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July 13, 2020 - 6:36pm

Calling 2020 a “tumultuous year” for first-time homebuyers, Mary Leo, executive director of The Housing Council at PathStone, today presented the annual report of the agency’s counseling and owner-occupied rehabilitation programs today to the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee.

“The lack of housing choices … makes it very competitive” for those looking to capitalize on federal programs and banking institutions’ willingness to purchase their first homes, said Leo, an 11-year employee of the agency who was hired as executive director recently.

Leo said 36 of a possible 58 family units that completed a homeownership program were able to close on their first house, which means that 22 graduates are “still out shopping.”

Her report, covering July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020, indicated that PathStone’s relationships with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, Habitat for Humanity and local banks “have resulted in a growing pipeline of referrals to the agency,” which received $12,150 from Genesee County in 2019.

The 36 families able to purchase a home through the program are 15 more than the previous year.

Leo also said that finding one-bedroom apartments is a challenge, with “more (financial) support available than apartments."

She mentioned the agency’s foreclosure prevention arm that resolved 11 pending cases in Genesee County over the past 12 months.

PathStone’s Genesee County Handyman program assisted 92 senior citizens, down from 2018-19 due to a decrease in funding and COVID-19, she said.

“We anticipate a rise in the need for this service in the coming months,” she said.

On the subject of funding, Leo said funding remains “flat or slightly down.”

She explained that the federal Housing and Urban Development agency issues housing awards based on the number of counselors in the office and not on the number of clients served as was the case in previous years. Since Genesee County has just one certified counselor, it has resulted in long wait times for applicants.

Genesee County’s contribution is used for a portion of staffing costs for the homeownership counselor, the deputy of Housing & Grants Programs for grant writing and the county’s Handyman Program. The remaining funds are used for a portion of office space and supplies.

Leo said PathStone has received funding from several other sources, including Genesee County United Way, Key Bank, Citizens Bank, M&T Bank and HUD Housing Counseling.

A funding request also went out to Rochester Area Community Foundation to support the Genesee County Handyman Program, Leo said.

Direct subsidies for first-time buyers include a $300,000 grant from Affordable Housing Corporation for acquisition/rehabilitation, $40,000 from NYS RESTORE and $100,000 from Affordable Housing Corporation for owner-occupied rehabilitation.

In other developments, the Human Services Committee:

-- Approved a contract for $25 per hour, not to exceed $4,500, with Susan Gagne to serve as suicide prevention coalition coordinator through the county’s Community Mental Health Services agency. The pact is set to run through the end of this year.

Mental Health Director Lynda Battaglia said filling this position is “crucial” in light of an increase in attempted suicides since COVID-19.

-- Approved the acceptance of two grants for the Office for the Aging from the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s Muriel H. Marshall Fund – one for $88,000 for centralized intake and the other for marketing coordination. The grants are to be utilized through June 30, 2021.

-- Approved a contract with Tender Loving Family Care Inc., of Webster, for social adult day care services at the rates of $87 per day per person for a five-hour block, $105 per day per person for a full day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and $120 per day per person for an extended full day (7 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The agreement stipulates that expenses will not exceed $37,750 for the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. It is being funded by: $14,040 under Title III-E Respite grant; $18,720 from the Unmet Needs grant; $990 from Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly grant; and $4,000 from Western New York Alzheimer's Disease Caregiver Support Initiative.

June 24, 2020 - 8:13pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county legislature, covid-19, Gov. Cuomo.

Update: June 25, 8 a.m.

According to a report in The New York Times, the State of Washington has been dropped from the list after a review of the data.

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Unsure as to how Phase Four of New York’s business reopening plan will unfold, Genesee County legislators tonight were informed of another fresh development from the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo – a joint advisory mandating a 14-day quarantine of individuals traveling from states with “significant community spread” of COVID-19.

County Manager Jay Gsell reported on a press release issued earlier today that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have joined forces to impose the order on those returning to their states from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or a state with a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.

Gsell said the advisory, which takes effect at midnight, currently affects travelers coming back from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Washington.

“This has caught everybody by surprise,” Gsell said during the legislature’s regular meeting at the Old Courthouse. “Hopefully, clarity will be forthcoming, but it is causing a great deal of concern and consternation.”

Gsell wondered out loud how this travel advisory will be handled at the local level and who will be responsible for discovering if someone or a group of people have returned from one of the aforementioned states.

It puts a lot of pressure on the hotel operators, he said.

Cuomo teamed with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont at a press conference today to announce the action.

“We've been working with our neighbors in New Jersey and Connecticut throughout this entire pandemic, and we're announcing a joint travel advisory that says people coming in from states with a high infection rate must quarantine for 14 days,” Cuomo said.

The press release noted that the three state leaders will provide frequent updates and “publish on their respective websites a list of states to which the new advisory applies.”

It went on to state that the measure will use uniform parameters and messaging on highways, airports, websites and social media across the three states. The three states will also ask hotels to communicate the 14-day quarantine to guests who have traveled from one of the impacted states.

Gsell also speculated that the “compact,” as he called it, could be expanded to place quarantine mandates for travelers returning to other states bordering or in close proximity to New York.

Reportedly, a $2,000 fine may be assessed to first-time violators, with the fine increasing to $10,000 if the violator(s) harm others by ignoring the quarantine.

On Tuesday, it was announced that the Finger Lakes Region will move into Phase Four on Friday, but the type of businesses that can reopen are limited to low-risk outdoor and indoor museums, art galleries, historical venues and zoos, as well as media production companies.

Click here for a story posted this morning on The Batavian.

In county business, the legislature passed the following resolutions:

-- Acceptance of $11,956 from the Office of Justice Bulletproof Vest Program for the purchase of body armor for sheriff’s deputies and correction officers. Sheriff William Sheron previously indicated the funding will cover about a dozen bulletproof vests.

-- A contract for $97,083.39 with Johnson Controls of Rochester to replace fire alarms and a contract for $47,766.25 with Chemung Supply Corp. of Elmira to replace the bridge decking of the McLernon Road bridge in the Town of Bethany. A capital project has been established for the bridge replacement, with the local share of $50,600 to be used to cover the cost.

-- Scheduling of a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at the Old Courthouse for Genesee Community College’s proposed operating budget for 2020-21. Genesee County contributes $2,636,374 to the college’s $38.1 million spending plan.

-- Elimination of computer support technician and systems specialist positions as part of an organizational restructuring of the technology department. The two employees in those jobs currently are furloughed. The estimated cost savings in salary and benefits in 2020 is $63,613 (not including the furlough) and in 2021 is $152,671.

-- Requiring proof of liability insurance in the amount of at least $1 million from Genesee Country Farmers’ Market, the Batavia Improvement District, and the City of Batavia in order for the county Office for the Aging to distribute state Health Department Farmers’ Market vouchers to customers and set up an information table at the Genesee Country Farmers’ Market at the Alva Place parking lot from June 30-Oct. 2.

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July is Park and Recreation Month

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Photo: The Genesee County Legislature tonight designated July as Park and Recreation Month. Displaying the proclamation are, from left, Shannon Lyaski, Conservation Education Program coordinator; Paul Osborn, deputy superintendent Facilities, Parks, Recreation & Forestry, and Tim Hens, superintendent. Facilities, Parks, Recreation & Forestry. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

June 17, 2020 - 9:20pm

Genesee Community College President James Sunser couldn’t have used a more appropriate word than “retrenchment” while sharing the financial plight of the two-year institution with the County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon.

Sunser and his staff were forced to implement large-scale retrenchment – the reduction of costs or spending in response to economic difficulty – to formulate a 2020-21 operating budget that takes into account an anticipated 30-percent reduction in aid from New York State.

And drafting a spending plan that compensates professors, teachers and staff while providing necessary student services will be a daunting task for quite some time, he said.

“Indications from the state are that these reductions should be planned for 2021-22 as well, so we’ll continue to work with bringing our budget into line,” Sunser said. “It is going to be, not surprisingly like it is for the county and all other groups, painful.”

Sunser emphasized that the dilemma isn’t due to “deficiencies on the part of the staff or the faculty … but, unfortunately, it is going to require some substantial changes in what is going on at the college.”

The college’s Board of Trustees approved a $38.1 million budget for the next fiscal year that starts on Sept. 1, and that’s about 8 percent less than the target of $41.6 million (the amount of the 2019-20 budget).

Furthermore, around $2 million from the college’s reserves was used to balance this year’s budget, which may take another state aid hit in the fourth quarter.

County's share is $2,636,374

Genesee County has budgeted $2,636,374 for the second straight year for its sponsorship of the college, action that is subject to a public hearing scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 22 at the Old Courthouse. The Ways & Means Committee approved the date of the public hearing as well as the contribution.

Sunser said the county’s decision to not reduce its sponsorship is key to preventing further financial implications.

“We have had a number of conversations with the county about maintenance of effort,” he said. “Without maintenance of effort, it puts into play a number of additional considerations that SUNY (State University of New York) would impose on the college.”

Sunser said a multistep plan was put into place in order to “deal with the deficits coming from the state” and achieve the $38.1 million mark.

“Currently, the state is suggesting that next year’s budget for the college will include a 30-percent reduction in state aid. Obviously, when your operation is labor-intensive – we teach and we support students to get through their academic programs – you’re not going to be able to go through that without having some type of adjustments made,” he explained.

He outlined some of the cost-cutting measures:

-- Freezes of travel and training;
-- Deferral of capital projects, other than critical maintenance issues;
-- Deferrals of a printer purchase replacement, office supplies, contractual services, facility improvements;
-- Freeze on hiring of adjunct professors.

Salaries to be Frozen in 2020-21

He also indicated that to close an additional $2 million budget gap during the course of the 2020-21 fiscal year, significant cuts in salaries and positions have to be realized.

“We have looked at instituting management confidential pay freezes. We have two collective bargaining units on the campus – one is our combined faculty/administrative group and the other is our CSEA group,” he said. “We negotiated with both of those groups to take pay freezes so everybody will be on a pay freeze for the 2020-21 year – and that was approved by both unions.”

Beyond that, management negotiated with the faculty/administration union to give notice to employees who are going to be retrenched (or laid off). Sunser said the union approved a period of Oct. 31-Dec. 31 for retrenchments, and that will result in savings of eight months’ worth of potential salaries.

