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Genesee County Legislature

Proposed consolidation of IDAs would take away local control, county legislators say

By Joanne Beck

A state bill in the early phases of the Senate and Assembly committees that would lump Genesee County’s industrial development agency into a Finger Lakes regional agency of nine counties would not serve the best interests of this county’s residents and economic initiatives, Legislator Marianne Clattenburg says.

The county Legislature is slated to approve a resolution opposing Senate Bill S4545 and Assembly Bill A3069 to amend general municipal law to do just that: force Genesee County’s IDA to consolidate into the larger agency along with Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Wyoming, Livingston, Ontario, Seneca and Yates counties.

“The resolution opposes IDA consolidation because we believe it would result in a loss of control over the operations and priorities of our existing entity. We do work together regionally with our Regional Economic Development Council.  Regional priority projects are promoted with the goal of seeing the entire region grow economically,” Clattenburg said. “That is entirely different than having local control taken away from the legislature that creates and funds its economic development agency. We decide the funding level of the agency, and we appoint the members of the board.  These are local residents who are committed to the betterment of our county and know our communities.  We believe that taking this away is a violation of our ability to control what development happens in Genesee County. 

“It is the essence of Home Rule,” she said. “We are happy to continue to work with partners  to continue to bring jobs to our county, but we are opposed to any changes in our current model.”

The Ways & Means Committee agreed this week to pass the resolution onto the full Legislature for a vote on Wednesday. 

The bill still has to be passed by both the Assembly and Senate and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The resolution continues to state that there is “very limited justification for this legislation by mentioning only concerns regarding IDA applicants ‘shopping around’ amongst IDA’s with overlapping jurisdiction to attempt to obtain the ‘best deal’ and, WHEREAS, local IDA members have vested interests in the communities in which they live and are far more knowledgeable of the local economic development priorities as comparted to a 15-member regional agency spanning counties, and WHEREAS, many of these 15 appointed members of the regional agency could not be expected to be familiar with Genesee County and the communities served by our existing local IDA, and WHEREAS, accountability for actions taken by industrial development agencies should be vested in individuals who live and work in affected communities and understand the local economic development landscape, and WHEREAS, the Genesee County Legislature agrees with the Genesee County IDA that keeping local decision making on important economic development priorities is imperative and a pillar of local government control accountable to its residents. 

“Now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, that the Genesee County Legislature hereby opposes Senate Bill S4545 and Assembly Bill 3069 that attempt to consolidate all 109 local Industrial Development Agencies into ten Regional Industrial Development Agencies, and be it further RESOLVED, that the Clerk of the Legislature will send certified copies electronically of this resolution to Governor Kathy Hochul,” and the other involved government leaders, including Senator George Borrello and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, and any other person or organization deemed necessary.

Genesee County recognizes the 'value women bring to leadership' during Women's History Month

By Joanne Beck
Women's History Month
Several women representing the various departments in Genesee County government celebrate Women's History Month Wednesday during the county Legislature meeting. 
Photo submitted by Steven Falitico

Although it's toward the end of March, Genesee County Legislature members didn't let the month slip by without recognizing the importance of Women's History Month with a proclamation presented by Legislative Chairwoman Shelley Stein and Legislator Marianne Clattenburg, pictured above on either side of the certificate. 

Ever since it was proclaimed in March 1987, Women's History Month has given a nod to all of the feats and accomplishments made possible by women, who locally serve on government and school boards, as leaders of companies, role models and motivators in schools, industries, and organizations and as volunteers for various efforts throughout the county. 

The proclamation sums it up below:

WHEREAS, American women of every race, social stratum and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways, and

WHEREAS, American women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural, and social role in every sphere of the life of the Nation by constituting a significant portion of the labor force working inside and outside of the home, and

WHEREAS, American women were particularly important in the establishment of early charitable, humanitarian, and cultural institutions in our Nation, and

WHEREAS, American women have been leaders, not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement, the civil rights movement, and especially the peace movement, which creates a fairer and just society for all.

WHEREAS, currently there are fourteen departments being led by influential women within Genesee County such as Legislature, Office For The Aging, Commissioner of Jurors, Compliance, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Elections, GLOW Solid Recycling, Human Resources, Job Development Bureau, Mental Health, Genesee Justice, Department of Social Services, STOP-DWI, Business Education Alliance and many more women in supporting roles throughout Genesee County.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Genesee County Legislature resoundingly embraces Women’s History Month and recognizes the value women bring to leadership in our community with many different professions. Evidence of this value shines through our staff, management, administration and local elected leaders.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, there are continuous contributions made by the women of Genesee County. They capture the spirit of women’s determination and clear, forward thinking by demonstrating creativity, courage and forging career paths for women of all levels of society.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Genesee County Legislature proclaims March as “Women’s History Month.” A month to take notice and appreciate the hard work women have done, and the continued work ahead for women in all societies.

Genesee County to book Airbnb for future bed tax revenue

By Joanne Beck

After 16 years of operating as a short-term housing option for travelers, Airbnb is voluntarily signing up to be part of the bed tax system in Genesee County, Deputy County Treasurer Kevin Andrews says.

The popular offering to people looking for anything from big city apartments to cottages by the lake is expected to add an estimated $30,000 to the county’s bottom line once the Legislature votes to approve the measure.

Kevin Andrews

“Basically, this is a voluntary agreement that Airbnb is looking to enter into with the county where they will collect the bed tax on behalf of anybody who rents through their platform, and then they will remit the bed tax to us directly themselves,” Andrews said at the county’s Ways & Means meeting Wednesday. “Currently, we've been reaching out to any individuals that we can find that have been using them, their platform, and others, and having them register with us directly and pay us directly, but this would just allow Airbnb to do that on their behalf and remit the tax to us on their behalf.”

What does Airbnb stand for?
It means "air bed and breakfast," a term coined when Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky founded it in 2007. According to real estate investing site Mashvisor, the two men were living in a San Francisco apartment when they came up with the idea to rent out a lounge room to designers visiting the city. The guests slept on air beds and were fed breakfast in the morning. And Airbnb was born. 

The founders’ website lists $7 billion in total taxes being collected and remitted globally and that the typical U.S. host earned $14,000 in 2023. 

Why does Airbnb want to cooperate and do this?
“To help make sure that all their customers that are using their platform are meeting the requirements of the bed tax law for Genesee County and other counties so that they're meeting those regulations and requirements,” Andrews said.

When will this take effect? Do you have any idea how many properties this would include?
“Once we have approval from the legislature, we're hoping to have the agreement in place in the next month or so,” he said. “No, I don't unfortunately, Airbnb is reluctant to provide any specific information on their individuals and their platforms. Once we start receiving payments from Airbnb, then we’ll have a clearer picture on that going forward, for sure.”

County Manager Matt Landers said that the Chamber of Commerce provided a figure of about $30,000 annually that staff estimates would be the bed tax to come from Airbnb rentals. 

“So this is significant,” Landers said. “Even though we’re not getting detailed information, it turns out, if there was a spot check, Airbnb can go through the process, they can see, okay, there’s a fee. You can check on it that way.”

Prior to this agreement, it was up to each individual property owner to collect and remit the bed tax. This will now allow Airbnb to assist with the process, Andrews said.

“Property owners are still supposed to register and file a report to us, and we’ll still try to get that information from them,” he said. “And Airbnb has said that they’ll put information on their website about that process so that hopefully that will assist with getting people to register in their office for that.”

