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November 28, 2016 - 10:49am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, holiday.

It was only a few days ago, the table was filled with turkey and pumpkin pie. All of a sudden – BAM! – it’s the holiday season. The calendar says we are at December’s doorstep, so it’s time to get into the spirit of the season. Here are some holiday events happening this weekend that will certainly put you in a festive mood!

Batavia’s Christmas in the City – Genesee County’s largest holiday celebration takes place on Friday, Dec. 2nd at 5 p.m. in downtown Batavia. The entire downtown area gets in on the action with more than 18 different activities; horse and buggy rides, musical performances, contests, kids' activities, workshops, specials and so much more. The centerpiece of “Christmas in the City” is the festive parade at 7 p.m. that travels from Court Street to Summit Street.

Le Roy Winterfest – On Saturday, Dec. 3rd, the picturesque Village of Le Roy celebrates the season “small-town style” with its annual Winterfest. The daylong event is capped with the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. in the center of town. Throughout the day there are fun activities for shoppers, a holiday bazaar, children’s activities at several locations and more. Everyone gets excited for the arrival of Santa at 1 p.m. at the Moose Family Center. (Photo by Howard Owens.)

Village of Bergen Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony – Join a parade of carolers on Friday, Dec. 2nd at 6:30 p.m. who will walk from Hickory Park to Ward Park, where the tree lighting will take place at 7 p.m. The parade is guided by the Bergen Fire Department and Santa & Mrs. Claus. After the tree lighting there will be a musical performance, contests and more.

Shopping with the Spirits at Rolling Hills Asylum – Do a little holiday shopping on Saturday, Dec. 3rd, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at one of America’s most notoriously haunted locations, Rolling Hills Asylum, 11001 Bethany Center Road, East Bethany. Admission is free to shop for unique gifts, jewelry, mystic pine candles, art works, essential oils, Herkimer diamonds and gemstones, creepy dolls and more. There will also be some mini-tours of Rolling Hills Asylum for a small fee.


15th Annual Wonderland of Trees, Holland Land Office Museum – Tuesdays through Saturdays until Jan. 4. View more than 50 holiday trees decorated by local businesses and organizations throughout the historical Holland Land Office Museum, 131 W. Main St., Batavia. Celebrating its 15th year, Wonderland of Trees is a bonafide Genesee County tradition. All proceeds go to help this wonderful organization.

Create-A-Critter at Genesee County Park & Forest – Make your own “critter” as a holiday gift or to keep as your own. On Saturday, Dec. 3, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. let your imagination run wild and create a critter made out of objects found in the woods. This fun event takes place in the activity room at the Park’s Interpretive Nature Center, 11095 Bethany Center Road, East Bethany.

Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

November 23, 2016 - 11:50am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, thanksgiving.

Wow! 2016 is flying by. It’s hard to believe that it’s Thanksgiving week. We have a lot of things to be thankful for in Genesee County – including items that will make your “Turkey Day” awesome. Whether you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner, or are going to someone’s house on Thursday, here are five places/items that will enhance your holiday.

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Greg’ry’s Bakery (13 N. Lake Road, Bergen, NY)   – You will certainly be a superstar if you show up to Thanksgiving dinner with one of Greg’ry’s Bakery’s 25 delicious pies. Everything at this beloved Bergen bakery is made from scratch, so you know it will be great. Greg’ry’s also has a slew of breads, coffeecakes and rolls that will be welcomed at the dinner table. If you visit their website, Greg’ry’s Bakery has a special online Thanksgiving ordering form to help facilitate the process.

(Photo by Howard Owens.)

Oliver’s Candies (211 Main St., Batavia, NY) – Since 1932, Oliver’s Candies has been a sweet tooth’s favorite destination in Genesee County. Oliver’s uses original proven family recipes and the very best in ingredients. Glazed cashews and ribbon candy are two of Oliver’s specialty items that are welcomed at any Thanksgiving table. The fact that Oliver’s is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week should make it easy for you to stop by.

Kutter’s Cheese Factory (857 Main Road, Corfu, NY) – This is your destination for award-winning cheeses. There are so many different flavors to choose from, including all your Yancey’s Fancy favorites (smoked Gouda and bacon is this writer’s top choice!). A large selection of curds, dips, cottage cheeses, jams, spreads, and crackers are also available in the outlet store, as well as Hunt Country Vineyard wines.

Midgard Wines (purchase at West Main Wine & Spirits, Batavia) – Bring some local wine to the table! Genesee County’s only meadery turns honey into wine (also known as mead). Midgard’s delicious flavored wines are made from their own bee colony on the family farm. Mead is quite the rage in the food and beverage world – so not only will you bring a great wine to Thanksgiving, but it’s also catching the wave of a popular trend.

The Mill (7061 Old Orchard Road, Elba, NY) – If you want to spice up your house with some seasonal decorations, or purchase a small gift for your Thanksgiving host, The Mill gift shop is a wonderful place to shop. Set in an old grain mill, The Mill has a wide array of gift items that fit right in with the holiday season. Lots of items to discover throughout.

Bonus locations: After stuffing yourself for a few days, you might want to get some exercise by going for a hike at either Genesee County Park & Forest and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

November 22, 2016 - 10:25am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

Here's something you don't hear often in the chambers of the Old County Courthouse: Members of the Genesee County Legislature raising their voices and talking over each other during a policy discussion.

Members of the normally decorous body got a little testy with each other at times Monday night during negotiations over the 2017 county budget that has no easy answers as state and federal mandates continue to drive up expenses, eating up more of what local taxpayers contribute to the county budget, leaving precious little left for essential local services.

A substantial property tax increase looks inevitable, bringing it up to a rate as high as $10.30 per thousand. That's a 5-percent increase in the levy. That would mean the Legislature would need to override the state-mandated tax levy increase, which the full body approved earlier in the evening.

As members chattered near the end of the discussion about what level of increase they could accept, Legislator Shelly Stein said, "We know we’re going over. We absolutely know we’re going over."