He also said a process of involuntary retrenchments to close the rest of the gap has begun, with notifications going out to the Civil Service group by July 1 with a July 31 retrenchment, and by Oct. 31 with a Dec. 31 retrenchment for the unionized faculty/administration group.

Employee retrenchment is a cost-cutting tool for businesses or organization to use in times of economic hardship – a form of dismissal due to no fault of workers. Retrenched employees are eligible for compensation along the lines of severance pay, money equal to annual leave or time off, and notice pay, and also may file for unemployment insurance.

There’s more, Sunser said, as the Board of Trustees approved a voluntary retirement incentive beyond stipulations in existing contracts with the unions.

“Through that retirement incentive we have realized 23 voluntary retirements,” he said. “Those are going to be occurring as of July 31, so that will help close that gap (in state aid) that we’re anticipating in the last month of the current year."

Programs of study are under review as well, and some may be discontinued.

“We’re talking about a 41 and a half million dollar budget that’s going to be about five million dollars less by the end of next year,” he said, “and there’s no way of doing that without involuntary retrenchments, which is unfortunate, but that where we find ourselves.”

College Tuition is Increasing

Donna Ferry, a member of the Board of Trustees, reported that tuition has been increased (to $4,550 for New York State residents) for 2020-21, but “GCC still is the second lowest in the state across the board as far as tuition (for two-year colleges).”

She also said that the present uncertainty could result in lower enrollment next year, but “the team is working really hard to get those numbers up.” Enrollment (full- and part-time) as of the Fall 2019 semester was 5,324.

Legislators Gary Maha and Rochelle Stein commended Sunser and his staff for going through the unpleasant process, with the former placing the blame squarely on Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It is nobody’s fault but Albany’s fault, in my opinion,” Maha said. “It’s the governor’s indiscriminate spending. He’s something like $13 million in debt and we all have to suffer.”

Stein said the college’s budget process was “thoughtful, transparent and clear,” and pointed out that the “communications piece of this is very critical to our community, to your staff, to your teachers, to your professors, to the support staff and to our partners in our other counties.”

Sunser thanked the collective bargaining groups for their concessions, attributing that to a “level of trust” during negotiations.

“We had very candid conversations about … how many more people that might not be able to be at the college and they stepped up, I believe, as responsible leaders and advocated with the bargaining unit groups to go ahead and approve these things -- especially the notification claims,” he said.

June 16, 2020 - 4:08pm

A partnership with Orleans County may be the key that unlocks the door leading to the construction of a new $60 million Genesee County Jail to be located just east of County Building 2 on West Main Street Road.

“Here’s an opportunity for an efficient, 21st century, state-of-the-art jail that is ready to go. We have the designs … we have willing partners to the north and in Genesee County, so we hope that it is something he (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) is willing to get behind.”

Those were the words of Assistant County Manager Matt Landers, reporting on the progress – or lack thereof due to the coronavirus – of the proposed 184-bed jail during a Genesee County Legislature “Committee of the Whole” meeting Monday via Zoom videoconferencing.

Landers said he is hopeful that state laws prohibiting a shared jail could be alleviated and that Cuomo would see the benefit of such an arrangement – one that lines up with the governor’s call to reinvent the way local government operates.

“(Cuomo) had in his budget some easing of the laws, restrictions that made it difficult to have any kind of coordination with jails in the state, but that didn’t make it to the final budget,” Landers explained. “Seeing that there are talks of a potential (federal) stimulus 4 package out there that may have a large infrastructure component to it, this could be something that could be attractive.

“It meets a lot of the benchmarks .. that you’d think the governor would be interested in. It is something that he is continually harping on – reimagining New York and how we do business.”

Along with looking at new ways to facilitate services in line with Albany’s wishes, the meeting focused on five other pertinent areas:

-- Shared jail housing opportunity;
-- Maintenance of the current jail;
-- Cost of boarding out inmates if current jail was closed;
-- Status of activity on new jail:
-- Impact of bail reform, social justice on jail population.

SHARED JAIL HOUSING OPPORTUNITY

According to Landers, who is cochairing the jail steering committee with County Sheriff William Sheron, officials from Orleans County are willing to team with Genesee to explore the possibility of a joint facility.

“Building a new jail with the opportunity to do that with a partner up north – that’s where we’re focusing our energy and efforts right now,” he said. “It’s going to rely heavily what Albany allows and what kind of funding comes out of stimulus 4 on the infrastructure side and what kind of funding comes out of Albany.”

A shared jail could lead to increased efficiency in the delivery of services, with technology likely to stay in play, Landers said, noting the current use of Skype and other video and teleconferencing software.

County Public Defender Jerry Ader said he foresees legislation to allow for a greater use of electronics for proceedings, but “it may take a while and it may not be as much of a cost-savings as we’re led to believe.”

“Right now, our jail is across the street and other than maybe bringing an inmate from the prison, which is a state cost, or if we have female inmates in jails outside the county, which might be some savings, I don’t think you’re going to get the savings you’re expecting just on electronics … that’s just my opinion,” he said.

Landers mentioned that with a new jail, “there’s probably less opportunity for that (type of) savings because it’s not going to be that difficult to transport people from the jail right here in Batavia (compared to having to transport from other parts of the state as has been the case).”

MAINTENANCE OF THE CURRENT JAIL

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said the county will be unable to avoid ongoing expenses (repairs and renovations connected to safety and mandated services) to keep the current jail in the City of Batavia going for, what could be, another three to five years.

In a discussion with the Public Service Committee last month, Hens said that $3.5 million worth of projects at the 40-year-old jail are on the punch list for the next five years if the county is forced to hold off on the new jail.

Concerning the new jail, Hens said to expect a 30-percent increase – or $50,000 -- in his facility maintenance budget to run a facility of that size, and a similar percentage add-on as the cost of doing business in New York State.

COST OF BOARDING OUT INMATES

Sheron said that the state Commission on Corrections recognizes that the county is in a “pause period” and has not indicated it would shut down the current jail.

But in case that did happen, the going rate to house out inmates is $100 per inmate, Landers said.

“It would be sizeable cost on an annual basis if we were forced to do this, if we had a population of 50 or more, but at the same time there would be the opposite cost of running a jail that would help offset that cost,” Landers said.

The assistant county manager noted the good working relationship among the COC, sheriff’s department and the architects and engineers involved with the project, so, “we would have significant lead time if there’s anything brewing that we need to be concerned about to start planning for.”

STATUS OF ACTIVITIES ON NEW JAIL

As indicated, the new jail project is in a holding pattern, but the county has closed on the land acquisition, and the schematic designs of the jail are complete, Landers said.

He said the county has two contracts in force – one with SMRT, the design firm, for about $2.3 million and one with Pike Company Inc., the construction manager, for around $1 million.

Both SMRT and Pike are aware of the county’s plight and “looking forward to getting back to work on this project, just as we are,” Landers said.

To date, the county has spent more than $1 million on the contracts, which are being funded by established jail reserves built up by proceeds of the former county nursing home sale and higher than expected sales tax receipts in 2018, Landers reported.

“We have reserves of about four to five million dollars (the number is around $8 million when considering the jail reserve fund) that are going to be used in the short term to fund these contracts until we get long-term debt financing,” he said. “Once the long-term debt financing comes in, it will cover these contracts and replenish that reserve. So, we need that full reserve to help get through what we are calling the Delta period.”

Landers said that the financing plan has been “blown out of the water by COVID-19” since it was expected to use an increase in sales tax proceeds starting in 2020 to fund the debt service payment on the new jail.

IMPACT OF BAIL REFORM ON POPULATION

Landers said recent changes to the original bail reform laws could result in an increase in jail population, but it’s too early to tell how much as courts remained closed.

Jail Superintendent William Zipfel reported that approximately 90 sentencings have been put off, and predicted that 30 to 45 percent of those people may receive jail time.

“The issue with that is, from district court, they won’t be doing sentencing for in-custody people until sometime in July, but they are starting to sentence people who are not in custody – and won’t have jail time built up,” he said. “I’m guessing our population sometime before this fall is going to come back up that 50 or so level at least.”

Landers said the county jail population in July 2019 was at the level we expected to be at in 2042,” he said. “Going back a year ago, there were concerns that we were building a jail that would be too small because our sizing had grown to what we were projecting in 2042.”

Today, the jail population is at 36, including one female who is housed in Wyoming County.

“This significant volatility is just another reason why -- until we have a clearer picture -- that we’re taking a pause in the timing,” he said.

June 15, 2020 - 8:19pm

Already reeling from three months of COVID-19 regulations, Genesee County government officials and law enforcement personnel now must deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest executive order mandating that all New York police agencies must revise their policies and procedures by next spring or risk losing state and/or federal funding.

“At this point there are no details, but all we know is that we at the county level will have to conduct public hearings and solicit public comment for, as the term was used, cadre, of local law enforcement reforms,” said County Manager Jay Gsell, speaking at today’s Genesee County Legislature Public Service Committee meeting via Zoom videoconferencing. “Everybody will be required to go through this process and adopt reforms via local law at the county level by April of 2021.”

The executive order, named the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, requires that the municipality that oversees the law enforcement agency must adopt, certify and enforce its plan by passing a local law. It also applies to the NYPD.

Cuomo, during his COVID-19 briefing on Friday, said protests taking place across the nation following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer “illustrate the loss of community confidence in our local police agencies — a reality that has been fueled by our country’s history of police-involved deaths of black and brown people.”

He said the executive order will help “rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”

Issues that must be addressed in the plan include use of force, community policing, community outreach, restorative justice programs such as Genesee Justice, crowd management, retraining for bias awareness and a procedure for citizens to lodge complaints against police officers.

The measure calls for municipalities to bring in representatives from a variety of community organizations (for example, in Genesee County, the Criminal Justice Advisory Council comprised of several law enforcement and judicial entities) and be receptive to public feedback after developing, presenting and ratifying their plans into law.

It also stipulates that if the local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible for future funding from New York State.

The executive order builds upon the governor’s signing of 10 police reform bills into law earlier Friday, with several Republicans joining the Democratic majority in voting for the legislation.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, contacted by telephone, called the reform mandate action another example of Cuomo taking a one blanket covers all approach.