Legislators shouldn’t hold their breath for other similar companies to follow suit — such as Vrbo, as Legislator Christian Yunker asked about, Landers said. This type of information isn’t “as readily available” or provided by others as it is with Airbnb, he and Andrews said.

“I think they’re less willing to work with counties on this, but we’ll make an attempt, for sure,” Andrews said.

The Legislature is to vote on a resolution on March 27 to include Airbnb, an internet-based booking platform that processes transactions within the county, which would be liable for the occupancy tax on behalf of facilities within the county that provide lodging on an overnight basis, into the county’s local law, and enter into an agreement with Airbnb to collect and remit the occupancy tax. 

Genesee County offers moment of silence for sergeant whose 'impact stands as his legacy'

By Joanne Beck
gofundme sanfratello

Genesee County Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein added to the many condolences expressed for the loss of Sgt. Thomas A. Sanfratello, who died this past Sunday during an encounter with an individual at Batavia Downs. 

Stein said the 54-year-old was a graduate of Alexander High School, a huge Buffalo Sabres fan, and an avid fan of the New York Yankees. He was also a devoted dad who loved spending time with family, especially his children. 

He began his career on Feb. 29, 1992 at the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher and was appointed deputy sheriff in 1996 and 11 years later road patrol sergeant. During his years of service, he twice earned Deputy of the Year and was awarded several commendations, for which colleagues have spoken nothing but praise about his professionalism and contributions. 

“This Legislature body mourns his loss,” Stein said Wednesday during the group’s meeting at the Old Court House. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. His impact on our community stands as his legacy. May we all find comfort in knowing he was protecting us in his service. May you rest in peace, Tom.”

Sanfratello was born in Batavia to Anthony and Dorothy Sanfratello and died on March 10 in the line of duty “while serving and protecting the citizens of Genesee County,” Stein said. 

She asked for a moment of silence before beginning the Legislature meeting to honor a man who has been held in high regard by countless municipal, law enforcement and community members. The county's Old Court House cupola can be seen lit up in blue each evening, and flags have been lowered in Sanfratello's memory.

The Deputy Sheriff’s Association has established a fundraiser to help Sanfratello’s family with expenses, and calling hours from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday and an 11 a.m. funeral service have been set for Call Arena at Genesee Community College, 1 College Road, Batavia, with a burial at St. Joseph’s Cemetery. 

Sanfratello, who was referred to on Wednesday by fellow law enforcement as a friendly, go-to guy for answers and an incredible human being, is survived by his mother and children, Ian, Kyla, and Alexis Sanfratello; his wife; sisters, nieces, and nephews; his partner; two great-nieces; two great-nephews; along with many cousins and countless friends.

“He also leaves his brothers and sisters in law enforcement,” Stein said. 

Agriculture highlighted for 'vital role' it plays in Genesee County

By Joanne Beck
Christian Yunker and Danielle Cummins
Genesee County Legislator Christian Yunker presents a proclamation for Agriculture Month to Danielle Cummins, a board member of the county's Farm Bureau, Wednesday in the legislative chambers of the Old Court House in Batavia. 

Danielle Cummins hopes that when folks drive down the rural roads of Genesee County, they can take in all that goes into those rows of crops growing in the nearby dirt and how they are so integral to the makeup of the county’s number one industry, especially amidst the labor challenges of limited work hours and competitive pay of nearby states.

Cummins represented Genesee County Farm Bureau as of member of the board Wednesday during a special presentation for Agriculture Month. 

“I hope, when you drive down our back roads that you see more than just a green field, you sort of respect and appreciate what's out there and what it takes for the men and women to do that job, to do it well,” she said. “You know, we're blessed with great resources in this county. And I think we've got great stewards of the land that do those things that we can continue to have the thriving agricultural economy that we have.”

According to the 2022 Agriculture Census, there were some 435 farms in the county and a market value of nearly $360 million of agriculture items produced in Genesee County, with more than $193 million of that being milk-related products sold and $11 million from farm-related sources. 

Cummins emphasized that point, as “our industry touches so many things,” she said. 

Danielle Cummins

“You can say you drive by cornfields, and we're blessed in this area where we've got a bunch of dairy farms, and we grow more than just your row crops. We grow a bunch of vegetables and fruits in this area. So we're blessed to sort of be a grocery store in our own backyard,” she said. “And this recognition, I think, really helps bring attention to the things that the men and women in the ag community do. And then the support roles that are able to exist because of that: the one-off businesses, the farm credits, the input suppliers, the machinery dealer is here. You know, there's so many other jobs that the agriculture industry, the farms support that we're really lucky to have in this county.”

New York State has mandated cumulative labor law changes for farm workers, reducing the number of overtime hours each year until it reaches a maximum of 40. 

How are farms dealing with this?
“I think people will make adjustments as they see fit for their own labor force, whether that means they're cutting back overtime hours or trying to change how they're managing their labor force. But when you have a somewhat tumultuous economy that's very volatile in terms of crop pricing, and what we're getting for grain, certainly what you're seeing in the milk market right now when we have these labor issues, it’s just another variable to try to solve for when things may already be difficult,” she said. “So even in good times, this is a hard problem to solve, for labor is a big issue in this area, specifically because of the crops that we grow. Seasonal help doesn't help a dairy farm. And seasonal help may be useful if you're harvesting onions or a more labor-intensive crop like cabbage, just to name a few. 

“And there are certainly programs in place that help get labor here, but they're not perfect by any stretch. So there there are some challenges. And I can only speak for the operations that I have seen. There's some questions that need to be answered. But it's a tough thing to implement,” she said. 

You have said that you're not serving as the official spokesperson for all issues, but what can you say on the record about the current immigration issue and its effect on farm labor and related challenges?
“Labor challenges, like the overtime law, do impact us at a state level in terms of competing to attract labor to come work in our state when you've got Pennsylvania that doesn't have the same restrictions," she said. "So somebody who was willing to do the same work here or in Pennsylvania can make a heck of a lot more money there. They're gonna go where the money is. So we are at a competitive disadvantage.”

And because farmers are likely going to have to pay more and do less with what they’ve got for labor hours, she said, “maybe that means our cost of production goes up.”

“And that's another financial obligation and challenge that we have to solve,” she said.

Are farmers tempted to begin the planting process with temperatures climbing already in mid-March?
“This early spring sure makes it tempting. I think we heard that (at) our county meeting last night. I think it's pretty tempting to try to get your green peas in, whether they like that cold, cool weather and wet weather, we've certainly got it right now. But what an opportunity for a dairy farm to be able to go out and spread manure early and not have to worry about dealing with holding it until the weather really breaks,” she said. “So, a great opportunity for people to get out in the field and start and advance, getting ahead of that spring chore of fitting the fields and getting the ground ready and getting your equipment pulled out of the shop. But the fact that it's mid-March feels a little early, but it's it feels a lot later.”

The county Legislature presented Cummins with a proclamation to celebrate Agriculture Month — with good timing, given that the 20th annual Celebrate Agriculture Dinner is this weekend. Cummins also considers that event, meant to highlight the local bounty that goes into the dinner menu, in and of itself “truly an accomplishment.” 