It's just a question of if they can find a way to cut expenses enough to shrink the size of the increase, and with each member of the Legislature having a good reason to protect this or that expenditure, reaching a consensus on what to cut is proving difficult. They agreed not to eliminate the request for two new corrections officers in the Sheriff's Office, nor to eliminate a road patrol position next year. They also won't eliminate a case worker position in the Public Defender's Office after PD Jerry Ader explained that the position legislators thought was grant funded really isn't. They couldn't agree on whether to make cuts in the planning department or the District Attorney's Office -- and County Manager Jay Gsell explained why a hiring freeze would be a bad idea.

Cuts to the highway department would leave an already depleted staff with fewer people to get road work done. You would have, Gsell said, all flagmen and no workers on road projects, for example. In social services, there has been a significant increase in case load post-Obamacare with no increase in staffing. Any cuts to the Department of Motor Vehicles would reduce county revenue. 

“We are a service business," Gsell said. "Even in this day and age with all the technology, the bottom line is, we deal with people, and most people on a face-to-face basis, and if we don’t, they still end up coming in our offices to get their problems resolved. If we were retail, we could do that kind of stuff, just stop hiring people, but then of course our shelves wouldn't get stocked."

Over the course of his tenure as county manager, Gsell said, the county has eliminated nearly 100 jobs, leaving all departments operating at a bare-minimum staffing level.

When Chairman Ray Cianfrini did a straw poll asking members what percentage of tax increase would members be willing to support, there was no support for a 7-percent or a 6-percent increase, but a passing majority was willing to go along with a 5-percent or 4-percent increase.

Cianfrini joked that he knew Legislator Andrew Young wants to hold it at zero percent, but Young said he raised his hand for 5 percent.

"I understand we’ve got to increase taxes," Young said. "We can’t help it and we should increase it less by cutting more is my opinion, but can’t allow ourselves to become insolvent either. "

The potential of insolvency is a real concern for Young, who has raised it several times during budget discussion. The concern is a big reason legislators are unwilling to take more than $500,000 from reserves to help balance the budget and don't want to transfer nearly $1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from the road and bridge fund and use it to balance the 2017 budget.

Young, Robert Bausch and Marianne Clattenburg are all arguing that the county needs to come up with a five-year plan that will guide budgeting decisions, with more data and some anticipation of the variables the county might face on revenue and spending in the coming years.

"I've never been part of an organization that didn't have a plan for the future, and we don't have a plan," Young said.

If the budget process doesn't start sooner next year, Bausch said, and there's no budget discussion prior to an October meeting, then that meeting might as well be canceled right now because it will be a waste of time.

The Legislature will meet at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the budget again.  

November 17, 2016 - 5:09pm

In an effort to more effectively and efficiently deal with vacant and abandoned properties, the city, the county and the counties of Livingston and Orleans are considering the formation of land banks.

Land banks have been around for just this purpose since 1971 but didn't start to get traction for county and municipal governments until the early 2000s when Genesee County, Mich., started a successful land bank.

Land banks, which are nonprofit corporations formed by local governments, are able to acquire tax-foreclosed property on a streamlined basis and then more quickly get that property back into residential or commercial use.

Typically, land banks are self-funding, generating revenue from real estate sales that is reinvested in the process of moving more property from unproductive use to productive use.

They're particularly popular in rust-belt communities where populations have declined and industry has left hulks of buildings vacant. 

The proposed agreement between the three counties and the city has a provision for the land bank to hire an executive director and potential staff members.

The board of directors would be appointed by the government bodies and those members would serve without compensation.

The corporation would be known as the GLO Regional Land Bank.

County Manager Jay Gsell introduced the potential agreement to members of the County Legislature on Wednesday evening. The Legislature has not yet been asked to take action on the proposal.

Currently, when a property owner allows a parcel to pass into tax foreclosure, the property is sold at auction. Each local government would have the option to let a property go up for auction or transfer that parcel to the land bank.

November 16, 2016 - 10:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

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There seems to be no path county legislators can go down with the 2017 county budget that doesn't hurt taxpayers.

Nobody wants to see a tax increase, especially one that is higher than the state-mandated tax cap, but that's exactly what is under consideration by the nine-member body.

Legislators must also decide whether to spend tomorrow's money today or make drastic cuts in personnel that will leave taxpayers with curtailed essential services.

The hard choices discussed at a meeting Wednesday night left everybody a bit frustrated, Chairman Ray Cianfrini most of all, who said if the legislators can't reach a consensus and pass a budget by Dec. 14, the county will be left, by law, with the budget proposal originally drafted by County Manager Jay Gsell.

"If we're not careful, the budget we get will be Jay's budget, which is the budget we all like the least," Cianfrini said.

That budget doesn't raise taxes -- though it does increase the tax levy above the state-mandated level -- but it grabs two big buckets of money the county will need in future years and spends it in 2017.

Gsell's budget is balanced because it takes $1 million in sales tax revenue that would normally be rolled over into funding for future capital projects, such as roads and bridges, and it draws down the county's reserve funds by yet another $1 million.

The tax rate for local property owners would be $$9.76 per thousand of assessed value, which is slightly lower than 2016 rate, but because of an increase in assessed value for county properties, would actually raise more money.

Because of the state's tax-cap formula, which adjusts the cap based on changes to assessed value, the county can't approve a rate above $9.86 without overriding the tax cap.

That's something the legislators seem willing to do under the circumstances.

None of them like the idea of diverting sales tax revenue away from roads and bridges (and the likelihood the county will be forced to build a new jail within the next five years), so that proposal is no longer under consideration.

But legislators can't agree on whether to tap into reserve funds to balance the budget. There's no more than four votes for that option, even if the amount taken from reserves is reduced to $500,000.

"I'm much more concerned about what's going to happen long term," said Legislator Bob Bausch. "I'm not willing to have my kids and my grandkids paying our bills."