“Again, he’s lumping everything into a one-size-fits-all, and I don’t think that’s appropriate with the state of the size of New York and a city the size of New York City,” he said. “We in Western New York and the Finger Lakes Region and rural counties, I believe do have strong community-minded police agencies.  And when you threaten New York State taxpayer money being withheld from those who are there to serve and protect, that’s the wrong direction to go.”

Hawley acknowledged that there are “a few bad examples in any organization,” but called it an overreaction to isolated incidents.

“I stand with the men and women in blue, unequivocally,” he said. “We need to be sure that police agencies are working in a collaborative way with the citizens they are charged with protecting. No police agency would have a problem with that.”

Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron said, by phone, that he is working with sheriffs across New York to try to get a handle on what the governor is expecting to happen.

"Our department is a New York State accredited agency, meeting all the standards, rules and regulations, and there are well over 100 of them as far as the right way to do things," he said. "All he has to do is simplify that to require that all New York State police agencies be accredited."

Sheron noted that it was the NYS Sheriff's Association that first came out with the current standards and that a few years later, those guidelines were adopted by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

He made it clear that he believes in community input -- "we do that now and that is important," he said, and rejected Cuomo's practice of "painting all agencies with one brush because of a few bad apples."

"I'm proud of our sheriff's office and it's upsetting to me that the governor doesn't stand behind our police officers," Sheron said.

In an email, Batavia City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch reserved comment until he and his leadership team learn more about the governor’s mandate.

“We are currently reviewing the executive order internally, and when I have a better understanding I’ll reach out,” he said.

Back to the Public Service Committee meeting, former Sheriff Gary Maha, now a county legislator, asked Gsell if the governor had the authority to tie police reforms to funding.

“The receipt of future state or federal funds is conditioned on the filing of the certification at the local level, and realistically, that second issue of federal funding grants for emergency management … there’s already some considerations and concerns as to whether or not he can even go to that extent,” Gsell responded.

Gsell said that although Cuomo “means business,” more legislation is likely to follow at the state level and there will be plenty of debate over the next several months.

“There will be a lot of back and forth before anyone goes diving in with both feet and potentially finds themselves, can we say, in quicksand,” he said.

June 11, 2020 - 5:01pm

With so many moving parts and so little direction, it’s no wonder the Genesee County Legislature is pulling its collective hair out trying to assemble a concrete financial plan.

Legislators engaged in a Committee of the Whole discussion via Zoom on Wednesday night following their regular meeting. Seventy minutes later they came away with updated information from high-level county employees regarding the government’s current status -- including the bad news that sales tax receipts for the month of May were down by nearly 36 percent.

As to how to proceed, however, uncertainty over another federal stimulus bill and the amount of reduction (if any) in state aid continues to thwart lawmakers committed to doing what is best for their constituents.

“Our financial situation is unclear, yet we have partners to be mindful of,” Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said, emphasizing that the county intends to share revenue with municipalities once vital details come into view.

County Manager Jay Gsell, Assistant Manager Matt Landers, County Attorney Kevin Earl, Highway Superintendent Tim Hens and County Treasurer Scott German provided updates of various segments of the government.

Gsell set the stage by reporting that the June payment from Tax & Finance reflected a 35.95 percent reduction in revenue generated by May sales and, overall, county sales tax revenues are down 5.47 percent this year as compared to the same time in 2019.

Noting the 40-year sales tax agreement with the City of Batavia, Gsell said “whatever hit we take, they’ll take the same.”

He said that the county has incurred significant revenue losses thus far in 2020, data that prompted the legislature last month to rescind the treasurer’s authority to release revenue distribution payments to towns and villages.

Still, Gsell said he is optimistic that a new federal stimulus package (Fed Stim 4) will come to fruition. Another stimulus is supported by Congressman Tom Reed of the 23rd District and New York’s U.S. senators.

“We’re hopeful that sometime within the next seven to 10 days, Washington will finally coalesce around some part of a federal stimulus package … for direct assistance to local governments across the entire spectrum of counties, cities, towns and villages in regard to the impacts upon the economy and COVID-19 expenses,” he said.

Gsell reported that the county has saved approximately $1.4 million in its 2020 operating budget by cutting programs and expenses, deferring capital projects and implementing furloughs and strategic job freezes – bracing for losses in sales tax (which already has happened) and a potential 20 percent cut in state aid.

A recap of the Committee of the Whole meeting follows:

REVENUE SHARING

Gsell and Landers proposed a revised revenue distribution sharing agreement with the towns and villages, possibly a document that sets what is shared in proportion to the amount the county receives. They said they were asked by legislators to craft something to indicate the county’s willingness to share revenue in the future.

Calling it a “balancing act,” Landers said he was open to drafting something for a second-quarter distribution, one that would be based on 2020 sales tax projections, not 2018 as was the case with the previous agreement, and one that would include wording to protect the county.

“It could be structured so that it would go down at the same level that the county goes down, but then allow for all the additional wording – reduction of AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities), cost shifts, water surcharge, equalization,” he said.

“Structure it so it is fluid enough to weather the currently known problems that are facing us – sales tax, state aid reductions, potential Medicaid cap implications.”

At that point, Andrew Young cut in, acting surprised that the idea would even be brought up.

“Why would we even be considering this at this point? The whole reason that we put ourselves in this position is because we knew nothing. We know a little more, but we still know nothing,” Young said.

“… Let’s move forward, when we do know more, whether that’s a month or two months or five months down the road, then we’ll figure it out from there.”

Marianne Clattenburg agreed with Young, while John Deleo said that since he didn’t trust the governor, “we could put ourselves in a predicament” with a revised agreement now.

Gordon Dibble also acted surprised by the proposal.

“All I ever asked for is to see a draft – I’m not even talking about voting on anything – but I’ve asked to see a draft of a potential document or something like that,” he said. “Something that we could look at, and we can run best-case, worst-case scenarios, and see what the results would be. That’s all I was ever asking for.”

Gsell replied, “We can do whatever you guys want.”

Christian Yunker and Gregg Torrey offered that the exercise would be a good faith effort to the towns and villages, but stopped short of a committing themselves to something they couldn’t pay.

Stein closed this segment by advising the board to wait a bit longer.

“What I’m hearing right now that there is still more to be learned, more to understand before any type of decision can be made,” she said. “Mandated services (county obligations) have not been relaxed. We have taken incredible steps in our government to reduce our spending, to pause and halt our capital projects, to freeze and furlough positions in the county – and those are not easy things to do.”

“I believe that we cannot make a decision, but it is a conversation that we have pledged ourselves to that there will be an intent to share and we need to continue to have this conversation in public so that our partners understand that it is occurring and it is happening,” she said.

CAPITAL PROJECTS

Hens said that he has deferred or eliminated close to $1 million capital projects for 2020, with only two fire alarm system projects moving forward at a total cost of $113,000. For 2021, an additional $600,000 in work has been deferred.

“At this point, we’ve got it scaled back about as far as I really am comfortable scaling back,” he said. “Anything further puts us in a bad spot as far as exposure or liability problems.”

He also reported a significant savings on the replacement of decking on the McLernon Road bridge in the Town of Bethany by using beams in stock to replace the entire superstructure of the bridge at a cost of only $50,000.

The bridge was scheduled to be replaced in a couple years as part of a $1.6 million project, but Hens said he decided to return the federal aid portion.

“We should be able to replace the entire superstructure of that bridge with our local share and that will buy us 20-30 years of life on that bridge,” he said, noting that the bridge will be closed only for the month of July.

Hens also said he submitted a $4.7 million reimbursement request to Monroe County (Water Authority) “to make us whole on the money we spent – that we set aside from our infrastructure reserve – so hopefully we will have that back in the next week or two.”

HIGHWAY FUNDING

Hens said that although he has received a guarantee of 80 percent of the federal Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), Extreme Weather and Pave New York funding, his current capital plan is at the 85 percent level – which means he won’t have to make a lot of cuts.

If a federal stimulus does arrive, he said he would use the extra $350,000 to Chipseal (oil and stone) county roads “to get the biggest bank for our back in regards to road maintenance.”

He also said Town of Bethany laid off its highway department for June, July and August. That means county crews may have to provide mowing services there during the summer months.

FURLOUGHS & FREEZES

Gsell said the county is saving $99,000 per month as a result of its job freeze and another $75,000 a month through furloughs.

He said that there are 41 vacant positions – 30 of them full-time – that aren’t being filled at this time and there are 40 employees who have been furloughed and currently collecting unemployment benefits as well as the extra $600 per week in enhanced benefits.

“Upon three days’ notice, if we need them back, they will come back,” he said. “We’re looking to take some all the way through the 90 days.”

The county is in its third month of the furlough and freeze, resulting in more than $500,000 in savings thus far.

COUNTY JAIL

Landers said discussion on the proposed new $60 million county jail is scheduled for next Monday's Public Service Committee meeting.

“It is paused right now and probably will be paused for a while now,” he said, acknowledging that there also are expenses involved with keeping current jail on West Main Street open for any length of time.

Clattenburg said she is concerned about funding a new jail in light of the May sales tax figures.

“We were going to build on sales tax growth and we were counting on growth level of 2 percent a year and now we have a 36 percent drop,” she said. “I think we need to fundamentally ask the question of how we’re going to fund the jail and stay within a property tax cap before we work on a framework for sales tax or revenue sharing distribution.”

MEDICAID MONEY

Legislators, in a resolution, are looking to the governor to release $469,000 in Medicaid funds stemming from the pandemic response to Genesee County to provide some partial fiscal relief.

“This would be a reduction over the balance of this calendar year in our weekly shares of Medicaid,” Gsell said. "Keep up the pressure. That money has our name on it and should be put to our use in our ability to start even just treading water with regard to the 2020 budget."

OUTSIDE AGENCIES

Legislators concluded the discussion by reviewing contracts with outside agencies.

Gsell said that $279,000 in commitments have yet to be paid this year, with the largest amounts being owed to Genesee County Economic Development Center and to Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Earl said any changes in these agreements that have no “out clause” can be made only if both parties agree.