Legislator Christian Yunker, a member of the farming community himself, read the proclamation:

WHEREAS, Agriculture Month is celebrated each year in the month of March. This serves as a time to recognize and appreciate the vital role that agriculture plays in our local communities, and

WHEREAS, Genesee County’s designation of an agricultural district consisting of vast, rich lands necessary for the 176,887 acres of farmland and 141,047 acres of cropland, and

WHEREAS, Genesee County farmers, ranchers, and community members involved in agriculture work tirelessly to ensure that the production of food, dairy products and other essential foods contribute to the well-being and prosperity of our residents, and

WHEREAS, according to the Agriculture Census in 2022, there were approximately 435 farms within Genesee County which produced $359,698,000 market value of agriculture products sold, which $193,820,000 being milk related products sold, and the total income from farm related sources were $11,105,000, and

WHEREAS, quoted by President George Washington, “Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employments of man”, and

WHEREAS, Agriculture Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable and responsible farming practices, as well as the need to support and promote the agricultural industry in Genesee County and encourage young people to consider agriculture as a career. Now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Genesee County Legislature recognize and fully supports the agriculture industry and urges the community to thank a local farmer for providing an abundance of healthy food and dairy products in Genesee County. As it has been said, “Farmers are our first environmentalist as they steward the land”. Be it further

RESOLVED, the Genesee County Legislature does hereby proclaim the month of March as Agricultural Month, a time to promote and celebrate the contributions of Agriculture.

Recognizing the 'many accomplishments and contributions' during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

By Joanne Beck
Brooks Hawley, Cheryl Englert, Martin Miskell
Genesee County Legislator Brooks Hawley, Arc GLOW Board President Cheryl Englert and Executive Director Martin Miskell gather for a presentation of a Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month proclamation Wednesday. 

The nonprofit ARC, established to assist individuals with intellectual, emotional, and developmental disabilities, merged the two smaller entities of Genesee and Orleans with Livingston and Wyoming in the fall of 2021 to create Arc GLOW.

Board President Cheryl Englert expressed her thanks for the Genesee County Legislature’s support of the agency during a presentation this week in honor of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

"As a parent of a young man who is served by Arc GLOW and a long-term member of the Board of Directors, I want to thank you for our partnership. My grandparents came from Batavia, so coming back to Batavia is coming home. And so when we merged as one organization, it felt good to have my ancestry honored, and my son honored too, so I'm very glad to be part of the organization that works with you,” Englert said Wednesday in the legislative chambers. “And I'm pleased that our partnership, that we work together, and our community is accepting of our folks in all the programs we do, and I appreciate every one of you for supporting us now and in the future.” 

Legislator Brooks Hawley read the proclamation given to Arc GLOW:

WHEREAS, people with a developmental disability are of all racial, ethnic, educational, social, and economic backgrounds, and all are valued members of society who find fulfillment living everyday lives, and

WHEREAS, we value what is important to people with disabilities and their families who are striving for daily lives no different than that of all other citizens, and

WHEREAS, early intervention, education, meaningful work, and home and community- based services continue to be vital to allowing citizens with a developmental disability to enjoy the rights of citizenship, achieve personal success and allows them contribute to their local communities alongside their neighbors without disabilities, and

WHEREAS, Genesee County Legislature recognizes the many accomplishments and contributions of people with developmental disabilities, we encourage all citizens to support Genesee County residents with developmental disabilities and their families in all aspects of life. Now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Genesee County Legislature does hereby proclaim March 2024 to be Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and urges all citizens to give full support to efforts towards enabling people with developmental disabilities to live full and productive lives of inclusion in our communities.

Longtime employee honored for 'spirit of collaboration' and dedication

By Joanne Beck
Mary Spaulding and Marianne Clattenburg
Mary Spaulding receives a proclamation for her more than 40 years with Genesee County from Legislator Marianne Clattenburg Wednesday. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Sometimes all it takes is a retirement to prompt folks to show up at what’s often a sparsely attended county Legislature meeting.

And so was the case when clerk typist Mary Spaulding, a 40-plus year employee at the Job Development Bureau was celebrated for her dedication with a proclamation Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse.

Gensee County Legislator Marianne Clattenburg read the citation as a group of supportive colleagues sat in the audience in the legislative chambers.

WHEREAS, Mary Spaulding has loyally served the County of Genesee for over 40 years and will retire on March 4, 2024, and

WHEREAS, on Dec. 12, 1983 Mary began her decades-long employment with Genesee County as a Part-Time Clerk Typist working at the Job Development Bureau, and

WHEREAS, Mary was subsequently promoted to the positon of Senior Account Clerk on July 23, 1984, and then Principle Account Clerk on July 1, 1987 serving in those capacities for over 16 years of her career, and

WHEREAS, Mary was promoted to the position of Accounting Supervisor on May 13, 1998, and has faithfully discharged the many diverse duties of that position since that date, and

WHEREAS, Mary has devoted her career to the Job Development Bureau as well as serving the citizens of our community, and

WHEREAS, over the many years of steadfast service to Genesee County, Mary has demonstrated fiscal responsibility, a spirit of collaboration and cooperation, and a willingness to do what it takes to keep the office organized and our valued citizens served.

Now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, that the Genesee County Legislature does hereby commend Mary Spaulding for over 40 years of dedicated service to the citizens of Genesee County and be it further

RESOLVED, that well-deserved congratulations and sincere thanks are extended to Mary, along with best wishes for a retirement rich in good health and happiness.

After a round of applause and congratulations, she was offered the chance to say a few words and joked that “I’ve always got something to say.”

“Thank you for this honor and allowing me to be part of the Genesee County team. Over 40 years I have met and worked with several wonderful people, not only in Job Development, the Career Center and several Genesee County departments,” Spaulding said. “I plan on spending more time with my family and friends, continue community service work that I do, and also finally do some traveling; I haven't done much since COVID. So once again, thank you for this recognition. I truly appreciate it.”

Genesee County seniors have until Friday to file for new tax law 'to help them stay in their homes'

By Joanne Beck

If you’re a senior aged 65 or older living in Genesee County, you have until Friday to file for a real property tax exemption that the Genesee County Legislature just voted to adjust as a means to help out qualifying property owners.

The Legislature unanimously approved Section 467 of the Real Property Tax Law during Wednesday’s meeting to give Genesee County the option of granting a reduction in the amount of taxes paid by senior citizens based on a sliding scale of income amounts.

Deputy Treasurer Kevin Andrews brought the issue to the attention of legislators a few weeks ago, suggesting that they may want to consider shifting the income amounts to better reflect this county’s senior incomes and cost of living increases and correlate with adjacent county numbers.

“So the exemption is intended to benefit individuals who are 65 years or older that are on a limited income. So for those individuals, it's a means to help them stay in their homes and afford the taxes to remain in their homes,” Andrews said, giving a tangible example of how this new law can help. “So it depends on their income threshold. At the maximum end of the scale, if their income qualifies, they'll get a 50 percent exemption on their taxes. So let's say we had somebody who had an assessment at about $100,000, and they're getting a 50 percent exemption … that would equate out to roughly $400 of savings for county tax purposes.”

That senior would own a home valued at $100,000, and with the sliding scale for an income of more than $23,800 but less than $24,800, that person would receive a 50 percent break on taxes for the $400 in savings.

The higher the income, the lower the discount, up to $32,200 at five percent. The full table is below. The caveat is that folks have until Friday to file at their assessor’s office. Andrews said that there will be an application available on the county’s website on Thursday, or one would be available at each municipality’s assessment office.

