nioga Executive Director Tom Bindeman said the network, as a whole, has suffered budget cuts over the past several years.

They were joined at the meeting by Robert Conrad of Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia, Josselyn Borowiec of Hollwedel Memorial Library in Pavilion and Diana Reding of Corfu Public Library. The Woodward Memorial Library in Le Roy is the county’s sixth public library (and all are part of the Nioga system).

All of the state’s libraries closed around March 17, 2020, because of COVID-19 and many were closed up to 16 weeks.

Conrad said the six county libraries were able to coordinate their reopenings for limited service around June 1 and it wasn’t until June of this year when they were able to drop most of the other restrictions.

During that “down time,” librarians followed all of the Center for Disease Control guidelines, Gibson said, including social distancing, mask wearing, temperature checks of employees, frequent cleaning, purchase of Personal Protective Equipment, putting up of plexiglass and computer keyboard protection.

“We did whatever we had to do to get to the place where we could reopen,” she said. “Keeping day-to-day safety last year and into this year has been our priority.”

Contacted yesterday, Conrad said that Richmond Memorial Library staff was able to open for browsing and checkout, “but our restrictions included no general seating and, consequently (and ironically), no reading as well as no in-person programs and only essential computer use.”

Libraries conducted programs, such as the Richmond Reads author visit, children’s story times and movie streaming via Wi-Fi, Conrad added.

Broadband connection to the Internet is critical to libraries’ operational success – a point brought up by Bindeman at the committee meeting.

Noting that 40 percent of Genesee County does not have Internet access, he urged lawmakers to do what they can to provide access to its residents. County Manager Matt Landers said they are aware of the gaps in coverage and have a plan to address the situation as money allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used for broadband.

Bindeman also mentioned that many people, young and old, don’t know how to use a computer or smart phone, and he hoped to institute a plan where libraries and municipalities could provide more training in that area.

Libraries have been up and running for several weeks now and are offering their complete range of services.

Gibson said the computers continue to be “social distanced” and face coverings are required for those who have not been vaccinated.

“We’re grateful to learn that when we reopened how much we were actually missed,” Gibson offered, adding that a silver lining was that the Oakfield library was able to build its social media presence during the shutdown.

At Richmond, masks are required as long as the county's rate of transmission is at substantial or higher, and in the Children's Room until a vaccine has been made widely available for school-aged population.

Conrad said that he believes the 2 ½ months or so that all of the libraries were closed in 2020 represent the first time in the state’s history that its people were not served by libraries of any kind.

The Byron-Bergen Public Library and Haxton Memorial Library are looking to forge agreements with the B-B Central School District and Oakfield-Alabama Central School District, respectively, over the next couple years to be able to receive funding from property taxes as voted on by the public.

Hollwedel Memorial Library in Pavilion became a school district-supported facility last year, joining Richmond Memorial, Woodward Memorial and Corfu Public Library.

August 25, 2021 - 8:52pm

This afternoon’s approval of a new sales tax allocation agreement with the City of Batavia – a move that clears the way for the annual distribution of $10 million in sales tax revenue to Genesee County towns and villages – was a significant moment in the eyes of County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein.

So significant, in fact, that she marked the occasion with a resounding swing of her gavel on its wooden block.

“I’m excited (by this),” she said after legislators unanimously passed the “Modified Amended and Restated Sales Tax Allocation Agreement Between the County of Genesee and the City of Batavia.”

Stein, no doubt, also was relieved that lawmakers passed this and a subsequent, connected resolution ratifying the Town of Darien’s willingness to enter into an “Amended and Restated Water Supply Agreement” with the county.

On the first resolution, the sales tax allocation agreement between the city and county doesn’t change, but it does add wording statilng that the city has no objections to the county’s plan to distribute $10 million in sales tax money collected on a yearly basis to the towns and villages for the next 38 years.

The second resolution was made possible when the Darien Town Board, on Wednesday night, voted to sign a new water supply agreement with Genesee County. Darien was the last municipality to opt in and, by doing so, enables the county to share the full $10 million in sales tax and not a combination of sales tax and other revenue.

The new water supply contract – it’s the same for all municipalities – gives the county the right to raise the surcharge on water usage beyond the 60-cents per 1,000 gallons level, but also requires the county to petition the Monroe County Water Authority in seven years to enact an equalized water rate throughout the county.

“Sharing the $10 million was the goal of this legislature,” Stein said, as she congratulated her colleagues on achieving that goal.

In other action, the legislature voted in favor of contracting with EFPR Group, CPAs, PLLC, of Williamsville, a consulting firm, for assistance in how to spend money received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The contract is for up to $10,000 for the two years of the contract, which includes the option of three, one-year renewals. The cost will be paid from ARPA funds.

County Manager Matt Landers told legislators that the ARPA grant can be used to fund water and broadband projects, but there are “a lot of nuances” to the guidelines. He said EFRP has “extensive experience” in this area and is familiar with the process.

Landers also said he doesn’t think it will cost $10,000 in the first year, but probably closer to $5,000.

Previously: Darien opts in to water agreement after receiving assurances that county will pursue equalized rate

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