Legislator Andrew Young was adamant that the Legislature needs a plan to ensure the county's financial viability before he could agree to spend any more reserves.

"We're working on deficit budgets and eventually that's going to catch up with us." Young said. "We need to put a pencil to this budget and cut things."

Young noted that Treasurer Scott German has warned that if the county continues to spend down reserves, it's looking at insolvency within five years.

To that end, Young was ready to push for the Legislature to eliminate the two corrections officer positions requested by the Sheriff's Office, but also leave unfilled a road patrol vacancy that will open up at the beginning of the year.

That would save the county about $200,000 in 2017.

Cianfrini said if that was part of the final budget, he would have to vote no. The Legislature was split on whether to then eliminate just the two CO positions or just the deputy position.

The reason the Sheriff requested the CO positions is those new hires could start handling prisoner transports for female prisoners between Genesee County's courts and the county jails where they are housed (because Genesee County's jail can't house female prisoners). The county is facing rapidly rising overtime costs because of the transports and road patrol shifts are sometimes short of manpower.

Bausch and Legislator John Deleo were both opposed to any significant tax increase, especially the nearly $1 million increase needed to make up for not spending reserves and not diverting sales tax revenue.

Even when asked to consider spending only $500,000 of reserves, Deleo looked at the potential tax rate, shook his head and muttered, "that's just too much."

He said he was concerned about the burden on taxpayers in the city.

"People tell me all the time to hold the tax cap," Deleo said. "They stop me in the street. But even if we hold it to the 2016 rate, we can't make this work. It's just unreal."

Bausch said there is another constituency to seriously consider -- farmers, who own most of the land in the county.

"Even a 10-cent increase would have a big negative impact on our farmers and they're the number one industry in the county," Bausch said.

There will be some budget relief once the county closes on its deal to sell the County Nursing Home, but the impact will mostly be a one-time benefit and not help the longer term, growing fiscal crisis facing the county.

The legislature meets again on Monday evening to take up the budget discussion once again and see if they can come to an agreement on taxes and spending for 2017.

The total proposed buget for 2017 is $146,249,625, which includes all expenses covered by all funding sources, including revenue received from various other funding sources besides property and sales tax. A property tax of $9.76 per thousand would raise $27,844,499 (the tax levy). The county is also budgeting for about $18 million in sales tax revenue. A large proportion of the county's expenditures are mandated by state law and can't be eliminated.

November 15, 2016 - 2:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in district attorney, genesee county, news.

For the first time Monday, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman spoke at length publicly about the Governor's Office mandated pay raise for county district attorneys and made his case that the County Legislature should pass the resolution boosting his pay.

"I would like to think that after myself, being a district attorney for 20 years and in the office for 35 years, that if it was not for the mandated salary, I would think that the district attorney salary would be at least as much as the salary being paid to the new county attorney," Friedman said. 

The statewide fight over DA salaries arose, Friedman said, because members of the legislature didn't want to give county judges raises without giving themselves raises, and if judges didn't get raises, then neither did DAs.

That went on for 13 years before Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed a commission to recommend a new salary structure.

The county benefitted all those years that there were no mandated raises, Friedman said.

Furthermore, even with the raises, the county is paying less for the DA than the county attorney because the state picks up $72,000 of the DA's salary.

Under the mandate, Friedman's salary will go from $152,500 to $183,350 and then up another $10,000 in April 2018.

Legislators, such as Mike Davis, said they have no problem with the job Friedman is doing, but they object to the mandate and Davis expressed concern that the salary is out of line with rural expenses.

Friedman said that one reason the wage increase is being pursued at a state level is that it was getting harder to retain DAs in their jobs, with many opting for higher paying county court judge positions.

The committee voted to advance the pay raise resolution on a unanimous vote.

"The ramifications of not doing this, however, would impact our budget even worse because we would not have the benefit of the New York State supplement for the DA's salary that we're getting now, so we would end up paying even more," said Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg. "We are supposed to be a country of laws and whether we like this or not, this is a law and this is the Public Service Committee, so I vote to follow the law."

November 10, 2016 - 12:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

There will be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 21, where the public can speak on the question of whether the county government should pass a resolution to override the state's property-tax cap.

The County Legislature is considering passing the resolution as a safety valve in case budget constraints require it to increase the tax levy above the state's 2-percent limit.

Passage of the resolution does not mean the tax levy will increase above the tax cap amount, but it will provide the legislature with that option if during budget discussions it's deemed necessary.

The hearing will be held in the Old Courthouse, 7 Main St., Batavia.

October 27, 2016 - 1:22pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in nursing home, budget, genesee county, news.

As County Manager Jay Gsell and the Legislature work on finalizing the 2017 budget, it's been a bit of a nail-biter for county officials wondering if they would be able to close on the sale of the Nursing Home before Dec. 31.

Without the close, the county would need to include nearly $16 million in expenses and offsetting revenue in the budget.

Back in May, the NYS Health Department approved the certificate of need ("CoN" -- a kind of license) 160-bed care facility, but officials had gotten no word on the other CoN for the 80-bed adult home.

All along, Gsell felt the sale would be finalized before the end of the year, but without final approval, there was no way to count on it.

Yesterday, an executive with the prospective Nursing Home buyer, Premier Health LLC, got a phone call from a state official saying the certificate of need was approved and an official letter should be dropped in the mail today.

"At least now we have a very good sense that this is actually going to happen in the calendar year 2016," Gsell said.

Once the letter is in hand, both sides can start working on the details of closing the sale, including transferring employees and contractors, completing paperwork, and finalizing how to handle accounts receivable, among other details.

That will be a three- or four-week process, Gsell said.

The county will get about $15 million for the nursing home, but after expenses, only about 25 percent of those proceeds will be available for either the general fund or the capital fund.

Gsell was able to share the good news with legislators yesterday during a budget work session.