Other agencies discussed were GO ART!, Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, Business Education Alliance, Mercy Flight and Genesee County Agricultural Society.

After several minutes of debate, legislators could not come to a consensus as to whether to stop funding these agencies or to put pending payments on hold.

German was advised that the final payment to Genesee Community College – more than $1 million – has to go out per state education law.

Legislators also learned that, as of March, there will be little or no more bed tax distribution for the rest of this year to the Chamber of Commerce, with both parties acknowledging such. The county did make a $110,000 payment to the tourism agency in bed tax proceeds generated from Dec. 2019 through Feb. 2020. (Also, the entire Chamber of Commerce staff is currently furloughed at 50 percent through the shared work program).

Clattenburg and Young said they were against withholding funds to these agencies.

“The big dollars have already gone out – we’re going to be hurting the small ones like the Holland Land Office that we fund …,” she said. “I was of the opinion that if we were going to cut everybody by 20 percent across the board, but this was my fear – that some people were going to get all their money and some people would get none of their money. So, I would not support it.”

Young said he felt it would be “more destructive to these agencies than any benefit that we’ll see out of it.”

In other developments:

-- The legislature officially welcomed Chad Klotzbach, of Basom, as the new District No. 1 representative (Alabama and Oakfield).  Klotzbach, 31, replaces John Hilchey, who resigned in May. County Attorney Earl performed the swearing in ceremony. Klotzbach’s term runs through Dec. 31, but he is eligible to run for election in November.

-- Stein, reporting as a member of the Finger Lakes Region control room, credited residents for “doing a great job … following those guidelines and we ask you as our citizens to continue to model terrific behavior … and we look forward to better days ahead.”

Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan is scheduled to begin on Friday. Business and services include indoor food and drink consumption at restaurants and bars, with 50-percent maximum occupancy, exclusive of employees, and social distancing measures in place. Also, included are spas, nail salons, tattoo piercing facilities, appearance enhancement practitioners, massage therapy, cosmetology, tanning salons and waxing services.

June 10, 2020 - 9:13pm

Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream for ice cream.

While they didn’t shout it out, Genesee County legislators made it clear that they missed enjoying the frozen dairy treats that are distributed once a year by the Genesee County Dairy Princess Court during the ceremony designating June as “Dairy Month.”

The reading of the proclamation by Legislator Gregg Torrey kicked off this afternoon's legislature meeting, which took place via Zoom videoconferencing.

In part, the decree stated that the “Dairy Industry has contributed to the development and prosperity of our community since the earliest formation of Genesee County … and that dairy farmers and farmworkers strive to produce wholesome dairy milk, which is used to make delicious dairy products … that provide health benefits and valuable nutritional benefit to residents locally, regionally and globally.”

Natasha (Stein) Sutherland, co-owner of Stein Farms and a member of Genesee County Farm Bureau, said the honor holds a special meaning for rural counties such as Genesee.

“It is well-earned and it happened at a perfect moment (where) we can stop and say ‘thank you, Dairy’ but also thank you to each other during this time when support is so needed and the industry is finally reopening,” she said.

After that, Dairy Princess Miah Werth, a junior at Elba Central School, pointed to dairy’s nutritional value as she thanked the legislature for recognizing the industry.

“Dairy is extremely important for our health as it provides a unique variety of nutrients that our body needs,” she said, noting that milk and cheese contain high percentages of essential vitamins and protein.

Werth said the Genesee County Dairy Court’s No. 1 goal is to educate the public on “how hard dairy farmers work every day.”

“It is important for us to continue to support them as they have always been the heart and backbone of our county,” she said.

She then introduced the members of this year’s Dairy Court:

Dairy Ambassadors -- Amelia Brewer, Jillian Brewer, Georgia Luft, Carolyn Sybertz and Maggie Winspear.

Dairy Maids -- Chloe Lamb, Claire Lamb, Caroline Luft and Annalise Sybertz.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg thanked the young ladies for their efforts, and left them with a reminder of past years.

“I wish we could be with you because we’re really missing our ice cream,” she quipped.

May 29, 2020 - 10:49am

With Phase Two of New York’s reopening plan temporarily on hold due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for a review of the health data by “international experts,” Genesee County business owners hoping to open their doors to the public can only sit and wait for another update out of Albany.

That update may be coming very soon, said state Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, speaking by telephone after a nearly 15-hour legislative session that ended around 2:30 this morning.

“My belief is that he (Cuomo) is going to make an announcement this morning that on Saturday we’re going to enter Phase Two,” Hawley said, after expressing his dismay over how things have been handled since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March.

“I’m not sure how he has been able to do it pretty much all on his own up to this point with looking at statistics and data as he likes to call his decision-making process,” Hawley said. “I’m not sure why all of a sudden, he wants to bring in whoever his experts are. He has quite a few around him and pretty much has single-handedly run the state for the past two months.”

On Thursday, published reports indicated that Cuomo said he has “international experts who (will) go through it and we’ll follow the data.”

“The reopening in the first five regions ends tomorrow. When the reopening of Phase One ends, we’ll give the experts all the data. It is posted on the web, but let them analyze it. And if they say we should move forward, we’ll move forward,” the governor stated.

The Finger Lakes Region, which includes Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming counties, entered Phase One on May 15.

Regional leaders were expecting to enter Phase Two today, with that action clearing the way for more retail stores, barber shops, salons, real estate offices and professional services to reopen.

Hawley said the time has come, with adherence to proper safety guidelines, to return to some sense of normalcy.

“Enough stalling,” he said. “We have done what we need to do for the last two and a half months, and we’ve been doing it well. Western New York is not New York City.”

The assemblyman also said Republicans attempted to pass a resolution to a bill last night during session “that would have taken away his (Cuomo's) powers and suspended his one-man rule, but it failed on a party-line vote pretty much.”

“We need to get back on track and have three co-equal branches of our government operating as it was intended to do in our country and our state,” he offered.

Hawley also criticized the state Department of Labor for delays in processing unemployment insurance checks for those who have been laid off through this health crisis.

“We have folks who have been waiting for unemployment for eight, nine, 10 weeks,” he said. “The Labor Department was operating under a system known as MS-DOS, which is an outdated, archaic technology that was used back in the 1980s. It was never updated in all these years.”

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein also weighed in this morning, acknowledging that patience has “worn thin.”

A part of the regional control room, Stein said that prior to official word from Cuomo, business owners could put their licenses at risk by opening on their own.

“We would just ask for additional patience and we understand that (patience) has already all worn thin. But to get out ahead of the governor is not a good position to be in,” she said.

She added that new guidance has been posted on the New York Forward website.

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

Genesee County Fair cancellation a tough break for 4-Hers

Stein said she was disappointed over the cancellation of the Genesee County Fair and felt bad for the young people involved in 4-H.

“The 4-H youth who participate in educational programs all year long, and have an animal ready to go to the Fair that they have spent an incredible amount of time, either training or growing --this type of learning experience that 4-H provides for our youth, along with the animal agriculture education, for me, that’s the hardest hit,” she said.

Co-owner of Stein Farms in Le Roy, she said she understands the work that goes into getting ready for the fair.

“It’s not just a couple weeks before the fair,” she said. “It starts when the animal is born, and there is a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into these animals and these projects. That’s where my heart really has been saddened by this.”

She said she supports the Agricultural Society’s decision to cancel.

“I know it’s been a terribly difficult decision for the Ag Society to come to, but as I see that other fairs have done the same to protect the health and safety of others, I know that just this one time, just for now, this is what needs to happen,” she said.

May 27, 2020 - 7:47pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, New York Forward, genesee county legislature, Foodlink.

Thirty-nine Genesee County businesses have prepared New York State-mandated reopening plans that address physical distancing, protective equipment, cleaning, communication and screening as they look to move into Phase Two on Friday.

County Manager Jay Gsell said at tonight’s Genesee County Legislature meeting that those businesses have “attested to having their reopening plans in place.”

“They don’t submit them anywhere, but they’ve attested to the fact that they’ve done that and that list is maintained and updated every day (by state officials),” he said.

Gsell said he expects to see a detailed listing of the business categories permitted to open in Phase Two -- professional services, retail, administrative support, real estate and rental and leasing – and also hopes that the next phase will include some parts of county government.

“There will be some guidances coming along … in the next 12 to 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “It’s not something that anyone can answer at this point.”

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, who serves in the Finger Lakes Region “control room” with Gsell and officials from other counties, said that as of Monday, campgrounds and tent camping were able to open.

She also reported that the Finger Lakes Region is on track for the Phase Two opening in two days, and that she will be seeking more information about the open meeting executive order that expires tomorrow.

Gsell also advised that a bilingual (English/Spanish) list of all the food pantries in Genesee County is being put together and that a Foodlink food pantry is scheduled for next Wednesday at Northgate Free Methodist Church on Bank Street Road.

He said fresh produce and meat will be included in the food distributed to those who are part of what he believes will be a long line of vehicles.

In other action, the legislature recognized the county’s Emergency Management Services on National EMS Week (May 17-23) with a proclamation read by Legislator John Deleo.

EMS Coordinator Timothy Yaeger said he “truly appreciates” the recognition on behalf of the dedicated, hard-working volunteer fire and EMS departments in Genesee County – Mercy EMS, Mercy Flight, City of Batavia, Le Roy Ambulance and Darien Ambulance.

May 21, 2020 - 3:05pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county legislature, covid-19, town of stafford.

An incident several weeks ago involving two non-compliant persons infected by the coronavirus has resulted in the Genesee County attorney seeking a budget transfer of $2,838 to pay the fees charged by another lawyer called into the case.

County Attorney Kevin Earl on Wednesday presented a resolution to the Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee to cover, per the decree, the “unexpected legal expenses due to violations of Health Department quarantine orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The resolution goes on to state that available funds from the county attorney’s personal services line would be moved to the COVID-19 expense line, with the full amount expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Earl said that the money is there due to the county’s furlough of his secretary.

In recounting the circumstances leading up to his request, Earl said two individuals broke their quarantine, which prompted the enlistment of County Judge Charles Zambito to get emergency orders that permitted police to arrest them and take them into custody.

