The Batavia City Council on Monday night voted, 8-1, to hire a grant administrator, accepting City Manager Rachael Tabelski’s premise that the full-time, in-house position is essential and rejecting Council member Robert Bialkowski’s suggestion to explore grant writing/management services from an outside agency.
The position, which will report to the assistant city manager, has a salary range of $53,293 to $64,852, plus benefits.
Tabelski, reading from a memo to City Council, pointed to the city’s recent success in capital planning and receiving grants for strategic infrastructure projects – noting that city staff currently is managing more than $11.2 million in grant funds and has another $8.5 million in pending grant applications.
As a result, she is seeking a full-time grant administrator or compliance officer to manage the grant portfolio – a task that has, up until now, been handled by Tabelski and other department heads.
Her memo lists 14 new grants the city has received over the past four years in connection with key projects such as Ellicott Station, Jackson Square, City Centre, City Centre Feasibility, Richmond/Harvester street rehabilitation, Bank Street and Jackson Street water, water plant improvement, Brisbane Mansion reuse, Austin Park playground and fire truck purchase.
POSITION'S COMPENSATION TO BE SPLIT UP
Noting that the new grant administrator would be responsible for all aspects of grant management, including grant writing, Tabelski said the position would be funded through the water fund (60 percent), sewer fund (30 percent) and general fund (10 percent).
She said that expenditures in the general fund are anticipated to increase by $10,000 to fund this position.
During the discussion phase of this proposal – prior to the vote to send it to the Business Meeting (which immediately followed the Conference Meeting), Bialkowski moved to table the item as a result of his conversation with a representative of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council.
He said he spoke to Executive Director Rich Sutherland about the possibility of the GFLRPC providing grant writing/management services to the city, and found out that the agency does this “at little or no cost to communities, and they’re writing it right into the grants.”
Bialkowski said that Sutherland was willing to make a presentation to City Council, adding that he learned that Genesee County “is going that route (using outside agencies).”
“Today, I had two phone calls from constituents, who are a little put out with me, because their property taxes are going up and they don’t see any growth or job opportunities in the community, but they do see taxes going up and they have some serious concerns in the directions were going,” Bialkowski said. “If there’s anything we can do to not hire someone, I’d be in favor of that.”
TABELSKI: OUTSIDE AGENCY NOT THE ANSWER
Tabelski immediately responded, stating that “even if we do allow Mr. Sutherland … even if we did allow the Finger Lakes Regional economic development council to administer the grants, all of the emails from the state agencies would still be coming to me and you – and we would have to get that information over to Mr. Sutherland and his team.”
“So, the workload wouldn’t decrease at all in our offices – and the financial tracking part of this is why we really need it because if we don’t have someone in-house, it would still fall on all of us to get the cancelled checks and everything we need to submit for a grant.”
The city manager added that she “respects” Bialkowski’s investigation but didn’t “feel that would be an adequate way to go and I would not support that.”
Tabelski said the grant administrator would take a “massive amount of paperwork off our top staff so we can get back to high-level planning for our infrastructure and strategic planning in the organization.”
At that point, Council member Paul Viele said he agreed with Tabelski, before Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. admonished Bialkowski for going behind the city manager’s back by “calling other agencies and trying to work out a deal after reading our agenda.”
Jankowski also said he didn’t want to possibly give outside agencies “privileged information” and felt that enlisting an outside agency would result in a “duplication” of services.
CANALE: IT WILL BE COST-EFFECTIVE
Council member John Canale said he wasn’t a big proponent of adding another position but in this case, the new job “opens up a whole another world to us.”
“There’s a lot of grant money out there available as we’re finding out as a city,” he said. “… so, it’s extremely important that we utilize every grant dollar that’s available to us, whether it be statewide or federal-wide.”
Canale said he believes the cost of the position at that salary range would pay for itself.
“So, in the long run, let’s not trip over dollars to get to nickels,” he added.
Council member Rich Richmond concurred, adding that the city is capable of “doing it on our own – having full and direct control and not waiting for an answer … and doing it better than the Finger Lakes region.”
Council member Tammy Schmidt asked Tabelski if the new hire would write grant applications along with managing the grants that come in.
“There will be a writing grant component but first off, I see learning the management of all the grants that we have in the portfolio right now, and being fully responsible because there are different types of audits that go on as grants close out,” Tabelski replied.
Schmidt then said the position would cost closer to $100,000 when considering the fringe benefits.
SCHMIDT: MONEY HAS TO COME FROM SOMEWHERE
Tabelski then pointed out that the city’s workers’ compensation and health insurance are separate funds, prompting Schmidt to say “it’s still money, it has to come from somewhere.”
The city manager explained that “the more money we can bring in to do these pipeline projects – to do Bank Street … is going to save money on our police building because there are things that we needed to do and it’s coming from water and sewer fund, and we’re able to raise the rate if need be.”
“The hope is that we continue to have good years and we continue to invest. But every dime we bring in for infrastructure projects is another reason not to raise rates in those funds as well on our citizens.”
The proposal then was moved to the Business Meeting where all except Bialkowski voted in favor of creating the position.
Following the meeting, Bialkowski said that he “was taken aback” by Jankowski calling him out.
“Where does it say that I have to ask the city manager for approval for doing outside homework and getting information,” he said. “The chain of command is that the city manager works for Council and that we represent the people.”