There were no decisions that came out of yesterday's budget discussion. The legislators have a 292-page, $141 million budget to pore through as they grapple with their options for the tax rate, deficit spending or any big spending cuts that they might make.

Gsell's budget is balanced, but it requires pulling $1 million from reserve funds and reallocating sales tax revenue from future road and bridge repairs to the 2017 general fund.

A $15 million increase in assessed value, of which about $7 million is taxable, for properties in the county, makes the break-even tax rate for the 2016 vs. 2017 tax levy at $9.66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Gsell's budget proposal increases the tax levy by $645,000, the maximum increase under the state's tax cap law.

That would set the 2017 property tax rate from the county at $9.76 per thousand of assessed value, or 10 cents lower than 2016.

The Legislature will consider whether to pass a resolution authorizing them to override the tax cap limit to raise taxes. Because of timing and budget deadline issues, the resolution will need to be passed before they even get to the point of deciding what the tax rate should be.

It's a policy decision for the legislature whether to accept Gsell's budget as proposed, raise taxes to reduce deficit spending, or make significant cuts in non-mandated services, such as parks and law enforcement.

October 25, 2016 - 11:21am
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, arts, business, news.

Are you looking to try something new? Why not take an art class? Life can be hectic at times – slow it down a little by exploring some creative pursuits. The benefits of taking an art class are numerous: self-expression, relaxation, slowing down, awakening other parts of your mind and discovering new talents are just a few.

From absolute beginners to individuals with prior training, there are several opportunities in Genesee County where you can stretch your creative muscles. Here are seven locations where you can “get your art on!”

Oatka School of Glass – 56 Harvester Ave., 2nd Floor, Batavia
This place is known as the little studio with a big reputation. Artists and students come from around the world to learn and teach at Oatka School of Glass. And you too can create your own glass masterpiece at this highly revered place! The school offers a variety of classes and instructional demonstrations. Experienced glass-workers guide you through the steps to create a unique glass project such as a glass paperweight, flower, beads and pendants, wind chimes, plates, coasters, or even a sun catcher.
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GO-ART! – 201 E. Main St., Batavia

GO-ART! is the main arts advocacy and promotions organization in Genesee and Orleans counties. In addition to supporting artists and producing events, the organization also hosts art classes throughout the year. Artist Jill Pettigrew teaches classes in many different mediums. Visit their website to see their offerings.
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Fired Up Ready to Paint Ceramics – 216 Ellicott St., Batavia
Here are some fun projects to undertake. Visit Fired Up and pick out one of the countless three-dimensional items to use for your project. Using special paints, you then paint your item, which is eventually placed in a kiln. A few days later you come back and get your ceramic masterpiece.
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Country Cottage Gift Shop & Gardens – 10448 Harper Road, Darien Center
In the rolling countryside of Darien Center is this very neat gift shop, gardens and art class complex. Classes take place in a small cottage or in the loft of a barn. The classes and projects here tend to focus on a country theme. A delightful place to purchase a gift, too!
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Karen’s Yarn Paper Scissors – 550 E. Main St., Batavia
Just like the name of the business implies, you can find art supplies here – especially those involving paper and yarn. Karen’s also offers a few unique art classes throughout the year. There have been recent classes involving mixed media, inks and metals, decoupage, drawing techniques, and more.
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Jade Pottery – 10115 Creek Road, Pavilion
Tucked away in the southeastern most corner of our county, Jade pottery offers custom pottery, handprint art, paint-your-own pottery and more! Drop in during their open hours, or sign-up online for one of their many public classes. Private classes, birthday parties and children’s camps are also part of Jade Pottery’s many offerings.
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Art Ah La Carte – 39 Jackson St., Batavia
Art Ah La Carte is a teaching art studio for all ages. Kim Argenta, the school’s owner, teaches in many mediums, including acrylics, oils, mixed mediums, chalks, pastels, pencil and much more. The school offers weekly classes, open paint nights, and parties for all occasions.
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Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

October 25, 2016 - 11:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, news.

His proposed county budget for 2017 is bare-bones and no-frills, County Manager Jay Gsell told Legislators in his annual budget message, delivered as his office wraps up putting together a tax and expense plan that meets the county's obligation to continue state-mandated programs, keeps local services in place and doesn't call on officials to raise taxes above tax cap levels.

Increasing state-manded funding obligations continue to burden local taxpayers, with no relief in sight, Gsell said.

"The continued disregard of New York State's culpability in the county tax rate increases over the past 40 years is something we have learned to live with, but to be additionally mocked by Albany for not being able to control our expenses or tax rates, and blaming us for 'living with these unfunded mandates' is disingenuous at best and necessitate county governments cutting non-mandated, quality-of-life programs, reducing funding for vital community agency programs and depleting our fund balance in lieu of 10- to 30-percent property tax levy increases, neither option of which is sustainable nor logical in tax-happy New York State," Gsell wrote.

Examples of mandated expenses without concurrent state aid is Medicaid, an expenditure equivalent to 80 percent of the county's tax levy. The county is also being forced to pick up more of the cost of legal defense for suspects unable to pay for their own attorney. Unreimbursed legal services costs now exceeds $1.2 million. The state is also mandating an increase in District Attorney pay from $152,500 to $183,350. 

Gsell's budget once again dips into the county's reserve funds, to the tune of $1 million, and transfers $1.1 million in anticipated sales tax revenue from future projects, such as road and bridges, to spend the money in 2017. It also cuts 10 percent of the funding requests for several local agencies, including Genesee County Economic Development Center, libraries, the Holland Land Office Museum, and the Soil & Water Conservation District.

Shuffling the deck chairs enables Gsell to present a balanced budget that keeps the tax levy under the tax cap level.

The proposed tax rate is $9.76 per thousand of assessed value for a total levy of $27,844,499.

Any drastic changes in Gsell's proposed budget, such as raising the tax rate above tax cap levels, or cuts to essential services, what Gsell previously called "the nuclear option," are policy decisions best left to members of the County Legislature, Gsell said.