“We arranged that we would take them to a facility that Monroe County had established if we had to do this,” he said. “We did get the orders, and the judge, basically, ordered (attorney) Fred Rarick to represent both of these individuals so that there would be no claims that we were taking them into custody or violating their rights without representation.”

Earl said he “clearly believes” that expenses will be reimbursable “because there was no other reason for this other than the COVID response.”

Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg asked if the two individuals would be taken to a hotel in Monroe County per a previous agreement between the Genesee & Orleans and Monroe county health departments to provide temporary living quarters for those who had no other housing.

Earl said that this was a different situation, one where a violation of the law came into play.

“We didn’t want to take them to our jail if they had been exposed or tested positive, so the Monroe County sheriff had opened up a facility -- he retrofitted an old jail,” he said. “Obviously, once we have them in custody, we have to take care of them. So, they had a facility where they could provide medical treatment if necessary.”

Clattenburg said that the two people “were going out into the community at the height of the community spread” and that county sheriff’s deputies and city police had to be called in.

“I just want people to realize that we did take the situation very seriously, and those people were a danger to others in the community and were being monitored for quarantine,” she said. “When we found not to be complying, we did take some action here and this is the result of the expense that we had.”

Legislator Gary Maha asked if the duo was taken into custody and transported to Monroe County.

“As we had hoped, the actual having of the order, personally serving upon them, and knowing that if we saw them one foot off the property, they would be immediately taken into custody was enough,” Earl responded. “So, fortunately we didn’t have to go to that step … and I think there’s also a deterrent effect … We did not have to have them arrested but we were ready if we did (with a warrant).”

The committee then approved the resolution, which will move to the full legislature for voting.

In another development, the committee supported a request by County Treasurer Scott German to help the Town of Stafford with its 2021 town/county tax collection.

German said Stafford Town Supervisor asked him if the county would once again collect taxes for the town this year, and German said yes, but the fee would be doubled to $5,000.

“He (Clement) and the (Stafford Town) board were fine with that,” German said.

The treasurer said the reasoning behind the fee increase is that the process took more time than expected and that it lines up with the price charged by Wyoming County for the same service.

“Wyoming County charges about $3.50 per parcel and that is what this will essentially do,” he said, noting that Stafford has about 1,400 taxable parcels. “This will put us on the same playing field as Wyoming County.”

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein asked if there was a measurement that would justify the new fee.

German said that if another town was to ask the county for tax collection help, he would use the $3.50 per taxable parcel rate going forward.

Legislator Andrew Young, who called for the increase, said, “It’s really not something we want to get in the business of doing; it’s just a matter that one of our partners needs some assistance and we’re going to assist them.”

German agreed and said he will forward a contact signed by both entities to the legislature for consideration in the form of a resolution.

May 20, 2020 - 7:31pm

Assistant County Manager Matt Landers provided a snapshot of the current financial status of Genesee County government tonight and, although the complete picture has yet to develop, it does present a clear view that steps being taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic are resulting in significant cost savings.

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means videoconference meeting, Landers projected that the county will be $1.4 million on the plus side before any potential state aid and sales tax losses are considered.

“When you take into consideration about $800,000 on the departmental level and an additional $600,000 through various measures and means, we’re looking at possibly about $1.4 million to the good,” Landers said. “These are all pre-state cuts and pre-sales tax implications as well, and doesn’t have mortgage tax figured in – and that could be another $100,000 or so.”

Landers reported information received from department heads and County Treasurer Scott German as the basis for his forecast.

“In general, what got reported back to us … in essence, the savings on a departmental level are about $800,000 on their budgets through the course of the year and going forward, projecting out,” he said.

He said departmental revenues would decline by $1.5 to $1.6 million for the year, but expenses will be down about $2.4 million for the year – resulting in the $800,000 savings.

“A large chunk of that is the jail, which has significant savings,” he offered. “They’re looking at roughly a net savings of $370,000, primarily from not boarding out, medical savings, food savings. They budgeted boarding out males and females and, obviously, they’re not boarding anybody out.”

Beyond that, Landers said the county health department’s preschool (ages) 3-5 program will see a savings of $308,000 as schools have been closed. This program primarily consists of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and other programming.

Moreover, the county’s hiring freeze and furlough strategies are on track to produce savings of $236,000 and $160,000, respectively, he said.

Landers said that additional revenue is expected in tax foreclosure properties ($131,000), contingency costs not utilized ($35,000), forfeited bail ($25,000) and delaying of projects ($100,000), which more than offset losses in interest earnings ($100,000) and Western Regional Off-Track Betting revenue ($35,000).

“At this point in time, I’m happy to see that we’re a million-four to the good versus a million-four to the bad … but we’re really at a wait-and-see situation right now until we can really see what is going to happen with the state reimbursement on state aid, the sales tax money and (federal) stimulus four,” he said.

Landers also said that a fourth federal stimulus package to help states and local governments would make paint a much brighter picture for the county.

“If we receive a windfall of money to help offset our sales tax losses, the ripple effect is huge because that would also mean that the state is receiving something else,” he said. “And it would not need to give a pass-down, devastating state aid cut that could be from a couple million to seven or eight million dollars they could hit us with.”

County Manager Jay Gsell advised the committee that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has three state budget “measurement periods” at his disposal.

The first (the month of April) has already passed but an announcement is “imminent,” Gsell said, and the others are May 1 through June 30, and July 1 through the end of the year.

He said that negotiations are taking place at the federal level in regard to another stimulus package, expressing the opinion that the bill recently passed by the House of Representatives will not pass as presented.

“That does not look like that (HEROES Act) is going anywhere,” he said. “Our NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties) people last night were telling us that looks like it is strictly a negotiating standpoint, and not a viable piece of federal legislation.”

Gsell said if a bill that is acceptable to both the House and Senate does materialize it likely won’t happen until June.

In a related financial development, the committee forwarded a resolution authorizing County Treasurer Scott German to distribute mortgage tax money to the City of Batavia, towns and villages – an amount totaling $388,967.72 – as follows:

-- City of Batavia, $103,929.86;
-- Town of Alabama, $7,911.34;
-- Town of Alexander, $15,902.45;
-- Town of Batavia, $46,467.74;
-- Town of Bergen, $14,956.42;
-- Town of Bethany, $7,929.85;
-- Town of Byron, $18,118.73;
-- Town of Darien, $31,923.49;
-- Town of Elba, $9,388.03;
-- Town of Le Roy, $33,675.72;
-- Town of Oakfield, $13,118.74;
-- Town of Pavilion, $16,232.73;
-- Town of Pembroke, $31,468.05;
-- Town of Stafford, $18,986.41;
-- Village of Alexander, $1,649.66;
-- Village of Attica, $565.80;
-- Village of Bergen, $1,998.11;
-- Village of Elba, $1,154.38;
-- Village of Le Roy, $9,670.41;
-- Village of Oakfield, $2,021.87;
-- Village of Corfu, $1,897.

The total is more than $126,000 that was distributed as the first payment of 2019 and the most for the same time period in the last eight years.

May 19, 2020 - 1:23pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county legislature, public service committee.

The Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee on Monday authorized the legislature chair and county treasurer to act quickly toward securing a $69,000 aviation grant being funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens told the committee that news of the award was received earlier in the day and has to be approved and returned to the Federal Aviation Administration by June 18.

“This is a $69,000 grant that is being provided to all of the general aviation facilities across the nation,” Hens said. “It is being funded under the CARES Act and is intended to be used as stimulus for airports because obviously air traffic has dropped off of the face of the earth.”

Hens said the grant will replace funds that were set to be taken from the county’s 1 percent sales tax fund and will come in handy since he expects fuel sales revenue at the airport to decline this summer.

He said that he and County Treasurer Scott German believe that the best way to proceed is to use the $69,000 toward “the existing debt service that we pay on the terminal and main hangar when it was constructed.”

The measure will be forwarded to the legislature’s Ways & Means Committee for consideration at its meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

In other action, the PSC approved the following:

-- A resolution to sign a construction contract with Occhino Corp. of West Seneca in the amount of $496,526.70 and a consultant agreement with Lu Engineers of Rochester in the amount of $112,000 to work on the replacement of the Whitney Creek bridge on Judge Road in the Town of Alabama.

Hens said Occhino’s bid came in at nearly $180,000 less than engineers’ estimate for the construction portion of the project.

“The two contracts together ($608,000) are lower than what we figured to spend on just the construction contract,” Hens said, adding that the capital project will be funded by federal aid (80 percent) with a 15 percent state match and a 5 percent match from local sales tax. “So, we’ll end up using quite a bit less in sales tax than we thought.”

He said the county has received a “solid green light” from both the federal and state level to continue forward on this funding and expects work to start soon.

-- A resolution to renew a contract with the NOCO Company for unleaded and diesel fuel for use at the fuel farms at the highway garage on Cedar Street and at the Town of Batavia highway department on West Main Street Road.

Hens said the county will be paying uncommonly low prices this year – 64 cents per gallon for unleaded and $1.09 per gallon for diesel. That’s a drop from $2.09 and $2.35, respectively, from the prices at this time last year.

He said he anticipates spending around $600,000 to $700,000 for fuel in 2020 -- a significant savings from the $1 million the county spent in 2019.

Committee members then asked Hens to look into a bulk purchase in advance – sort of a “futures contract” – to see if he could lock in the low rates for an extended period of time.

-- Resolutions reappointing Thomas Schubmehl of Pembroke to serve another term on the Genesee County Planning Board through May 31, 2023, and Janette Veazey-Post of Oakfield and LuAnne McKenzie of Pavilion to serve another term on the Genesee County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board through June 1, 2023.

May 19, 2020 - 11:27am

Genesee County legislators, governmental leaders and law enforcement personnel are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to sinking money into the existing County Jail on West Main Street while a $60 million new jail project remains on hold.

Members of the Public Service Committee, maintenance department heads and jail officials engaged in a 30-minute Zoom videoconferencing discussion on Monday, with everyone, at debate’s end, agreeing to spend only what is necessary to keep the current jail functioning at acceptable levels.

 “If the new jail is deferred for any length of time, relative to revenue problems, we have an existing facility that we basically have been duct-taping and bailing twine together for the last couple years with the expectation that we’d have a new facility in its place,” said Tim Hens, county highway superintendent who also oversees capital projects.