“It’s going to be a very tight turnaround, which is why we have been as proactive as possible. Kevin, your office has sent out press releases and worked very closely with the assessors in the community so that they would know this was coming out. We did have a comment from one assessor who indicated that she was going to be contacting the folks in her community that were now eligible for this revised and higher limited tax exemption,” Legislative Chairwoman Shelley Stein said. “We’re grateful for her; we're grateful for the work that you've put together to make sure that we get this information out as fast and as credibly as possible.”

There was a public hearing about the proposed change during the meeting, and no one showed up to speak.

In its resolution, the Legislature voted to adopt this measure “to keep pace with increases in social security income and to assist senior citizens with limited incomes to be able to afford to stay in their homes.” 

The scale tax exemption is as follows:

  • Less than $23,800 - 50%
  • Equal or more than $23,800 but less than $24,800 - 45%
  • $24,800 but less than $25,800 - 40%
  • $25,800 but less than $26,800 - 35%
  • $26,800 but less than $27,700 - 30%
  • $27,700 but less than $28,600 - 25%
  • $28,600 but less than $29,500 - 20%
  • $29,500 but less than $30,400 - 15%
  • $30,400 but less than $31,300 - 10%
  • $31,300 but less than $32,200 - 5%

This action is to take effect March 1, 2024.

Genesee County sets senior tax exemptions public hearing for Feb. 28, deadline to file is March 1

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Genesee County Legislature is considering a resolution to increase the income
levels for senior exemptions for residents aged 65 and over. If approved, this change will come into effect on March 1, 2024, the change to affect the 2025 County taxes. A public hearing set on Feb. 28 at the Old County Courthouse at 7 Main St. in Batavia will be held to collect resident feedback.

The proposed adjustment aims to benefit homeowners whose income falls within the new income parameters with qualifying household income up to $32,200. The previous income parameters were up to a maximum of $24,900. Genesee County encourages eligible individuals to apply now to their local assessor before the March 1 deadline. There are only a few weeks for newly qualifying individuals to apply to receive the exemption for the 2024 assessment rolls. We encourage you to act now if you believe that you may qualify under the proposed new income threshold.

It's important to note that individuals who have already applied and been confirmed by their assessor that they are receiving the exemption for the 2024 assessment rolls do not need to reapply. For anyone who would now qualify under the proposed income threshold that either has not yet applied for the exemption or was previously denied because your income exceeded the prior limit and now you would qualify, please make sure to file an exemption application with your local assessor by the March 1 deadline.

Income guidelines for eligibility include various sources such as social security and retirement benefits, interest, dividends, net capital gains, net rental income, net income from self-employment, salaries, and earnings.

Forms and additional guidelines for income and other requirements can be accessed through the following links:

- Form RP-467 Application for Partial Tax Exemption for Real Property of Senior Citizens 
- Instructions for Form RP-467 Application for Senior Citizens Exemption

- Senior Citizens Exemption Overview (Department of Taxation and Finance)

We do acknowledge that this is a tight time frame for applications to be submitted, we greatly appreciate our local assessors for taking the extra time to speak with homeowners and process the additional applications.

For more information or assistance, please contact the Genesee County Real Property Office at: (585) 344-2550 ext 2219 or ext 2215.

Genesee County land owners given to Feb. 24 for inclusion of agricultural land

By Press Release

Press Release:

From Jan. 26 to Feb. 24 a land owner may submit a request to include entire parcels of predominantly viable agricultural land within a certified New York State Agricultural District.

NYS Agricultural and Markets Law requires that the County Legislature designate an annual thirty-day time period within which a land owner may submit a request for inclusion of property within a certified agricultural district. 

This annual time occurs in Genesee County from Jan. 26 to Feb. 24 and is exclusively designed to incorporate property that is predominantly viable agricultural land – defined by Genesee County as lands that are composed of at least 51% prime farmland soils and/or are contiguous to the main farm operation.

Applications for the inclusion of land are available at the Genesee County Department of Planning in County Building No. 2 (3837 W Main Street Rd, Batavia) or can be downloaded or printed by visiting the website:

The application must be completed and signed by the landowner and returned to the Genesee County Department of Planning by 5 p.m. on Feb. 24. Due to the language of the NYS Agricultural and Markets Law, no applications can be accepted before Jan. 26.

PLEASE NOTE: Requesting enrollment of property during this thirty-day time period is not a guarantee that your property will be added to an existing Agricultural District, and it will not automatically qualify your property for a reduced agricultural property tax assessment. For information on obtaining a reduced agricultural property tax assessment, you must contact your local assessor. Please remember, that the Taxable Status Date is March 1.

Genesee County Legislature appoints new attorney, reviews busy year ahead

By Joanne Beck
county leg swearing in 2023
Mark Boylan, on Wednesday evening in the Old County Courthouse, takes the oath of office as new county attorney, administered by County Clerk Michael Cianfrini. He was credited with having "years of experience in municipal law that will start his service off with continuity of knowledge in Genesee County," Legislature Chairwoman Rochelle "Shelley" Stein said.
Photo by Howard Owens.

County officials wished outgoing County Attorney Jim Wujcik “the best” after his two years of service and with the appointment of a new county attorney during the annual organizational meeting Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse. 

The Batavian had previously asked County Manager Matt Landers for confirmation that Wujcik was not going to be reappointed prior to the meeting, and whether it was related to other litigation matters, and Landers could only respond in generalities, he said.

“I wish Jim Wujcik all the best and thank him for his service to Genesee County; however, I can’t speak to appointments made by the Legislature or comment on litigation that may or may not impact an individual personally,” Landers said.

Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein, District 5, who was voted in by her fellow legislators as chair once again, also wished Wujcik, “who is pursuing other opportunities,” well. 

The full Legislature appointed longtime Le Roy attorney Mark Boylan as the new county attorney for the 2024-25 term. Boylan has been practicing for 30 years as a third-generation legal member of the family, beginning with his grandfather, the late Paul A. Boylan.

He was admitted to the Genesee County and New York State Bar Association in 1994.

“I think it’s a tremendous responsibility and a great honor, and I feel like I’ve been practicing for the last 30 years for this opportunity,” Boylan said to The Batavian after being officially sworn into the position. “I know they’ve got a lot on their plate, and I’m eager to help. I know there are multiple contracts up for review, broadband is an issue, the jail is absolutely a high priority, and everything the chairman mentioned will require my immediate attention.”

During the meeting, Stein read a self-crafted prayer customized for the group. She asked that they be filled with hope for peace and unity in the world, and “joy in our daily lives and activities,” while also asking for further blessings for the staff of Genesee County and its “purposeful public service and care of all our residents.” 

“Please watch over our families as we serve others,” she said.

Stein also expressed thanks for the steady leadership of Public Defender Jerry Ader, Legislature Clerk Lisa Casey and the new county attorney. As Boylan indicated, she also spoke of “unfinished goals to bring to fullness in 2024.”

Those goals include a broadband contract award, and the final completion of the new jail facility on Route 5 — “on time and under budget,” she said. There is also continued work to support emergency responders, funding Phase 3 of the ongoing water project, and “judicious use of opioid settlement funds that bring about measurable life improvements in our communities.”

“This is a great group of legislators who see the value of getting our goals accomplished, providing the highest value to our taxpayers and making sure the quality of life here in Genesee County meets and exceeds what our community desires, within our resources of course,” Stein said.

