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Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council

January 19, 2022 - 2:18pm

The Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council will be receiving $70,000 in federal funding to help develop and implement its 2022 comprehensive economic strategy.

According to a press release issued today by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, funding is being allocated through the Economic Development Administration and will promote public-private partnerships to diversify and strengthen regional economies in New York.

The G/FLRPC supports nine regional counties, including Genesee.

The latest round of funding is a 50/50 matching grant, with the other $70,000 derived through contributions to the G/FLRPC from its participating counties and other revenue, said Jay Gsell, who served as agency’s interim executive director through October 2021.

His replacement, Paul Gavin, could not be reached for comment.

Schumer, in the press release, said the EDA investment “will help jumpstart Upstate New York’s economic development, promote business growth, and strengthen our regional economies.”

Gillibrand echoed his remarks, stating, “As our economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, this federal investment is an important step to help attract capital and create jobs throughout New York.”

Identical monetary amounts are going to regional planning councils and boards in Central New York, Lake Champlain-Lake George, Southern Tier East, Southern Tier West and Mohawk Valley.

October 19, 2021 - 3:24pm

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As a Genesee County legislator representing the rural towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen, Christian Yunker said people are constantly coming up to him to ask when they will be getting broadband internet service in their area.

“What do I tell them?” Yunker asked on Monday, pointing his question to Paul Gavin, the just-hired executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council.

Gavin was at the legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse to introduce himself and inform the committee of some of the agency’s priorities heading into 2022.

He was joined by Jay Gsell, the former longtime county manager who was employed as G/FLRPC’s interim executive director over the past year, and Richard Sutherland, a planner with the organization that serves the nine Finger Lakes Region counties, including Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming.

Gavin’s reply focused on initiating a broadband internet gaps analysis, which could take up to six months to complete, and then lining up financing, addressing any issues that invariably will pop up, and contracting with an Internet Service Provider.

“I would tell them that we’re at least a year away,” Gavin said, adding that the process would be shortened with the use of local and/or state funds. “(By having to obtain) federal funding, it takes longer.”

Gsell, who was charged with streamlining the agency’s operations in the temporary role, said that Genesee and Wyoming counties have yet to reach a level where they can take a broadband internet plan to a third party (such as Spectrum or Empire Access).

County Manager Matt Landers said Genesee has “already informally set aside a portion of our ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act money) to go toward this.”

“I know that some of our towns are better positioned – and have some funds set aside – to implement it,” he said.

Sutherland said that New York has authorized a broadband gap study for every county, looking for citizen participation to determine internet speed, availability in certain areas and what people would be willing to pay for the service.

He said the state’s Public Service Commission is hoping to complete the study by May 2022.

Landers said Genesee can’t enact a plan without countywide data of where the gaps are with all of its providers – noting that most information is proprietary.

It’s important to know the financial means of the towns and “critical to have that data first,” he said.

Gavin suggested that counties pressure the PSC by emphasizing the urgency in getting something done and to work with the G/FLPLC to implement a strategy that works best.

A Dunkirk native, Gavin is joining the regional planning council after holding a similar position with the Gulf Regional Planning Commission in Biloxi, Miss. Previous to that, he worked for the Port of Pascagoula (Miss.) and Department of Transportation in New York and Nebraska.

He is a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy and St. Bonaventure University. He and his wife and daughter will be residing in the Rochester area, he said.

Gavin credited Gsell for his role in the G/FLRPC’s designation as an Economic Development District.

“That’s important … as it allows you to spend economic development administration funds and, as you know, they’re really flowing from the federal government right now,” he advised.

He said the G/FLRPC is available to assist counties with grant writing, strategic planning, land planning.

“We want you to turn to us and look for us to help you. Yes, you can go to consulting firms and yes, they will do a fabulous job, and yes, you will pay much, much more for that service that we can provide for you,” he said.

Gavin and Gsell said the agency is seeking a 10 percent increase in annual county contributions, from $9,600 to $10,600. The last increase came in 2002.

“The preliminary 2022 budget draft includes many operating expense reductions and continues our long-term history of strategic yet frugal budgeting and cost containment,” Gsell reported.

Photo: Jay Gsell, left; Paul Gavin and Richard Sutherland. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

February 22, 2021 - 8:56am

More than five months into his temporary gig as executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, Jay Gsell says the agency is embracing technology while he continues to adjust his management style in a COVID-19-induced “virtual” setting.

Gsell, who served as Genesee County manager for 27 years prior to his retirement last summer, signed a six-month contract to run the G/FLRPC while its executive board searched for a permanent replacement for David Zorn, who retired after about 29 years of service.

Working out of an office in downtown Rochester, Gsell said the G/FLRPC has overcome personnel changes and the inability to have all employees together on a regular basis to make strides in several areas.

“It’s sort of a weird dynamic,” Gsell said, speaking of his staff of skilled planners and the planners and technical people from the nine counties – including Genesee -- and City of Rochester that support the agency. “It’s a heterogeneous group, and that makes for a good commitment and they play off each other very well in terms of advice and cooperation, especially in the COVID-19 environment.”

Gsell said he had to scramble at the outset as two of the four employees left for other jobs, while another staff member started at the same time that he did. A grant enabled him to hire another employee.