The legislature meets at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow in the conference room of the Old Courthouse to discuss the proposed budget.

As mandated expenses continue to grow and the county facing potentially large bills for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and possibly a new jail, Gsell warns in his budget message that the county may have to consider in 2018 pulling back the 50/50 share of sales tax revenue with towns and the city. The county isn't required to share sales tax revenue and expenses for local roads and bridges falls almost entirely on county government.

October 24, 2016 - 3:27pm

Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming County Public Health Column:

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is this week, Oct. 23-29. The Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming County Health Departments encourage you to learn about lead, lead poisoning, and the importance of preventative testing in order to make our community a healthier one.

Lead is a metal found in the earth and it is a poison. For years, lead was used in paint, gas, plumbing and many other items. Since the late 1970s, lead paint was banned in the United States, however other countries may not have regulations regarding the use of lead products. Lead can be found in the soil, deteriorated paint, household dust, contaminated drinking water from old plumbing, lead-glazed pottery, some metal jewelry, and at some jobsites (typically construction, manufacturing and mining).

Lead poisoning is preventable but when ingested, even a small amount can cause severe and lasting harm. Exposure to lead can happen from breathing air or dust, eating contaminated foods, or drinking contaminated water. All houses built prior to 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.

Lead dust, fumes and paint chips can cause serious health problems. Too much lead in the human body can cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. Everyone, young and old, can be affected if exposed, but children and pregnant women are considered at highest risk. Young children between 6 months and 6 years old are more likely to suffer health problems from lead exposure. Lead poisoning can slow a child’s physical growth and mental development and may cause behavior problems, intellectual disability, kidney and liver damage, blindness and even death.

“New York State Department of Health requires health care providers to obtain a blood lead test for all children at age 1 and again at age 2,” said Brenden Bedard, director of Community Health Services for Genesee and Orleans counties. “Up to age 6, your doctor or nurse should ask you about ways your child may have had contact with lead.

"Pregnant women are at high risk because lead can pass from mother to her unborn baby, as well as be responsible for high blood pressure and miscarriage. Also, be concerned if you or someone in your home has a hobby or job that brings them in contact with lead."

Prevention is the key! Protect yourself and your family from possible lead exposure by talking to your Primary Care Provider about lead testing. There are also many precautions that can be taken to protect yourself and your family; here are a few. Prior to consuming food, make sure hands are washed, clean your home weekly, do not allow your child to chew on something that is dirty, avoid wearing shoes in the house, and hire a qualified professional if you suspect there is lead in your home that you want removed.

For information about this topic or Health Department services contact,

  • Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website

at www.co.genesee.ny.us/departments/health/index.html. Visit Facebook at Genesee County Health Department and Twitter at GeneseeCoHealthDept.

  • Orleans County Health Department at: 589-3278 or check out our website at: www.orleansny.com/publichealth. Visit Facebook and Twitter: the user name for both is OrleansCoHealth.
  • Wyoming County Health Department at: 786-8890 or visit their web site at www.wyomingco.net/health/main.html
October 20, 2016 - 2:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, genesee county, news.

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Legislators are faced with a number of hard choices as the county's 2017 budget comes together.

Increases in mandated spending, increases in personnel expenses, flat sales tax revenue and unsettled questions about expenses related to the soon-to-be-former Genesee County Nursing Home means the county needs to raise more money than allowed by the tax levy cap.

County Jay Gsell laid out several options for the legislators, except one, but Chairman Ray Cinifrinit put it on the table: Voting to override the tax cap limit.

To override, the Legislators would have to hold a public hearing and then vote on a resolution. That would have to be done before completion of the budget process, so approving the resolution wouldn't necessarily mean there would be a tax increase above the cap amount.

"I'm suggesting that we at least pass the resolution," Cianfrini said. "That's just good planning."

Gsell said he won't submit a budget proposal, which is due within 48 hours, that includes a tax increase above the cap amount.

The formula for figuring the cap takes into account the $14 million in increased assessed value for real property in the county, but the county can only use a portion of that increase for any pre-cap increase in the levy.

If the county were to raise no more money from the levy than in 2016, it would put the tax rate for the county at $9.69 per thousand of assessed value.

The rate can't go past $9.86 to stay under the levy cap. 

If Gsell accepted all of the funding requests by various county departments, which by direction were already frugal requests, the tax rate would be $10.27.

To get the rate down to at least $9.86, Gsell said there will be no new hires for county staff, except two new corrections officers, and he's looking at using $1 million from the county's reserves, as well as diverting 1 percent of the sales tax that would normally go to next year's capital projects (think roads and bridges), for another $800,000 in savings. He's also cutting 10 percent from all non-mandated services, except for mental health related services, Genesee Community College and the Chamber of Commerce (the tourism office helps generate revenue for the county and gets funding from the hotel bed tax).

Here's the list of programs and agencies slated for a 10 percent cut from their funding requests:

  • GO-ART!
  • Business Education Alliance
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Holland Land Office Museum
  • Housing Initiative Committee
  • Genesee County Economic Development Center
  • Libraries
  • Mercy Flight
  • Soil & Water Conservation District

Legislator Andrew Young expressed concern about the county once again dipping into reserve funds to balance a budget. He noted that practice can't last forever. He is also concerned about diverting funds from capital projects when the county is looking at a $15 million bill for road and bridge repairs over the next five years.

So take those two revenue diversions off the table, that leaves Legislators with two big options -- raise taxes above the levy cap, or go to what Gsell called "the nuclear option," the "scorched earth policy."

That option is completely eliminating a service the county currently provides but isn't mandated by state law. Those options include closing county parks and eliminating the road patrol deputies in the Sheriff's Office.

Such drastic cuts could also include elimination all funding for the nine programs and services listed above.

"If they (the legislators) don't like what I recommend in terms of how the revenues are put together," Gsell said after the meeting, "that's when I have to go back to the expense side of the equation and get rid of $1 million to $2 million worth of expenses."