The Legislature also nominated another term for each, Marianne Clattenburg, District 8, as first Vice Chair and Gregg Torrey, District 6, as second Vice Chair, for 2024-25. The remaining legislators are Chad Klotzbach, District 1, Christian Yunker, District 2, Gordon Dibble, District 3, Brooks Hawley, District 4, John Deleo, District 7, Gary Maha, District 9.

county leg swearing in 2023
County Clerk Michael Cianfrini administers the oath of office to Rochelle Stein, reappointed chairwoman of the Genesee County Legislature.
Photo by Howard Owens.
county leg swearing in 2023
Jerry Ader, reappointed as public defender for Genesee County.
Photo by Howard Owens.
county leg swearing in 2023
Lisa Casey, clerk to the Legislature.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Legislators speak up as bills go to Gov. Hochul's desk for signature

By Joanne Beck
Marianne Clattenburg with certificate letter
Genesee County Legislator Marianne Clattenburg holding the state letter of certification she just received for her reelected four-year position. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Bills that were passed in the Senate this year are now headed to Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk, and Genesee County legislators made one more impassioned plea for her to veto the legislation, though perhaps in vain, during Wednesday’s legislature meeting.

One act is to amend the town, village, county and municipal home rule law that would revise certain offices to have three-year terms and elections to be on the first Monday in November of every even-numbered year is one of the bills proceeding for Hochul’s vote.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg, who just received her state certification letter in the mail acknowledging her legislative status, takes issue with the possibility that her four years might just get cut short a year.

“And the governor has called that up, and she has till the end of the year to sign it. If she doesn't sign it, then it goes away. If she signs it, then it becomes law. And I just wanted to state my opposition; first, the way it was done. And second, it will not save any money as far as elections go. And third, it was only concentrated on certain counties, not New York City people. And so I'm totally opposed to it,” Clattenburg said. “It'll skew everyone's terms. I was just reelected to a four-year term. If this goes through, my term turns to three. And I just think it's wrong because we put this to the voters, the voters decided our terms. And now they want to take that home rule away.” 

She also opposes the bill because the state legislators passed it during budget negotiations, she said. The entire Genesee County Legislature sent its own letter as well as joining the state Association of Counties in passing a resolution to oppose the measure in a bipartisan effort, she said. 

Wednesday’s public appeal was one more attempt at reminding the state where this county stood, Clattenburg said.

Because today was the day (Hochul) called it up, we received an alert that we should make our sentiments known again,” she said. “So (Legislature Chair Shelley Stein) just wanted one of us to, you know, speak up and reiterate what we had said previously. And it just so happens that I got my certification in the mail today. I thought it was ironic that it says I have a four-year term. But if the governor signs the paper, it negates that.” 

Legislator Christian Yunker also spoke up about the Birds and Bees Protection Act, which he — and Stein, per her prior public comments — are against. 

This Act is a measure to prohibit the “sale, distribution or purchase by any person within the state of corn, soybean or wheat seeds coated or treated with pesticides with the active ingredients clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, or acetamiprid,” as of Jan. 1, 2027. 

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

Yunker helps run CY Farms, Batavia Turf, and CY Heifer Farm. He said that New York would be the only state to enact this prohibition of seeds treated with the particular pesticides, which he considers to be promoted by “environmental radicals.”

“This would have devastating effects for farmers in New York State. Not only would we be able to see this as an unfair advantage … it will also have devastating environmental impacts that I don’t think most realize. These seed treatments are a critical tool for farmers … it’s a safe and effective tool; it’s been proven all around the world, and New York State wants to get rid of this critical technology,” Yunker said. “So, this is legislation that makes no sense. As rural residents and farmers, it just doesn't make sense, and I just wanted a strong urge against this bill.”

Christian Yunker CY Farms pic
Christian Yunker
Photo from CY Farm website

Genesee County ratifies CSEA contract, adopts budget, sets hearing for salary increases

By Joanne Beck
Matt Landers at public hearing
2023 File Photo of Genesee County Manager Matt Landers during this year's budget hearing. The county Legislature adopted the final $183 million budget Monday, which included an increase of $20 million in expenses from 2023 and a property tax levy of $32.7 million and related $8.08 per $1,000 assessed tax rate. The Legislature also ratified a CSEA contract to be worth about $1.56 million in 2024.

Both Genesee County Manager Matt Landers and Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein were happy that a contract was approved with the Civil Service Employees Association Monday, both said during the Legislature’s meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

Negotiations ended with legislators approving increases of $1 plus 5 percent for 2024, 4 percent for 2025 and 3 percent for 2026 for the CSEA general unit, Local 819 Union. 

“I’m really proud of not getting ourselves into a long, protracted, drawn-out battle,” Landers said. 

The county legislators agreed to a three-year contract to begin Jan. 1, 2024, and run through Dec. 31, 2026. It will have an approximate cumulative budget impact of $1.23 million, with a FICA cost of $99,000, and retirement of $203,000, for a total of $1.56 million for 2024.

“We are grateful for the staff that provides the public service here,” Stein said. 

Just in time for Thanksgiving, she was thankful to “put this contract to bed and move forward,” Stein said. 

In other salary-related action, the Legislature set a hearing for a proposed local law regarding the salaries and increases of elected county officials, as listed below. 

Landers said each salary has been increased based on a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) and other varied reasons. The original salary and reason for the increase are listed next to the proposed new salary.

Commissioner of Elections - $52,966, combined with COLA, longevity pay of $800 and a step increase, would be - $55,741 ($2,775 more)

Human Resources Director - $101,565, combined with COLA, longevity pay of $1,000 and a grade adjustment, would be - $113,980 ($12,415 more)

Commissioner of Social Services - $94,325, also with COLA, an increase in longevity pay of $800, and a multiple-step increase, would be $108,624 ($14,299 more)

Treasurer - $110,639, combined with COLA, and an increase in longevity pay of $1,400, would be - $114,780 ($4,141 more)

Sheriff - $116,121, combined with COLA, and an increase in longevity pay of $1,400, would be - $120,399 ($4,278 more)

Highway Superintendent - $127,922, with COLA, an increase in longevity pay of $1,400, would be - $132,495 ($4,573 more).

The public hearing will be at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at the Old County Courthouse, 7 Main St., Batavia. 

Operation Green Light demonstrates respect for veterans in Downtown Batavia

By Joanne Beck
old courthouse green cupola 2023
Amidst the nighttime lights in downtown Batavia, the green-lit cupola of the old County Courthouse is part of Operation Green Light for veterans.
Photo by Howard Owens

If you've been driving at night on Routes 5 or 33 and looked up at the Old County Courthouse, you've spotted the green-capped building already. Befitting of a patriotic theme, the lit cupola sits above the Upton Monument from the west, casting a faint lime green glow on the eagle.

While green may not seem so patriotic, it represents a yearly tradition that can't get any more red, white and blue, at least in spirit: Operation Green Light is all about offering up one's respect for veterans.

On Wednesday, the Genesee County Legislature proclaimed this time, which runs through Veteran's Day (Saturday) as an opportunity to place a green light in your home or business window to demonstrate "respect, admiration and the utmost gratitude for all of the men and women who have selflessly served their country and this community in the armed forces." 