Hens said that $3.5 million worth of projects at the 40-year-old jail are “in the can” for the next five years if the county is forced to slam the brakes on the 184-bed, four-pod state-mandated new jail that was moving at full speed ahead in February – just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head.

He said that replacement and/or repair of the heating/cooling system, fire protection/sprinkler system and plumbing top the list of items that need to be addressed, estimating the “high priority stuff” at $1.5 million.

“And that’s just looking at the jail, the rear portion of the building. This doesn’t consider the Genesee Justice and the front end of the building, which has its own issues and problems,” he said. “There is easily three quarters of a million dollars that you can put on the front end of the building just from a cosmetic stonework standpoint.”

Operationally, things could become much more expensive should the New York State Commission of Correction (COC) require Genesee County to start housing females at the jail, said Hens, noting that he has had talks with Sheriff William Sheron about that possibility.

“The operational change to do that would be very, very costly. I don’t even know how you begin to peel that off. You’d probably have to do another study. You’d have to parcel out a floor for females versus males, there would be significant capital change to adjust how the jail operates,” he said.

At this time, the jail population consists of 32 men and one woman (who is being held at a neighboring county jail).

Sheron said that extensive renovations would have to be made to the interior of the jail and that programming and compliance changes would need to be implemented to accommodate the female population.

“What that would entail at this point?” he asked. “I estimate millions of dollars to do that.”

Legislator Andrew Young inquired if any word had come down from the COC or anywhere else about directing the county to house female prisoners.

Jail Superintendent William Zipfel answered that one of the reasons for a new jail is so the county could “bring female inmates back into our own jurisdiction.”

“They’ve already taken our variance away for males and weekenders and it’s only a matter of time, I feel, before that will go away for females, and they’ll say, ‘Well, population is down and you’ll have to house them there,’ ” Zipfel said. “I have every reason to believe it will happen if things continue the way they are. I don’t have any reason to believe it won’t.”

Dialogue on putting money into the old jail continued with legislators Gary Maha and Marianne Clattenburg and Zipfel agreeing to not put good money after bad, except for maintenance that needs to be done for safety reasons and to avoid a temporary shutdown of the current jail.

Clattenburg suggested calling a special meeting of all the legislators.

“If we’re going to put money into a jail that we’re not going to use much longer, I think that Legislator Stein might want to make that a Committee of the Whole discussion,” she said.

Hens recommended continuing the design of the new jail to have it ready to receive some favorable bids when legislators get more clarity on their revenue stream.

“You’re going to have some hungry contractors out there chomping at the bit since the private construction has basically been locked down for quite a while now and probably will be for the foreseeable future,” he reasoned.

Assistant County Manager Matt Landers, who is spearheading the new jail plan, said the design of the project is complete.

“We’re there for a four-pod, 184-bed jail; we’re there with the design and ready to go,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of when the dust settles to see that’s going to be what we’re moving forward with. And we’ll continue to have discussions with our regional partners.”

Landers added that county officials have built a solid relationship with the state and that COC officials would understand that “we’re at a reasonable place” with the design and haven’t abandoned the project.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said this is an instance where the county can act upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plea to “reimagine government -- and especially in regard to this incredible cost of the jail project.”

“If we can’t move forward with talking about and demonstrating an opportunity for us to do a shared services model with the jail, we’re missing the boat as far as I am concerned,” she said. “We also need to fully understand what the new impact of social just reforms that went through this last budget that none of us have really talked about because we’ve all been talking about COVID and that’s where our focus has been.”

Deputy Highway Superintendent Paul Osborn then wrapped things up with a punch list of maintenance items at the current jail that could pop up in the coming months – two boilers in the basement (estimated at $20,000 per boiler to replace), an old generator (with renting one an option should it stop working), kitchen hood system ($4,500) and replacement of copper pipe in the sewer system.

May 18, 2020 - 9:01pm

The powers-that-be in Albany have made it clear to municipalities that they are in charge when it comes to reopening the state’s 10 regions.

-- Four phases, with each listing the types of businesses than can reopen – subject to rigid requirements.

-- Progression through the phases dictated by seven metrics tied to the coronavirus.

-- A fully regional approach, with communities prohibited from doing their own thing.

But when it comes to the enforcement of possible violations of quarantine orders, social distancing mandates or the wearing of face coverings, Genesee County leaders say they are being left in the dark.

Speaking during today’s Public Service Committee videoconferencing meeting, Legislator Andrew Young asked pointed questions about how to handle potentially confrontational situations as people lose patience with an economic shutdown that is into its ninth week.

“Let’s say it got down to the police force,” Young said. “Exclude code enforcement and zoning for a minute. Let’s assume that it’s someone’s home or something. That would have to be a police officer. What’s the threat like? What’s the crime? Is it an executive order and what’s the consequence? That’s a really gray area.”

County Manager Jay Gsell quickly responded, “Absolutely.”

Gsell, providing an update on the Finger Lakes Region “control room," reported that law enforcement and the county Health Department have dealt with issues, such as gatherings, that “might impose potential risk in regard to positive contact tracing and what the state will then look at in regard to the (metrics) dashboard that they have set up.”

He also mentioned that although the county has little input in the reopening process, it bears the burden of enforcement against acts of defiance.

“Whether it be the health department, zoning, code enforcement, basically, the bottom line, is really more and more likely to come to some part of law enforcement,” Gsell said, adding that Monroe County officials said that the State Police should be involved.

“… they would like the state patrol to be really part of this – really the bolstering of and the backup even to our own law enforcement -- if the kind and considerate request for people to stop doing something that seems to be violating or is violating the guidances, that state patrol would be there to help,” he said. “We don’t understand that that’s necessarily going to happen, but that’s what we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis with the way this entire process is rolling out, starting with Phase One.”

Gsell said the extent to which Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders come with a “certain degree of legal enforceability” is superseded by the county’s right to know what it can and can’t do in touchy situations.

Young said the county needs to look to the Sheriff’s Office for answers.

“It’s really about our sheriff (William Sheron Jr.),” Young said, calling for a discussion with the full legislature on this issue. “Does he feel he’s comfortable with this? Is he willing to do this? Does he want to? Do we want him to is another question, right?”

Gsell explained that the state response to handling civil or criminal disobedience has been sketchy.

“The state is advising us to not engage in, I guess we’ll call it the ‘heaviest hand’ but recognize, and haven’t really dealt with the idea, that there’s going to be some people,” he said. “And we’ve already run into them in a couple cases, when they are approached and asked by either health department or even law enforcement people, and the response is not what I would call positive or compliant, and then the question is, ‘Now what are we going to do?’ and to what extent is this going to become … a potential incident.”

County Attorney Kevin Earl brought up a real incident – a recent news report that police officers in New York City wrestled a woman to the ground in front of her kids when she didn’t have her mask on properly. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s response was that he wasn’t prepared to press charges over masks at this point.

“The (NYS) Sheriffs' Association attorneys wrote a very long memo, saying basically kind of the same thing,” Earl said. “Possibly, if they didn’t disperse or something of that nature, could be disorderly conduct or failing to obey a lawful order of the sheriffs, but even the Sheriffs' Association, when they talked about this last week, is not really gung-ho on that course of action.”

Earl also said that lawyers noted that the governor has pointed to a section of the public health law that could be used, but “again, not many people are keen on that.”

He said bail reform means that people receive a ticket and don’t have to disperse.

While that could lead to escalation, Earl said that a violation of quarantine orders carries more weight.

“Basically, between (District Attorney) Larry (Friedman) and the sheriff and I, we came to the opinion that the best way to do it was to get an order from Judge (Charles) Zambito, with the order saying if they did not do this, they could be arrested and taken to that facility in Monroe County that opened up for that purpose and we, of course, got an inter-municipal agreement," he said. "So, Larry was pretty much on the side of civil action in that regard."

Earl encouraged all parties involved to seek “voluntary compliance,” adding “I don’t think we want an incident of where our sheriff’s (deputy) is taking down a lady because she didn’t have her mask or face covering.” He finished by saying he would try to provide more direction for the legislature.

Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg proposed further debate while expressing confidence that the public “will make an effort to do the right thing and to remember that these precautions are not about taking away your civil liberties but they’re about the health and safety of the most vulnerable among us.”

Gsell said the emphasis must be on positive messaging.

Alluding to the “control room” meeting, he said, “that the community has to keep rallying around the idea (that) we have to get past this together and not as a bunch of individuals or as (Health Director) Paul (Pettit) would call them, the ‘COVID-iots’ running around deciding that today is May 18th and all bets are off.”

May 15, 2020 - 7:01am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county legislature, Richard Seibert.

The process to replace John Hilchey on the Genesee County Legislature begins with the Republican Party committees in the two towns that he represented, according to the county’s Republican Party election commissioner.

“The procedure would be that the Republican committees in the two towns – Alabama and Oakfield – would have to have a meeting to interview candidates to replace John,” Richard Siebert said Thursday. “Upon having that meeting, when they selected a candidate, they would then recommend that candidate to the County Legislature, which makes that appointment.”

On Thursday, Hilchey, the District No. 1 legislator, resigned, citing conflicts with his employment. He joined the legislature after winning the election in November 2017.

Siebert said the person who emerges from the committee meetings – “hopefully the best qualified person they can find,” he noted -- would serve for the rest of the year.

“And that person would still have an opportunity to get on the ballot for the November election, which they call an ‘opportunity to ballot’ and any party can do it, not just the Republicans,” he explained.

Others could run for the post as well, Siebert said, meaning there could be a contest in six months.

He also said the winner this November would serve in 2021 and then, provided he or she wishes to continue, be on the ballot again in November 2021, when that seat goes for a four-year term.

Potential candidates for the seat must reside in Alabama or Oakfield to be eligible.

Letters of intent will be accepted until May 22 and should be sent to Alabama Chairman Earl LaGrou at 7420 Macomber Road, Oakfield, NY 14125, or Oakfield Chairman Daniel Manges at 7475 Fisher Road, Oakfield, NY 14125.

For questions, contact LaGrou at (716) 912-8195 or Manges at (585) 813-3516.

Siebert said he was shocked to hear of Hilchey’s resignation.

