Despite a Certified Public Accountant's report that painted an increasingly bright picture of the City of Batavia's finances, which include more than $8 million in assigned and unassigned fund balances, three City Council members on Tuesday night voted against a salary increase for Manager Jason Molino.
Yes, Molino did receive a 2.75-percent raise, lifting his annual pay to $93,782, but it was by a 6-3 tally with Alfred McGinnis, Kathleen Briggs and Paul Viele casting "no" votes.
John Canale, Adam Tabelski, Brooks Hawley, Patti Pacino, Rose Mary Christian and Council President Eugene Jankowski voted in favor of the raise, with the usually tight-fisted Christian offering a glowing endorsement of Molino prior to the vote.
"I have seen three managers come and go," Christian said. "The first one gave us a stadium that he said wouldn't cost us anything and it cost us millions. The second manager gave up our water, and the third manager gave us this building (City Centre) which cost us millions again.
"Jason came in 10 years ago and the city was in debt. He was the first one who decided not to have a raise one year. He is the person who applied for the grants, and we received millions of dollars in grants. We have two pump stations, a new fire truck, new cars in the police department, newer equipment ... all because of Jason. He's the one that got us out of debt. And we have new streets, sidewalks ... reserve funds in different departments, and we never had this before."
Briggs and Viele had previously voted against the 2016-17 budget, which included an appropriation for Molino's raise, but McGinnis switched gears last night after going on record as being in favor of management raises.
McGinnis said he's not against raises for department heads, based on performance, but would like to use Video Lottery Terminal funds (money from Batavia Downs Gaming that is not in the city budget) for this purpose.
"I know we can't do it this year, but I propose in the coming budget year to look at pay raises for management the same way corporations do it, performance-based, with the money coming out of VLT funds," McGinnis said. "This saves the taxpayer money and still takes care of management. We should step into that corporate world and use the VLT money."
Asked after the meeting why he didn't vote for a pay raise for the manager, McGinnis took out a slip of paper from his pocket showing that the mayor of Buffalo earns $104,000 for a city of 261,000.
"Jason already makes close to that," he said.
Earlier, Laura Landers, CPA and partner with Freed Maxick, reported that the city showed a surplus of $1.3 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which increased its restricted/committee/assigned fund balance to $6.6 million to go along with an unassigned fund balance of $1.8 million.
The general budget fund balances include $770,000 (insurance), $3.4 million (capital projects), $700,000 (employee benefit accrued liability), $433,000 (retirement contributions), $145,000 (Dwyer Stadium), $152,000 (Vibrant Batavia and the city's Comprehensive Plan) and $1.2 million (funding of reserves proposed by Molino for 2016-17).
Landers said that Batavia has the "reserves and financial means to address what is in its (Comprehensive) plan" and has seen its expenditures come in under budget consistently since 2007.
Council agreed to move to next month's Business meeting a draft recommendation by Molino to allocate $1.2 million to the following general fund reserve funds -- police equipment reserve ($50,000), fire equipment reserve ($150,000), DPW equipment reserve ($200,000), Dwyer Stadium repair reserve ($125,000), facilities reserve ($400,000), sidewalk reserve ($150,000), administrative services equipment and software reserve ($50,000) and employee benefits accrued liability reserve ($75,000).
In other action, Council voted unanimously to pass four resolutions:
-- A local law to amend the Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District (BID) plan, which addresses the organization's excessive district assessment charges in its 2016-17 budget and a need to adhere to Open Meetings and Freedom of Information laws.
The city has been holding on to $49,571 in BID assessment money that exceeded the authorized amount allowed for operations and debt service payments under the General Municipal Law, a move that was questioned by Jankowski.
"Why are we holding that money?" Jankowski asked, noting that the BID already has $202,865 in a reserve account of its own. "Why not give them all the money, so that it can be kept in one place?"
Molino countered by saying that "technically the money shouldn't have been levied in the first place."
"If we turn it over (to the BID), we may not be able to ever get it back," he said. "There is no need to use it until the district plan is in place."
-- An application for a Community Development Block Grant to rehabilitate homes owned by those with low- to low-moderate incomes who occupy the home.
-- An application for a Restore NY grant program that provides up to $50 million for redevelopment projects in urban areas. The city is hoping to receive funds to advance the Ellicott Station redevelopment project led by Buffalonian Samuel Savarino.
-- A decision to declare five DPW vehicles as surplus, with any revenue received from their disposal to be placed into the respective departments' equipment reserve funds.