The proclamation continues: 

WHEREAS, the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women who served in the Armed Forces have been vital in maintaining the freedoms and way of life enjoyed by our citizens, and

WHEREAS, Genesee County seeks to honor these individuals who have paid the high price for freedom by placing themselves in harm’s way for the good of all, and

WHEREAS, New York States Veteran Population has decreased by 44% over the last 20 years, and

WHEREAS, Veterans continue to serve their community in the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, church groups, civil service, and

WHEREAS, approximately 200,000 service members transition to civilian communities annually, and

WHEREAS, an estimated 20% increase of service members will transition to civilian life in the near future, and

WHEREAS, studies indicate that 44 percent to 72 percent of service members experience high levels of stress during the transition from military to civilian life, and

WHEREAS, active Military Service Members transitioning from military service are at a high risk for suicide during their first year after military service, and

WHEREAS, the Genesee County appreciates the sacrifices our United States Military Personnel made while defending freedom and believes accord them specific recognition in appreciation of their service and to demonstrate the honor and support they have earned. Now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, with designation as a Green Light for Military Service County, Genesee County hereby declares from October through Veterans Day, November 11 th, 2023, a time to salute and honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform transitioning from Active Service, and be it further

RESOLVED, that in observance of Operation Green Light, the Genesee County Legislature encourages its citizens in patriotic tradition to recognize the importance of honoring all those whose immeasurable sacrifices helped to preserve freedom by displaying a green light in a window of their place of business or residence.

old courthouse green cupola 2023
The cupola on top of the old County Courthouse, illuminated green, at 7 Main St., Batavia.
Photo by Howard Owens

$1M of surplus money going to municipalities in Genesee County

By Joanne Beck

For the second time this year, the Genesee County Legislature is doing some profit-sharing.

The group agreed to share $1 million of unbudgeted revenue with the county’s towns, villages and the City of Batavia. Those bonuses will be arriving in denominations from about $6,000 for the Village of Alexander up to just under $195,500 for the city. 

It should be welcomed news for struggling municipal leaders, including Pembroke Town Supervisor Tom Schneider, who spoke up at the recent county budget hearing to remind legislators of the financial constraints that he and others are dealing with.  Pembroke will be receiving $85,420. 

Referred to as a voluntary distribution payment, the money is a collective unanticipated earnings from interest and sales tax proceeds. The last distribution was made in February. 

The Legislature agreed Wednesday that, since “the County of Genesee recognizes the consideration and cooperation of the Towns, Villages and City of Batavia as partners in the delivery of services to our citizens,” it would like to make this voluntary distribution payment as listed below:

  • City of Batavia - $195,441
  • Town of Alabama - $ 32,116
  • Village of Alexander - $ 5,976
  • Town of Alexander - $ 34,030
  • Town of Batavia - $143,474
  • Village of Bergen - $ 15,520
  • Town of Bergen - $ 39,781
  • Town of Bethany - $ 32,507
  • Town of Byron - $ 34,611
  • Village of Corfu - $ 11,495
  • Town of Darien - $ 73,341
  • Village of Elba - $ 8,256
  • Town of Elba - $ 27,495
  • Village of LeRoy $ 58,008
  • Town of LeRoy - $ 66,461
  • Village of Oakfield - $ 15,228
  • Town of Oakfield - $ 23,098
  • Town of Pavilion - $ 44,522
  • Town of Pembroke - $ 85,420
  • Town of Stafford - $ 53,220

The funds are paid with $500,000 each of sales and use tax and interest and earnings, according to the related resolution.

Town supervisor reminds legislators to keep everyone in mind during budget hearing

By Joanne Beck
Matt Landers presenting 2024 budget
Genesee County Manager Matt Landers presents the 2024 proposed budget Wednesday during a public hearing at the Old County Courthouse. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Pembroke Town Supervisor Thomas Schneider understands that Genesee County has some rough financial waters to navigate, however, he still wants county officials to remember that he and other municipalities are out there working to maintain their vessels as well.

"Now, it's nice that the county rate is reduced again. But I just want to encourage the Legislature to remember the towns and villages," Schneider said during the county’s budget hearing Wednesday at the old County Courthouse in Batavia. "And I know you've got a lot of other expenses and departments to deal with, but, you know, that did put a significant hit on the town budgets. And I hate to keep sounding like a broken record … we're appreciative of whatever can be shared. I'm a strong supporter of the whole ship working together to stay afloat.” 

Genesee County Manager Matt Landers released his 2024 budget and related message on Friday, and this week included the entire financial summary for the nearly $183 million spending plan, an increase of $20 million from 2023. It includes a property tax levy of $32.7 million, a $1.5 million cash surplus, a $17.4 million year-end fund balance, $104 million in revenues and $138 million in appropriations. 

This isn't the first time Schneider has come to talk to legislators about his plight as a cash-strapped supervisor, and he has been accompanied in the past by other supervisors as well. No matter the outcome, he wants to keep up with the message, he said.

“You know, I think I'm slowly getting into the fifth stage of grief at this point where it's acceptance. The local level tends to be where most of the people come to voice their concerns, it seems like, and trying to get them to understand what the new normal is in Genesee County and in the town of Pembroke is sometimes a little tough. So I don't want to upset anybody if I'm directing them to the County Legislature because, you know, our budget has not increased from 2018. We're still running at 2018 levels in our budgets,” he said. “So I would love to be able to have an increase in my budget each year, but then I've got to put that on the taxpayers and in the town, and so we have to think long and hard about those increases." 

Of the general fund expenses, there is a $5.2 million increase in the water fund because of the Phase 2 water project, he said. The good news, Landers said: “That is a one-time, non-reoccurring” cost. 

“So we don’t expect to see that in the 2025 budget,” he said. “So as far as the $20 million, $5 million of it is right there. That won’t be back next year. “$4.8 million of it is an increase in salaries and related employer FICA costs.”

People that go the public defender’s office and have some type of conflict and have to instead to assigned counsel, there’s a reimbursement cost for that, “which is causing a million dollar increase in costs,” Landers said. “The state is reimbursing half of that. But for the purposes of showing what the increased expenditures are, it is important to note that a million dollars of that is because the aid can be raised. Another $1.3 million is from NYS retirement, and a million dollar increase in Medicaid local share.”

Landers credited increased sales tax, including gasoline sales tax, and a cash surplus for a decreased sales tax rate by 37 cents for the proposed $8.08 per $1,000 assessed value. According to county history, that’s the lowest tax rate in at least 26 years, though total appropriations have risen from $72.6 million in 1997 to nearly $182.8 million in this proposed budget.

That’s in the face of some steep financial bills moving forward as the county has a looming $150 million Phase 3 water project and $70 million new jail facility in progress with the tabs yet to be paid. 

As of Dec. 31 of this year, the county will have an outstanding debt of $85.8 million for the Phase 2 water ($2.92 million), jail construction ($69.1 million), GCEDC STAMP water ($2.82 million), GCC athletic fields/gym/locker rooms ($175,000) and Wellness Center ($6.96 million), airport terminal construction ($2.9 million), and the Sheriff’s administration building ($920,000). 

Landers gave examples of some department highlights and related cash infusions, including a couple of years ago, when there were some substantial and sizable increases for one-time projects that could not grow “without our support.” 

“We once again asked if we wanted to keep that funding going on to demonstrate the need and demonstrate what that money would show as a return from the main investments. Examples are that we have our Jocelyn here from Cornell Cooperative, and we have the Ag in the Classroom program, which has been a huge success, so much so that she wants to expand upon that. There was a request to expand upon that, and in the 2024 budget, we're going to see if we can make that happen in 2025,” he said. “Workforce development that GCC has, we’ve been able to put in place, that these extra funds that the Legislature has been able to invest in is paying off in our community. 