But Gsell warned legislators that drastic cuts will certainly bring about intense pushback from the community.

"We tried that with Genesee Justice a few years ago and I believe there were 200-plus people at a public hearing over in the court facility," Gsell said. "Everybody and the kitchen sink came in and said that's the worse thing the county has ever thought of, let alone tried to do as far as county government goes. So that's just a caution."

The two-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday also included a lengthy discussion about how to eliminate some of the overtime costs within the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Gary Maha, Undersheriff William Sheron (top photo), Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble and Jail Superintendent William Zipfel participated in the conversation.

The two main areas of overtime expense are deputies in training with their four-hour daily commute to and from basic training in either Niagara Falls or Monroe County and prisoner transport of female inmates between Genesee County, which doesn't have a jail that can house female inmates, and the jails in the area that can accept female prisoners.

Currently, deputies are taken off of road patrol for transports.

The Sheriff's Office budget requested three new corrections officers to handle the transports, but the discussion headed toward a proposal to hire two new corrections officers and find retired law enforcement officers to work part-time help with transports.

County Attorney Charles Zambito, soon-to-be County Judge Zambito, said once he's judge he can probably make sure the calendar is adjusted to ensure prisoners to be transported are scheduled for appearances in batches, reducing the number of transport trips. 

Jail expense is also going up, Zipfel said, because of the changing demographics of the jail population. There is more time and expense with medical transportation and dealing with mental health issues, including more one-on-one watches for inmates who may be suicidal.

"The jail population is aging and getting sicker with every month that goes by," Zipfel said. "We're encountering more people who have drug and alcohol addictions, more people who are older. We've had several people recently in their 70s and 80s who are getting sentenced because of drug and alcohol addictions."

The legislature will meet again on the budget next Wednesday.

October 19, 2016 - 11:31am
posted by Howard B. Owens in district attorney, genesee county, news.

Moments after being told on Monday by County Manager Jay Gsell that a pay raise for the district attorney is being mandated by the state and the County Legislature really had no say in the matter, members of the Public Service Committee decided to say nothing at all.

No member of the committee spoke up to make a motion to approve the mandated pay raises, so there was no second to a motion, and without a motion or second, there could be no discussion.

Afterward, Chairman Ray Cinanfrini, who was in the room, but is not a member of the commitee, was totally surprised that the committee acted as it did.

He said there was no prior discussion that gave him a clue there would simply be no action on the matter.

Not that he was disappointed.

"I'm not in favor of the way it was handled by the governor's office," Cianfrini said. "This is no reflection whatsoever on our district attorney and the services provided by his office. They do a great job. It's just that we had no control over the  whole process."

A committee appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended that salaries for district attorneys throughout the state be pegged to the salary structure of Supreme Court justices, which are pegged to the salary rates of federal judges.

Under the mandate, the district attorney pay would hit $193,000 annually in April 2018, or 95 percent of a Supreme Court justice's salary in that year.

Last year, Friedman, who hadn't received a pay raise in about eight years, was paid $152,500. The governor's plan would give Friedman an immediate boost to $183,350.

The lack of action by the Legislature really puts the ball in Friedman's court, Cianfrini said. 

"Certainly, as the law stands right now, our district attorney is entitled to the money," Cianfrini said. "The fact that we did not take action on it today, I think, puts a lot of pressure on us on how we can justify the decision of the Public Service Committee."

County Attorney Charles Zambito agreed that it is probably up to Friedman to decide how to proceed.  

Friedman declined to share specific thoughts on the pay issue.

"While I certainly have some very strong feelings about this issue, rather than making statements to the media at this time, I will begin by promptly addressing it with the County Legislature," Friedman said.

If push comes to shove, he and Gsell said, the Legislature could vote to make the district attorney's job part time. That would get the county out from under the state mandate.

Up until the early 1990s, the job, along with all the assistant jobs, were part-time. Just prior to Friedman's election to DA, the legislature voted to make the job full-time, so Friedman is the only full-time DA in the county's history.

October 17, 2016 - 2:43pm
posted by Billie Owens in news, batavia, genesee county, weather.

The National Weather Service in Buffalo has issued a wind advisory, in effect from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18. It specifically cites Northern Genesee County and the City of Batavia.

Winds are predicted to be 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph.

Strong winds may cause minor property damage and power outages. Remember to secure any loose objects that can easily be blown around by wind.

A wind advisory is issued when sustained winds are forecasted to be 31 to 39 mph or gusts ranging between 46 and 57 mph. Winds of these magnitudes may cause minor property damages unless extra precautions are taken.

Motorists in high profile vehicles should use caution until the winds subside.

October 6, 2016 - 10:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in news, property taxes, genesee county.

The county is looking at a 2017 budget that will reduce the county's tax rate by 23 cents per thousand of assessed value, but that won't necessarily be good news for all local property owners.

What each property owner ends up paying in property taxes will depend on any changes in their individual assessed value.

If your assessed value went up, depending on the size of the increase, the reduction in tax rate could hold your county tax bill even with 2016, unless your assessment increased significantly, then your overall county tax bill could increase. If you're assessed value stayed the same or went down, your county tax bill could decrease.

The county's budget is still in an early stage draft form, but County Manager Jay Gsell told legislators yesterday that what they're looking at is a possible tax rate of $9.63 up to $9.69, and even that range is subject to change as more numbers come in.

Overall, the total assessed value of all properties in Genesee County increased by $96 million. Some of that increase relates to assessors deciding some properties are now worth more money; some of it is due to new construction and some to temporary tax exemptions, such as PILOTs granted by GCEDC, expiring.

Under the state's complex property tax cap formula, the county is limited in how much of an increase in assessed value it can capture in revenue.

Roughly speaking, based on currently available calculations, the county probably can't go with a tax rate higher than $9.69.

The current rate is $9.86 per thousand.