“I can’t remember a legislator just stepping down,” he said. “I do know that John was very devoted and was a great asset to those two towns and will be deeply missed.”

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein accepted the resignation with regret, stating that “we are losing a community leader who has served the people of Alabama and Oakfield honorably and well.”

May 13, 2020 - 7:04pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, genesee county legislature.

By a narrow margin earlier tonight, the Genesee County Legislature voted in favor of a resolution that removes authorization from the county treasurer to make revenue distribution payments to towns and villages until further notice, thus rescinding agreements forged in 2018 and 2019.

Five legislators – Chair Rochelle Stein, Marianne Clattenburg, Andrew Young, John Deleo and John Hilchey – voted “yes” and four legislators – Gregg Torrey, Gary Maha, Christian Yunker and Gordon Dibble – voted “no.”

Legislature Clerk Pam LaGrou announced that the measure passed with a weighted vote total of 172, eight more than the 164 needed for approval.

Earlier, an attempt to table the resolution also failed, with the weighted vote number to table at 154. The four legislators who voted “no” to the resolution were the ones who voted “yes” to hold off.

Just prior to the final vote, Stein made a brief statement in an attempt to quell town and village officials’ fears.

“I would just like to offer that I have been having a conversation every week with our leaders and there is every intent to ensure that they are not left behind, and we are all in this together,” she said. “There is the opportunity for all of us to work through this together and make sure we successfully come through. There is intent to continue to provide support for towns and villages as we have demonstrated before and that will continue.”

After the vote, Vickie Almquist, a Village of Bergen trustee who was signed into the Zoom videoconference meeting said, “Thanks for nothing.”

The resolution to rescind the authority to make the quarterly payments has caused quite a stir throughout the county (see an earlier story from today below, headlined, Legislature chair asks towns, villages to 'stick with us and hold tight' as county deals with loss of revenue).

Clattenburg said that the resolution was necessary because the county realizes it is unable to make the payments (which include sales tax receipts) “at the level of 2018, so this takes away the treasurer’s ability to make those payments at that level.”

Her statement prompted another question from Almquist: “For ever and ever?”

Dibble, who represents the towns of Pembroke and Darien, then proceeded to make a motion to table the resolution, explaining that “such actions could be delayed without the loss of options currently available to us.”

“I’m confident that the towns and villages fully understand the negative potential this situation has created and that a significant loss of revenue is certain,” he said. “I ask that we table this resolution before us to take advantage of the additional weeks such tabling would afford us.”

Yunker seconded the motion, and that was followed by Almquist asking, “So, you’re going to do this forever then, huh?”

Then a man, identified as Elba Village Mayor Norm Itjen (see comments below), asked why he wasn’t allowed to speak, mentioning that he raised his hand at the beginning of the meeting and “was passed over.”

“This will show in a vote,” he said, and was followed by Almquist's comment, “Really, you’re never going to give us any money ever again.”

“I hope you guys get voted out next time,” Itjen said, before the duo were muted out of the meeting.

The three other legislators who voted against the resolution spoke prior to casting their ballots, reasoning that they could use the time before another round of payments was due (in July) to receive more information and provide more clarity.

Maha said he was going to vote against the resolution “because after listening to our representatives from the towns and villages, I understand their frustration and share some of their concerns with the language that’s in this resolution.”

“We have plenty of time – two months – to rescind this resolution. I think we can get together and craft some language so it isn’t so strong. At the end, it says we’re going to discontinue these payments until further notice. I think we can change some of the language that would satisfy our towns and villages and show our support for them, and allow us to continue making distribution payments to them without any specifics … as to how much.”

Torrey said he worked closely with the three towns that he represents (Alexander, Bethany and Pavilion) and the Village of Alexander when the current agreement was crafted.

“I’m not comfortable leaving them in a vacuum during this very difficult time,” he said. “I think we have time to get more clarity and draft a replacement agreement that will better serve the county and our partner towns and villages.”

Yunker, who represents the towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen, said that rescinding the treasurer’s authority to make the payments leaves the villages with “no clarity and zero commitment, and without a replacement (document).

“All we need to do is act like they are our partners and come up with a resolution, committing something to them,” he said. “I believe we have time – a distribution doesn’t need to be made for several months -- and we can work with our partners … to see what comes out of the federal stimulus, and see what comes out of the state budget and use the time. There’s no rush, so I’m going to vote ‘no.’”

In other action, legislators:

-- Passed a resolution calling on the Congressional delegation to provide counties with direct federal aid to support counties’ COVID-19 response and reopening economic activity efforts, further stating that counties outside of New York City can expect to lose between $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion in local revenue and state aid.

-- Passed a resolution accepting a grant of $74,261 from the New York State Board of Elections’ NYS HAVA CARES Act program to implement measures necessary for responsible, safe, and fair elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, for a contract term beginning March 28, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020.

May 13, 2020 - 2:38pm

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein is taking exception to what she says is misinformation about a proposed resolution to rescind revenue distribution payments to towns and villages during the coronavirus crisis.

Reacting today to news that the Genesee Association of Municipalities and the Town of Bergen supervisor are objecting to the measure, Stein said that the resolution to cancel agreements from 2018 and 2019 that authorize the county treasurer to make quarterly revenue payments to the towns and villages is a temporary move that has yet to cause “harm to anybody.”

“The legislature has considered at Ways & Means (committee meeting) that we are going to rescind the authorization for those two agreements so that there is no authority for the treasurer to write those checks,” she said. “That has to happen because there is no further action necessary for the treasurer to just write those checks.”

She said that is the key to the “whole conversation that I think the towns and villages like to just overlook. And the last three words in the resolution to rescind say, until further notice.”

“At no point has the county said there will not be any further revenue distributions. That’s a comment that comes from the towns and villages,” she said. “There are two sides to this story and it’s very unfortunate that our comments and our weekly call and awareness that we’ve been providing (have been misconstrued) because we want our partners to take action like the county has taken action.”

The Batavian has obtained copies of a resolution passed by GAM representatives at a special Zoom meeting on Monday night as well as a letter written on Town of Bergen letterhead from Supervisor Ernest Haywood.

GAM Seeks Alternative Solution

The GAM resolution – passed by a 20-1 vote with the Town of Oakfield voting “no” – reads, in part, that elimination of the funding would cause extreme financial hardships for Towns and Villages, which already have adopted budgets, made expenditures and have borrowing obligations based upon the revenue from Genesee County.

It went on to request the county to continue the revenue sharing, “and if the amount of sales tax is reduced then the amount to be paid to towns and villages … be reduced by the same amount (percentage) as the county sales tax revenues were reduced by.”

GAM President Thomas Dix, a Pembroke Town councilman, contacted today said the members understood the county’s unenviable position … “but they we’re hoping to find an alternative solution that might allow for some more revenue to be shared with the towns and villages – and the City as well, since the City has a unique position.”

Dix offered that the all governmental leaders in the county take their jobs very seriously and are considering the situation “very, very carefully from all angles.”

“They are capable of thinking outside the box and they are capable of disagreeing and compromising on any issue, always in the best interest of the people they serve,” he said. “And I take my job very seriously as president of GAM by making sure that every municipal leader has a clear line of communication with every other municipal leader. Because I believe that it's when communication breaks down that we start to see the worst problems come to the surface.”

Haywood’s letter expands upon GAM’s resolution, stating that “immediate action needed: call or email today as action to eliminate funding is set for Wednesday p.m.”

Indeed, the full legislature has a Zoom videoconference meeting scheduled for 5:30 today and the resolution in question is No. 8 on the agenda.

Bergen Supervisor: Call Your Legislator

Haywood’s letter exhorts people to call or email Legislator Christian Yunker, who represents the towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen, or Stein to “tell them to continue to share, even at a reduced rate, the sales tax revenue with the towns and villages.”

Continuing, the letter states:

“The legislature is set to take action on a proposal that will eliminate the sharing of revenue all together. We understand the county is getting less but the county should keep all they are getting and should continue to share the lesser amounts with towns and villages.

“Tell them to be sure we (County and Towns and villages) are ‘all in this together’ by the county not keeping all sales tax revenue but continuing to share at the reduced rates they receive it. Without the revenue, the town will be in critical financial shape and will ultimately next year have to raise taxes by over 20 percent to accommodate for the loss of revenue.”

A phone call to Haywood for further comment on his letter was not returned by the time this article was posted.

Stein emphasized that the county has continually kept “our partners” abreast of developments coming from Albany.

Stein: Directive Issued on March 28

“On March 28th, I told the chief elected officers of the communities here that the schedule that we had set forward for the revenue distribution – and it’s not the sales tax anymore and we have to be very clear about that – would not be met this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the New York State On PAUSE,” she explained. “The county would not be able to write checks that we could not cash.”

Stein said she repeatedly has communicated that “we are all in this together and together we are going to find a way to be successful regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State On-Pause, or the state government budget gap of $13 billion and growing.”

“And it is important to remember that this is not our fault,” she said. “But what is important for us is to have a plan moving forward. We have four points of measurement. The first one is a possible federal COVID 4 stimulus directly to the towns, villages and counties. For us, that would be a game-changer.”

She said the county is waiting to hear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding changes to the state budget, expecting between a 20 to 50 percent decrease in state aid for mandated services. Cuomo has specified four measuring periods for adjustments – the first being the month of April and the second being May 1 through June 30.

“As we gain knowledge on each one of those events for measuring where the revenue to the county is and the impact, I’ve asked the towns and villages to stick with us and hold tight,” said Stein, noting that the county has instituted hiring freezes and furloughs along with holds on capital projects. “We’ll have greater clarity and understanding as we move through these time periods.”

First-quarter Payments Have Been Made

Currently, all first-quarter payments to towns and villages have been made on time and per the amounts set by the previous agreements, Stein said.

“Right now, to date, there is no harm to anybody. Together, we can work our way out of this, but we also know that this is not a one-year situation,” said Stein, who also is heavily involved in the reopening of the economy as the Genesee County appointee to the Finger Lakes Region control room. “Our NYSAC (New York State Association Counties) group is indicating this will impact our budget through 2024."

Dix and Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post both said they recognize the county’s plight and trust that the communication lines remain open.