"GCC, we've asked them to continue on with just a $50,000 increase. I say that's less than 2 percent of what we contribute to GCC overall, and inflation is going up by much more than 2 percent. So I think that's still a very, very conscientious move for the Legislature to try to keep them limited to $50,000," he said. "Sometimes in the past we would say, no increase for several years in a row. And then we would have to catch up and have to do a large shock to our budget. So I think this is a very measured approach.” 

He put $30 million in the budget for mandated services for social services and new jail needs, he said.  The new jail facility required hiring six additional correctional officers and one full-time cleaner for a total of seven new positions, Landers said. Every new state-mandated post at the jail means five and half new positions, he said.

He hopes to recoup some of those expenses with boarding of inmates from the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, he said.

Genesee County used to have a more generous profit-sharing formula with its towns and villages, and with the three-phase water projects, that formula was recalculated two years ago that reduced that flattened the annual amount, a calculation that Schneider and other supervisors have critiqued in the past. This time Schneider said he just wants to be a gentle reminder that “we’re still here” and in need of funding whenever that might be possible.

Thomas Schneider, Pembroke supervisor
Pembroke Town Supervisor Thomas Schneider
Photo by Joanne Beck

“That's really all I had to say. The sales tax agreement was changed in 2018 because the county needed additional revenue. I don't think it solves anything to be too hard on anybody, but just the fact of the matter is it does put a hole in our budget, we've not increased our spending, our revenues have essentially decreased," Schneider said after the hearing. "So, you know, I just didn't want it lost on the legislature that it is still an impact. I don't want to tell anybody how to do their budget, I try to steer clear of telling other boards and groups how to do their job, but I think all budgets do have wiggle room in them.

"I don't think there's any changes at this point to it, other than just asking for more revenue sharing, because in the 2020 sales tax agreement, whenever that was passed, 2021, there was a possibility of additional revenue if the county had it available, so I just want to make sure we're not silent in the process, keeping in there,” he said.

The county invites public feedback, Landers and Legislative Chairwoman Shelley Stein said. The Legislature plans to have further budget sessions and is scheduled for a final vote on Nov. 20.

Genesee County approves sheriff's OT, STOP-DWI grant

By Joanne Beck

Genesee County’s Legislature approved a slate of resolutions Wednesday, including funding to cover a budget shortage in the Sheriff’s Office due to overtime pay and fringe expenses for services to outside agencies, including for the air show and Darien Lake.

During the Public Service meeting earlier this month, Undersheriff Bradley Mazur explained a shortage of more than $120,000 due to overtime costs, due at least in part to sheriff’s deputy details at the Wings Over Batavia air show and at Darien Lake concerts during this calendar year.

The Legislature approved expenses of $95,000 for the additional overtime in police services, $5,890 for Social Security tax, $1,378 for Medicare tax, and $18,525 in retirement costs, for a total of $120,793. 

The county will recoup those expenses by billing the agencies where sheriff's office services were rendered, county Manager Matt Landers said. 

The Legislature also approved an increase in revenue to the Sheriff’s Office from STOP-DWI grant funds in the amount of $12,607 to cover the cost of the High Visibility Enforcement Campaign details worked in 2023.

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

The statewide STOP-DWI Impaired Driving High Visibility Engagement Campaign begins Friday and goes through Tuesday.

The message is simple: Designate a driver, and don’t let alcohol take the wheel. When it comes to impaired driving, “Halloween can turn the roads into a horror fest,” organizers say. 

While families spend time with their children trick or treating and hosting parties with loved ones, law enforcement officers and STOP-DWI programs across New York State will participate in special efforts to stop impaired driving, prevent injuries, and save lives.

The STOP-DWI Halloween High Visibility Engagement Campaign is one of many statewide initiatives promoted by STOP-DWI NY and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. Highly visible, highly publicized efforts like the STOP-DWI High Visibility Engagement Campaign aim to further reduce the incidence of drunk and impaired driving.

Reflective and disappointed: CEO extends invitation to 'come down to visit us'

By Joanne Beck
John Bennett
August 2023 File Photo of John Bennett
Photo by Mike Pettinella

After spending 40 years in a career involved with people dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, John Bennett believes he has come to know those people fairly well. And after all is said and done, no matter their struggles and perceived defects, “they’re just people,” he says.

Bennett, the chief executive officer for UConnectCare, formerly Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, or GCASA, is taking some time to collect his thoughts and plans for the agency after his request for funding was turned down Wednesday by four Genesee County legislators. 

The Batavian needs to clarify two points that may have gotten lost in the fray of comments involved in the potential deal. One is that the $100,000 request was not directly from the county’s coffers or taxpayers. The money would have come from settlement funds that were the result of an opioid-related lawsuit that Genesee County was part of, along with several other counties. 

There is some $463,000 available, and a portion of the money has a restricted use that must go toward opioid-related purposes. For example, some of the opioid funding went for monitoring of wastewater to track what types of drugs are being used in Genesee County.

The second point is that while the assessed value of the motel has been cited as $293,000, the property has also been listed as for sale on LoopNet. That listing does not include an asking price; however, gives the estimated market value of the property as $970,343. That is how the purchase price landed at $800,000.

Aside from those two financial considerations, the legislators did not want the deal for other reasons, and those comments are what hit the hardest for Bennett, he said. 

The idea was to have a place for transitional housing to serve people in need of safe temporary housing, and it was discussed by a committee of representatives from the county, GCASA, and mental health that all seemed to agree it was a good idea, he said.

“I will say that the legislators, this group, sent a message about how they feel about people with addiction and recovery. And it's disappointing to me because I've worked 25 years in this community. And, you know, part of my mission is to help reduce the stigma of people with addiction, and I feel that maybe I haven't done such a good job,” Bennett said. “If that's the way some people in the legislature still feel about having us in the community and the people we serve … I'm trying to take a look at all that right now.”

He invites the legislators, and anyone who is interested, to take a tour of the facilities at the newly named UConnectCare, and talk to people there to learn more about what they do. 

Bennett is concerned about how people with addictions are portrayed just because they may struggle and relapse — even if it’s multiple times. Many people have such a story in their own families, including Bennett, he said. His grandfather, whom he was named after, “drank himself to death,” dying the year Bennett was born as a young man in his 50s. 

“And my mother always told me stories about what a kind man he was, that he’d give you the shirt off his back, but he had a drinking problem, and then in her infinite wisdom named me after him,” Bennett said. "I grew up going to Al-Anon meetings. And then my uncle, who was a prominent regional director for Mutual of Omaha, was also an alcoholic.”

The point being that, yes, good people can struggle with substances, he said. 

He also takes issue with any insinuation that his agency is a drain on the county. GCASA has gotten $35,000 from Genesee County in its yearly allotment. 

“We’re very appreciative of that, but that’s all we get in a $12 million budget,” he said. “So we’re not a drain on this county at all. In fact, we bring a lot of business. And the building that I sit in, we bought the building at auction. It was abandoned and dilapidated. It was empty for like 10 years. And nobody was paying taxes on it. That’s why we ended up buying it at auction,” he said.

The agency helps to boost the local economy by hiring local contractors for that work, and the 76 percent of its 200-person staff that lives and works in Genesee and Orleans counties, he said. 