A rate of $9.63 to $9.69 also fits with Gsell's goal of holding county spending for 2017 pretty much on par with 2016.

The instructions to department managers has been to hold the line on spending, Gsell said.

One of the big unknowns for the county as it tries to map out expenses for 2017 is the status of the Genesee County Nursing Home. The property has been sold, but the deal can't close until the State Health Department approves a certificate of need for one wing of the home for the new owner. There seems to be little progress with the state on that front and legislators are getting antsy about the lack of resolution. The unresolved issue may require legislators to budget for that expense in 2017.

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: The following is the result of a discussion via e-mail today with Kevin Andrews, the deputy county treasurer.

The total assessed value of all properties in Genesee County has increased by $160 million. The revised number for how much of that is taxable by the county is now about $80 million.

As for the $80 million in increased assessed value, that is because of various exemptions, such as PILOTs, but also nonprofits and government-owned property are tax exempt, so there are other programs that property owners can apply for that award tax exemptions. These include a veterans exemption for homeowners, an exemption available to farms in some circumstances, and one for seniors below certain income levels, and various municipal exemptions.

The tax rate for some residents is also affected by a state formula for equalization of rates in different towns. If a town's assessments are below market rate, the county rate is adjusted accordingly.

On that point, Andrews said, "It is tough to say for sure what the tax impact will be in those towns without looking into those in a little more detail, but my guess would be that the equalization rate didn’t go down by too much, so they probably will not see an increase in taxes in those towns with a lower tax rate (unless you are a property owner whose assessment went up due to, say, new construction), but that is just a guess."

These figures are also still subject to change.

Approximately 26 percent of the properties in the county had some sort of increase in assessed value. About $14 million of the increased assessed value is because of new construction and improvements, less losses on demolition or destruction of property (fires, etc.) and properties moving from profit to nonprofit status.

About $146,000 of the increase in assessed value is the result of market-rate adjustments.

Because of updates on numbers, Andrews now estimates that stay-even tax rate is about $9.66, or $9.67.

October 3, 2016 - 3:20pm
posted by Billie Owens in genesee county, RTS, news, Announcements.

Press release:

To make it easier for customers in Genesee County to get the most up-to-date information about RTS news, events, routes, and service and schedule changes, RTS today announced that customers can now sign up to receive this information via text message and email alerts, and our email newsletter.

“The introduction of these text message and email alerts is part of our ongoing effort to make it easier for customers to get the information they need, when they need it,” said Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS. “With these new communication tools, we can now provide customers with an instant update if we have to implement a detour at the last minute or encounter a delay on a specific route.

"By improving the timeliness and frequency of information that is important to our customers, we are making it easier for them to enjoy the ride.”

Signing up is easy. Customers can fill out a subscription form online or in person, or opt-in via text message.

The directions for each option are as follows:

·         Sign-Up Online: Visit myRTS.com, click the “Stay Connected” banner on the homepage, and complete the subscription form to receive alerts and updates from RTS via text or email

·         Opt-In Via Text Message: Text the words “OPT IN GEN ALL” to (585) 433-0855 to receive all the information we distribute. If customers only want alerts for a specific route, they can replace the “ALL” with the specific route number. For example, to sign up for text message alerts for the Route 1 customers would text “OPT IN GEN 1”

·         Contact Customer Service: Call (585) 343-3079 to enroll over the phone with a customer service representatives assistance

·         Sign-Up in Person: Fill out a subscription form at RTS Genesee at 153 Cedar Street in Batavia

For all other information, visit www.myRTS.com.

September 29, 2016 - 5:13pm
posted by Billie Owens in crime, genesee county, news.

Our news partner WBTA contributed to this story.

Prominent 81-year-old attorney Randolph Zickl was sentenced to five years probation in Genesee County Court today and ordered to pay $400 a month in restitution to his victim, the widow of a former client.

Zickl admitted stealing $75,398 dollars from the woman, who is "well into her 80s," and on June 24th he pled guilty to second-degree grand larceny, a Class-C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Prosecuting attorney Candice Vogel, an assistant DA in Erie County, said after today's proceedings: “The sentencing order was for five years probation. During that five years of probation the defendant was ordered to make restitution payments at the rate of $400 a month through the Probation Department here in Genesee County. He had already made a payment of $11,300 before we arrived here today.”

That leaves a remainder of $64,098 in restitution to be repaid to the victim. At the rate set today, she will not see the full restitution payment for approximately 14 years.

Zickl was once one of the most respected attorneys in the county, heading up the County’s Office of Legal Assistance. He also has two sons currently working in the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office.

One of Randolph Zickl’s defense attorneys said before sentencing that his client “feels horrible” about his crime; Zickl declined to speak before sentencing.

His defense also requested that he be given 60 days before continuing restitution payments as he has already paid a large sum of the amount and is currently living off of Social Security.

Presiding Judge James Bargnesi gave Zickl 30 days before the resumption of monthly restitution.

Vogel said that the perpetrator's age, the victim's age, the sizable amount of restitution paid to date and Zickl's assets and capability of paying the remaining amount all factored into the judge's decision to grant probation and determine the amount of monthly restitution. Vogel said the victim's family is aware of the terms and indicate they are comfortable with them.

Asked about the likelihood that the victim will live to reap the benefits of full restitution, Vogel said: "This is one of the biggest issues of financial exploitation of the elderly. It's kind of a race..." to try and prosecute such crimes and recoup what was stolen before the victim dies.

Vogel said, technically, if Randolph Zickl dies before he completes restitution, the balance will be the liability of his estate and its heirs.

September 22, 2016 - 10:50am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Elections, genesee county, news.

The county will be prepared, Dick Siebert, the Republican election commissioner, for a historic turnout on presidential election day, Nov. 8, Siebert told members of the County Ways and Means Committee at Wednesday meeting.

Where an off-year, local election might garner a 20- to 24-percent turnout, Siebert is ordering enough computer-readable ballots to handle an 80-percent turnout.