“We had to get through that kind of stuff, but since then we have been converting everything to electronic records,” he said. “Now, everything can be handled online; the backup for all the information is getting more digital rather than paper. We starting to winnow through all the paperwork and getting rid of a lot of things that have been there for 25 years.”

Gsell said the executive board, which includes Treasurer Rochelle Stein, chair of the Genesee County Legislature, prioritized policy and procedural changes relating to the use of technology.

Beyond digitizing its records, the agency contracted with a web development company to update its website (www.gflrpc.org) and started populating it with more detailed and current information.

“Just like any municipal government organization, we tend to be a little behind when it comes to those areas,” Gsell said, giving credit to Emily Royce, a staff planner who resides in Orleans County, for her role in keeping the website up to date.

Still, arranging staff meetings have been a bit of a challenge, Gsell said.

“All of the virtual activity that’s going on. I’ve got five staff members, each one coming into the office one day a week, and they do all the rest of their stuff pretty much remotely,” he said, joking that they are meshing well “although I’m old enough to be the grandfather of some of these staff people.”

Gsell’s agreement with the G/FLRPC ends on March 31, but chances are that he will continue as the interim director.

“As the date approaches, the executive committee will discuss where the organization is and if a new full-time executive director is in the offing,” he said.

The G/FLRPC serves its member municipalities by identifying and informing them of issues and opportunities concerning their physical, economic and social health. It, in turn, provides forums for discussion, debate, and consensus building, and develops a focused action plan that includes programming, personnel and funding.

In governmental news related to the G/FLRPC:

  • The Genesee County Legislature, at its meeting on Wednesday, is expected to vote in favor of appropriating $9,970 to support the agency’s work. This amount has not changed for the past 18 years.

Funding is contingent upon the planning council securing $500,000 worth of performance blanket bond coverage for officers and employees, which is part of another resolution on the legislature’s meeting agenda this week.

All told, the nine counties and City of Rochester provide $94,000 annually to the planning council.

  • The G/FLRPC will be hosting local government workshop online sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. from April 8 through May 25.

Topics include Planning Board Overview, Clean Energy Communities, Solar Energy Facility Planning and Siting, Invasive Plants, Recognizing Indigenous People in Planning and Land Use, New York’s Quirky System of Local Government and Hot Topics in Planning.

Useful to planning and zoning board members and municipal employees in cities, towns and villages, the workshops are free, but registration is required. For more information, go to www.gflrpc.org or send an email to Jason Haremza at:  [email protected].

October 20, 2020 - 10:03am

In his fourth week as interim executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, Jay Gsell said he is focused on networking throughout the agency’s nine counties to help the region bounce back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gsell was back at the Old County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, in the legislative chambers – upstairs from the office where he spent one day shy of 27 years as the Genesee County manager. He retired in August and, about a month later, accepted the interim position with G/FLRPC.

During a review of the regional planning council’s recent activities for the legislature’s Public Service Committee, Gsell said a $400,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant awarded to the G/FLRPC will go a long way toward “disaster and recovery planning, and resiliency planning from the pandemic but also what it is going to look like coming out on the other side.”

“We will be working closely to see what the GCEDC (Genesee County Economic Development Center) and others are doing in terms of once COVID is under control and putting that into perspective,” Gsell said. “And we will be working with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and others to make sure you are not duplicating effort but also how do we come together to make sure the region comes back.”

The G/FLRPC qualified for the grant through its designation as an Economic Development Administration-designated Economic Development District.

Gsell said he is working out of an office on the eighth floor of a building owned by a private developer in downtown Rochester, commuting from his Batavia home five days a week for about five to six hours per day. He said he has an open-ended contract with the agency.

“It’s really up to what the executive committee (which includes Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein and Esther Leadley of Pavilion) and the regional board want to do as far as the time period,” said Gsell, who is temporarily filling the position that was manned by David Zorn until his retirement after about 29 years on the job.

Gsell said Zorn told him that he worked about 35 hours a week doing the basic job and spent another 30 doing “everything else.”

“Dave Zorn did a great job … now I’m starting to liaison with other agencies they deal with, and the other counties -- starting to network like Dave had done.”

Gsell said the G/FLRPC has an annual budget of around $700,000, with Genesee County providing $9,400 each year.

“It has been a flat level of county funding for a number of years and we don’t expect that to change,” Gsell said, noting that larger counties, such as Monroe, contribute more to the agency which has four full-time employees with an average tenure of about two and a half years.

He said the G/FLRPC benefits Genesee County through its work on behalf of watershed development, on comprehensive plan updates and government workshops to help local zoning officials get their mandatory hours of training every year.

“Plus, the grants that are coming in support all the counties and we also have an alliance with the Genesee Transportation Council and each of the municipal planning departments in the county,” he said.

The G/FLRPC was established in 1977 and set up “to do transportation funding, infrastructure funding, wastewater quality, environmental funding activity, and to be clearing house for grants for other organizations to help them focus on the bigger picture," Gsell said.

Counties in its original membership were Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne and Yates. Wyoming County was admitted in 1986. The nine counties in the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region comprise 4,680 square miles, with a population exceeding 1,217,000 residents.

The voting members of the Council are chief elected officials, local legislators, department heads and community leaders representing the participating counties, City of Rochester and the community at-large.

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