“You can come come down to visit us. If you really serve in the community, come down and take a tour of our buildings, meet my staff, and meet some of the people that we service. They'll be willing to talk to you. But don't step up in public and say things that you don't really know anything about. That's my message,” he said. “Some people are there at the worst. They're down and out, and they're at the worst point of their life, and they need help. And, you know, you have to be willing to work for those people, too. So, yeah, I'm disappointed. I'm okay with making a decision not to give the money. I mean, that's not really the issue. The issue was how it was managed, the things that were said.”

Prior coverage:

Genesee 'all in' on effort to challenge decision to restructure WROTB board; Vacco hired to lead lawsuit

By Mike Pettinella

Calling it “a significant overreach of our Home Rule,” Genesee County Legislator Chair Rochelle Stein said the legislature is fully invested in legal action to overturn a decision by New York State lawmakers to restructure the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors.

“In our minds, this is a significant overreach of our Home Rule, and we counties must protect our constitutional rights in New York State,” she said today. “We cannot allow for that to be overwritten by an action of the government.”

Stein confirmed that Dennis Vacco, former state attorney general and federal prosecutor, has been hired by Genesee County and other Republican-leaning counties in Western New York that benefit from WROTB, which is based in Batavia.

“This is definitely a joint effort,” she said, adding that the cost of litigation will be shared by the counties involved.

The Batavian reached out this morning to County Attorney James Wujcik and to Vacco’s office in an effort to determine which counties are participating in the lawsuit and to find out more details about the cost-sharing agreement.

In late June, the Genesee County Legislature passed a resolution supporting legal action and the desire to participate with other rural counties.

All 17 director positions, except Schuyler County, have been reappointed since action by Gov. Hochul and other lawmakers in Albany to dismantle the WROTB board.

The latest to join is James A. Wilmot, who will represent Monroe County. The board is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

Second year's a charm as county legislators work together for Chuckwagon feast

By Joanne Beck
Genesee County legislature at Genesee County Fair
Genesee County Legislator Gary Maha, left works the grill Tuesday at the Chuckwagon as fellow legislators Brooks Hawley and Gregg Torrey assist during the Genesee County Fair.
Photo by Howard Owens.

For the second year in a row, Genesee County Legislator Chad Klotzbach apparently drew the short straw when volunteering to man the Chuckwagon at the county fair Tuesday. 

After all, he was positioned in the hottest spot in the house — at the fryer. While his colleagues took orders, served drinks, flipped burgers and hotdogs on the grill and handled the incoming cash at the front, Klotzbach dropped baskets of fries into hot steamy vats of oil.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he jokingly said. “If it’s still frozen, then it’s not cooked enough, and if it’s burnt, then it’s overcooked.”

The group of legislators participated in the fair parade and then marched off to their designated corners to hustle up food for hungry fair-goers. The lines never seemed to slow down during their shift from 7 to 10 p.m.

Every now and then, Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein would yell out “ding, ding, ding” when a patron stuffed a tip into their jar, which was full of dollar bills. 

County Clerk Lisa Casey was busy crushing Doritos and adding lettuce, tomatoes, meat and sauce. “I’m taco in a bag,” she said of her role, and “nachos.”

While the group was raking in the dough during the evening, it wasn’t going into their own pockets.

“We do this to support the fair and the organization that makes money for programs for Genesee County agriculture,” Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said, answering The Batavian’s question of who works the hardest out of their group.  “I have no idea who works the hardest. I think Chad has the hardest job. We're all one big well-oiled machine this year.”

With about 90 minutes down, and 90 more to go, she could attest to it being “busy and hot like it was last year.” It was more difficult to get a few words out of Legislator John Deleo, as every few moments, he received orders for drinks, mostly chilled Gatorades and a few Blue Lights.

In assembly line fashion, someone next to the cooler — an increasingly familiar face in Western New York — grabbed the drinks and handed them off to Deleo, who then delivered them to the front-end workers. This group just wanted to help out the fair, he said.

“It’s kind of our contribution to help out, to keep the pressure on, and if you notice every year it's getting better and better,” he said, interrupting his train of thought for more drinks, one being recommended that goes good with the fried dough.  “There's a lot of volunteers here, which really helped the community and everything. So if you notice, it used to be the churches they don't do that. So now this is the big community get-together. But it's good to see a lot of people here that you do know, and it's always good.”

Wait a minute, was that George Borrello (R, C) representing the 57th Senate District, slinging chuckwagon grub behind the counter and helping to serve cold drinks from the cooler? Yes. He came here for the parade, to see some 4-H kids, livestock and other fairgrounds action.

“And I thought I'd jump back and help out the county legislators here, and I'm a public servant. I can also serve french fries and hot dogs. Obviously, agriculture's there as well. First of all, not only am I the state senator, but I'm also the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. So agriculture is the biggest industry in New York State,” he said. “And fairs like the Genesee County Fair help highlight agriculture and the importance it is to our economy. So, I think it's great to be here. There are a lot of people that come to the fair that may not have a chance to go to a farm or to understand what it's like to raise animals to care for animals. 

“You know, people don't know where their food comes from. So something like Genesee County Fair really teaches people a lot about the food chain and the important standard culture of our economy,” Borrello said.

All of the proceeds from the legislators’ work, including that fat stuffed tip jar, will go to the Genesee County Ag Society. There was one more important question for the evening, though. How’d they do? Did it pass the muster of hungry appetites?

Doug and Sharon Houseknecht are regulars at the fair — they’ve been going for nearly each of their 49 years of marriage, mostly to see the parade and animals; some friends have cows there, and “we come to support them,” Sharon said. 

They sat underneath the green and white food tent next to the Chuckwagon after just finishing their meal. There were fries left in Doug’s container, and he questioned that they were supposed to be a "small." So serving size? Generous. 

How about taste?

“We eat at the same spot every year,” Sharon said as Doug answered how their dinner was. “It was great.”

Genesee County legislature at Genesee County Fair
Genesee County Legislator Gary Maha at the grill.
Photo by Howard Owens.
Genesee County legislature at Genesee County Fair
Genesee County Legislator Chad Klotzbach works the hottest spot in the house at the fryer station Tuesday at the Chuckwagon during the Genesee County Fair.
Photo by Howard Owens.
Genesee County legislature at Genesee County Fair
Senator George Borrello lends a hand during food prep Tuesday at the Chuckwagon during the Genesee County Fair.
Photo by Howard Owens.
Genesee County legislature at Genesee County Fair
Genesee County Legislature Chairwoman Shelley Stein, left, Legislator Marianne Clattenburg, John Deleo, Chad Klotzbach and Gary Maha run like a "well-oiled machine" with fellow legislators Gregg Torrey and Brooks Hawley, and County Clerk Lisa Casey (not shown) during a volunteer stint at the Chuckwagon Tuesday at the fair.
Photo by Howard Owens.
Doug and Sharon Houseknecht
Doug and Sharon Houseknecht of Batavia enjoy a meal out at the Chuckwagon, manned by Genesee County legislators, Tuesday at Genesee County Fair.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

Editor's Note: The Batavian has a booth at the fair in partnership with WBTA as part of the official Genesee County Fair Media Center. Stop by to say hello and enter our eagle-drawing contest in the Exhibition Building. We are an exhibitor and are providing coverage of the fair all week long as a proud supporter of the county fair, 4-H and the dedicated volunteers of the Ag Society. 

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