"One thing we don’t want to do is run out of ballots on a presidential election," Siebert said.

In his role as an election commissioner and as chair of the county's GOP committee, Siebert said he is seeing a lot of interest in this election.

"We’ve had a lot of activity," Siebert said. "We had a strong turnout in the primary. We had a 40-percent turnout on the Republic line in the primary. There’s been a lot of interest, both for Trump and for Hillary in our county. We normally experience anywhere around 70 to 72 percent in a presidential year. I think this year we will exceed that."

The fact that both the Republican and Democratic primaries were strongly contested until late in the season, helped drive interest in this year's presidential election, Siebert said.

Plus both top-party candidates are polarizing.

"This campaign has been going on forever," Siebert said. "Everybody has been following it. It seems like it’s never ending. Trump has his supporters. He has his people who love him. He has his people who hate him. Same thing with Hillary. There are people who love her and there are people who hate her. There’s just a lot of extra interest this time."

As GOP chair, he said he's getting a lot of requests for Trump lawn signs. He just got a batch of 300 in and half of them are already gone.

He said the Democrats will soon get Clinton signs in and Siebert expects strong demand for those signs as well.

"This will be our busiest election in my 13 years as a commissioner," Siebert said. "We had strong turnouts before, but there just seems to be so much more vocal interest locally, at least in Genesee County."

Even so, the election staff is ready, he said, though it will be a long day.

"We’re well staffed," Siebert said. "We’ve got great crews out there. We add on people where we can, but we suspect that our workers will be busy right from six o’clock straight through until nine o’clock at night. Unfortunately, some of them won’t even get a break."

The biggest problem he expects on election day is people turning out who never registered to vote.

"We’ll get complaints that 'I can’t exercise my Constitutional rights because I can’t vote,' " Siebert said. "Well, they can’t vote because they didn’t register, even though they think they did, but they didn’t it. It makes it a very touchy year."

The deadline to register for the general election is Oct. 14.

August 17, 2016 - 3:17pm
posted by Genesee Chamber... in genesee county, Peace Garden.

 

Batavia Peace Garden ©Mark Gutman (37)In downtown Batavia, NY, you will notice a beautiful and charming park right on Main Street sitting on the banks of Tonawanda Creek. The colorful garden is more than just a gorgeous landmark. Through natural beauty, the War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden represents a symbol of 200 years of peaceful coexistence with our neighbors in Canada.

Well maintained by volunteers, the peace garden celebrates history through informational signage, display of flags, and little artistic features, such as a bench shaped as a butterfly. A footbridge extends across the meandering creek. A nice, gentle spot, indeed.Peace Garden ©Mark Gutman (6)

The Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail is designed to attract international visitors as well as residents of this historic region to experience and enjoy the natural beauty that these gardens provide while commemorating the two centuries of peace that has existed between Canada and the United States.

Part of a much larger endeavor, the Batavia peace gardens is part of a 600 mile trail that travels through Canada and the United States. The route follows the historic route where events from the War of 1812.

Peace Garden ©Mark Gutman (4)

Batavia Peace Garden ©Mark Gutman (14)

Batavia Peace Garden ©Mark Gutman (32)

Visit www.VisitGeneseeNY.com to learn more...

August 5, 2016 - 12:00pm

The third annual Hometown Trail has kicked off and a variety of shops in Genesee County have joined together to offer shoppers a fun way to explore unique stores and win prizes along the way. The Hometown Trail 2016 shops include:

  • Country Hill -- 11119 W. Park St., Pavilion. 584-3540. Tues-Fri 10-6, Sat 10-4.
  • The Hobby Horse -- 54-56 Main St., Le Roy. 768-8130. Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-3.
  • Walking in the Woods -- 3456 Galloway Road, Batavia. 344-2428. Fri-Sun 11-5.
  • Torrey’s Farm Market -- 7142 Oak Orchard Road, Elba. 355-1005. Fri & Sat 10-5.
  • The Mill -- 7061 Oak Orchard Rd., Elba. 746-1677. Thurs 12-5, Fri 10-5, Sat 10-4.
  • Vintage Vogue -- 36 Main St., Le Roy. 502-5333. M-F 10-6, Sat 10-4.
  • The Divine Tree -- 19 Main St., Le Roy. 502-5386. Mon. 10-6, Tues. 2-6, Wed. 10-6, Th-Fri. 10-7, Sat. 11-4.
  • Buttercrumbs Bakery -- 13 E. Main St., Corfu. 599-4550. Mon-Fri 7am-2pm, Sat 7am-2pm, Sunday: CLOSED.
  • The Farm -- 9079 Alleghany Road, Corfu. 409-1433. Open seven days 10am-5pm.
  • Danielle’s Countryside Antiques -- 8966 Alleghany Road, Corfu. 599-3808. Thurs-Sun 11-5.
  • Country Cottage -- 10448 Harper Road, Darien Center. 547-9591. Open 7 days 11-6.
  • Berried Treasures -- 13219 Broadway, Alden. 356-9895. Tues-Fri 10-4, Sat 8-2.

Participate in the Hometown Trail this summer by shopping at these Genesee County shops. Get your card stamped at each shop by Aug. 31st to be entered in the grand prize drawings to be held on Sept. 12. Participants who collect all shop stamps will be entered in the Grand Prize Drawing for a $100 gift certificate that can be used at any of the participating shops.

Participants that collect all shop stamps PLUS participate in any of our bonus features on Facebook will be entered in our Ultimate Shopper Prize. The more you participate, the more chances you have to win! Winners will be notified and featured on our Facebook page
In addition to these great prizes, there will also be a trivia question giveaways on our Facebook page - The Hometown Trail - Click here.

Maps can be found at any of these shops. Trail-goers can explore along the way and get their map stamped at each store until the end of August when maps will be turned in for prize drawings. Find out more on The Hometown Trail Facebook Page. 

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