“My own personal opinion as a citizen, I understand that it’s in the best interest of Genesee County residents, although towns and villages do not like the idea because it’s going to hurt their budgets directly,” Dix said. “Once you understand the backside of it and … how the money is being shared and how the state impacts that decision, it is actually probably the best way to protect the interests of the residents of Genesee County.”

Post called the county resolution “a prudent measure” that eventually will work itself out.

“I don’t feel it will be a permanent thing,” Post said. “But GAM wants some reassurance that this doesn’t end the sales tax agreements. I don’t think it will but nobody knows for sure what is going to happen, especially with state mandates. The legislature has indicated there will be candor and transparency.”

May 6, 2020 - 8:13pm

Genesee County legislators are making it clear to their constituents that there is “no joy in Mudville” after having to strike out previously approved revenue distribution payments to towns and villages due to the financial devastation caused by COVID-19.

The Ways & Means Committee today, via Zoom videoconferencing, supported a new resolution that immediately rescinds measures passed in 2018 and 2019 that authorized the county treasurer to make annual payments – in quarterly amounts – to the towns and villages.

It will now be forwarded to the full legislature for voting, likely at its May 13th meeting.

“The members of the legislature do not take this move lightly,” Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg said. “These circumstances are really something that nobody could have foreseen. Hopefully, they’ll be limited in scope and we’ll get through this and we won’t have a go-around again, but we don’t even know if that’s the case right now.”

Clattenburg emphasized that legislators will stay in contact with town and village officials, adding that “when we are able to get back to them with some more revenue sharing, we will certainly have those conversations.”

The resolution refers to the sacrifices the county has had to make through this crisis, including: the elimination of multiple capital projects and asset acquisitions; instituting a hiring freeze; furloughing many (currently 48) employees; and cutting contracts and agreements with outside agencies.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said they have no choice but to stop the payments until further notice in light of the uncertainty surrounding any aid from the federal or state government.

“Our responsibility is to stay abreast of the situation of where the revenue is coming from,” she said. “The county treasurer has been authorized to make these payments without any further action from the county legislature, and that is the purpose for rescinding these – to remove that authority from the treasurer. We understand that the COVID impact could be with us until 2024 and I think that we’re being generous with that timeframe right now.”

County Manager Jay Gsell cited a report released today by the New York State Association of Counties that, he says, points to “very severe and drastic prospects in the loss of sales tax and state aid.”

The report, Gsell said, predicts that Genesee County could lose from $4.2 million to $9.9 million in sales tax and from $3.3 million to $8.4 million in state aid depending upon the gravity of the economic condition at the state level.

“This is truly not a good 'new normal' but it is something we’re going to have to deal with,” Gsell said. “One of the small glimmers may or may not be federal stimulus 4.0. The U.S. Congress and the President effectuating what we know at the moment does include resources for state, counties, cities, towns and villages -- and that our state senators are solidly behind -- (would help to alleviate the local situation).”

Legislators John Hilchey and John Deleo agreed with the latest action.

“In light of the pandemic now, we can’t fulfill our obligations to those two resolutions of 2018 and 2019 and this gives us a chance to reset with us rescinding until further notice,” Hilchey said. “It’s something we have to do to get out from the obligations of those prior resolutions.”

Deleo said dealing with the potential cuts along with state mandates is discouraging.

“The thing is, we’ve always been very thrifty and frugal, and this is definitely unforeseen and this is going to hurt,” he said. “Now to have this thrusted upon us. With all the mandates that New York State kept throwing on us and now they’re going to cut even more, this is going to be one hell of a ride.”

Clattenburg said that municipalities have entered an “age of austerity … that needs to be across every level of government.”

“I think it needs to be in school districts, our towns and villages and in city budget. The recognition (must be realized) that for a lot of people life has changed dramatically. People are losing jobs and they might not get back those same jobs.”

For Stein, it’s a matter of the legislature living up to its obligations in the most effective fashion.

“We are sharing everything we that we know and being honest and transparent,” she said. “Our responsibility in the county is to provide public health and public safety and emergency operations here, and we are taking care of those responsibilities on behalf of the entire population and communities of Genesee County.”

April 22, 2020 - 7:13pm

The Genesee County Legislature this afternoon approved an agreement between the Genesee & Orleans County and Monroe County health departments to provide temporary living quarters at the Clarion Pointe Hotel in Rochester for COVID-19-infected people needing isolation and quarantine.

The stipulated rates are $140 per room per night in April and $144.74 per night in May.

“Basically, these people need alternate housing because their present abode won’t allow them to safely isolate or quarantine” under Department of Health order, County Manager Jay Gsell said.

He added that he expects this provision to be utilized infrequently, if at all, but that “contingency plans have to be put in place during the pandemic.”

Health Director Paul Pettit said the agreement, which runs through the end of the year, is most cost effective for his department, which will coordinate transportation of infected persons to the hotel when necessary.

Expenses for this program are expected to be offset with COVID-19 funding from the Centers for Disease Control.

Pettit said individuals using this service are "compliant" with mandated safety controls but just need a suitable location for their quarantine/isolation. He said they will be turned over to Monroe County officials for their care during the quarantine/isolation period. He said the hotel rates include meals.

The agreement has been reviewed and approved by Genesee and Orleans county attorneys, but has yet to be ratified by Monroe County lawyers.

Genesee County Attorney Kevin Earl said final approval of the resolution would be subject to his review and acceptance of any revisions made by Monroe County attorneys.

In another development, the legislature, after much back-and-forth at previous committee meetings, voted to table a resolution calling for construction of a $109,000 storage building at the Genesee County Airport.

John Hilchey made the motion to table the project and Gary Maha seconded it to set up a unanimous vote that put it on hold temporarily.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens had reported that the new structure would be used to store jet fuel trucks -- with the goal of keeping the fuel lines from freezing in the winter – and other equipment, such as a mower and grader.

He said that Thompson Builds of Churchville came in with a bid of $109,000 – about $30,000 less than the next lowest bid. Funding will come from the county’s 1 percent sales tax.

Legislator concerns centered upon the amount of spending on capital projects during an uncertain financial period triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other action, legislators approved the following resolutions:

-- Implementation of a memorandum of agreement with the county Civil Service employees’ union that allows the county manager to carry out furloughs – or temporary leave of absences – over the next 30 to 90 days to cut payroll costs.

Gsell said about 45 employees are being furloughed, but their jobs will remain intact and they will keep their health care benefits, while accessing the extra $600 in unemployment stimulus funds as well as normal unemployment insurance.

-- Establishment of a county COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Policy to cover its employees for reasons related to the coronavirus on the heels of state and federal laws passed last month.

-- Acceptance of $27,883 in funding from the state Department of Health for COVID-19-related operational costs. Previously, the county received $67,490 in state funding for similar measures.

-- Renewal of contracts with Seneca Pavement Markings of Horseheads (Chemung County) for an amount not to exceed $165,000 for pavement markings and with H2H Facility Service Inc. of Rochester for office cleaning services at the Justice for Children Advocacy Center’s sites in Batavia, Albion and Warsaw at a monthly rate of $505.82.

-- Funding of a highway fire alarm system for $97,161 and an alarm control panel at 5130 Main St. for $15,000 – to be paid by the 1 percent sales tax.

On a separate note, Gsell reported that Genesee County received a significant order of non-medical cloth face masks (around 20,000) from New York State, provided by FEMA for public distribution.

Agencies or organizations engaging in activities where public interaction is involved and that need masks for staff/volunteers or the public are asked to contact the Genesee County Emergency Operations Center at 815-7178 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

April 15, 2020 - 5:57pm

Genesee/Orleans Public Health Director Paul Pettit reported a bit of welcome good news related to local COVID-19 trends at this afternoon’s Genesee County Legislature Ways & Means Committee videoconferencing meeting.

“If you look at the (tracking system) mapping around you can see that although our cases climbed collectively, our active cases are actually trending downward,” Pettit said. “That is a great sign as you’ve probably seen that in the numbers that we’ve had, where last week we were pushing eight to 10 to 11 (active cases) a day and this week it’s 1, 2, 3.”

Pettit said he is “very proud” of the department’s tracking system. (See daily update story below.)

“I’ve compared it to some of our neighboring counties and around the state, and we’re able to provide great data for folks in both our counties. We have the confirmed case layer and the active case layer,” he said.

The director was in attendance to advance a resolution showing that the NYS Department of Health has awarded the Genesee County Health Department funding in the amount of $27,883 for COVID-19 investigations, data management, overtime, quarantine support and supplies.

The resolution was passed unanimously by Ways & Means and will go to the full legislature for a final vote.

This money comes on the heels of $67,490 in state funding that was received a couple weeks ago.

While grateful for state assistance, Pettit said his department has been unable to acquire the amount of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that it needs.

“We’re still terribly short, unfortunately. We’re working with emergency management closely; there is a little bit of flow coming through there (with) some reports of levels of PPE coming in for this Friday.”

He said it is a percentage of what the department has been ordering but “it still pales in comparison to what we have asked for and what we really need.”

County Manager Jay Gsell concurred, adding that finding PPE is a statewide problem.

“Our county EMO (Emergency Management Office) people have been constantly, constantly making inquiries, and asking and asking repeatedly,” Gsell said. “The state controls all this. Where is it? When is it coming here? They’ll just tell us that they’ve got tons of hand sanitizer. That’s about what it is.”

Gsell said that the county has been working with United Memorial Medical Center and other sources to get testing kits, but is getting no answers from the state Office of Emergency Management when it comes to PPE.

Pettit said the health department is fully staffed at this point (the legislature authorized additional employees through the crisis), and acknowledged a “lot of overtime, especially on the weekends with our nursing level and epidemiologists.”

He credited other Genesee County departments for assisting his agency, including county employees who are helping to drive health officials to the daily mandatory checks on those in quarantine and isolation.

“There are some tired eyes and a lot of yawning, and we’ve been going through a lot of coffee here at the health department, but beyond that we’re holding together,” Pettit said. “It’s a group effort and people are doing a great job in tracing down these contacts and containing them, which is the ultimate goal.”

In a related development, Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said she signed an extension to Genesee County’s State of Emergency declaration to be in effect until May 12, as per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order.

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