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Genesee County Spartans set high standards as they prepare for 2024 football season

By Mike Pettinella
Harry Rascoe
Harry Rascoe

Supported by a newly formed board of directors that is committed to establishing a sense of pride in the organization, the Genesee County Spartans are back for a second season of competition in the Northeastern Football Alliance.

Harry Rascoe, (photo at right), vice president/head of football operations and head coach, said all members of the semipro team – players, coaches, directors and game-day volunteers – will be held to a higher standard for the 2024 campaign, which gets underway on June 1 against the visiting Lockport Wildcats.

The Spartans will be playing their home games at the Town of Pembroke football field, just down the road from Pembroke High School on Route 77. All home games will be on Saturdays, starting at 3:30 p.m.

In an interview with The Batavian on Tuesday, Rascoe acknowledged the disciplinary and behavior issues that surfaced toward the end of last season. He said all those associated with the club will be required to abide by two codes of conduct – one instituted by the Spartans and the other developed by the NFA.

“It’s not just a question of talent – and we definitely have some talented players, it’s much more than that,” Rascoe said. “We need a good core of coaches and men; people of character as we look to emulate the (Batavia) Muckdogs (baseball team) as a respected, staple of the community.”

Rascoe said 39 players are under contract for the season, many of them from Batavia High, Notre Dame and other local schools. The team’s kicker is Julie Petry, who made her mark as the Blue Devils’ placekicker during the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

“We’re glad to have Julie on the team, considering the job she did while at Batavia,” Rascoe said.

Jed Reese
Jed Reese

Key skill players on offense include running backs Jzhon Henderson, whose father, Jermaine, will be serving on the board and also assisting with the defense, and Jed Reese (photo at left), a Notre Dame grad who played at Mansfield University last season.

Currently, Alex Rood (Batavia) and Corey Turpin from Buffalo are battling for the starting quarterback position.

“We also have signed 6-3 and 6-4 receivers in Deyonci Farley of Albion and Julio Gambino of Buffalo,” Rascoe noted. “Last year, we lacked possession receivers who could run.”

Rob Thurston Jr., another Batavia graduate, is the tight end.

Rascoe said the club has put in a new offense, similar to Batavia High’s system that features a short-to-intermediate passing game.

Gunner Rapone
Gunner Rapone

On defense, Gunner Rapone (Batavia) returns after capturing NFA Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2023.

Kaden Marucci
Kaden Marucci

Kaden Marucci, another former Blue Devil, is a stalwart on the defensive side of the ball.

Rapone (photo at right), Rood, offensive tackle Jordan Chambers (Gouverneur) and lineman Baylee Vercruysee (Medina) have been named co-captains.

Jermaine Henderson, who was a Division I running back at the University of Maine after a fine career at Batavia High, said he’s witnessed the team coming together as a unit during practice.

The Spartans host a scrimmage game against the Auburn Pride at 3:30 p.m. on May 11.

“The team’s morale is great and the environment, overall, has really improved,” he said.

Board President Tammy Hathaway said she’s confident that county businesses will rally around the Spartans. She said the team’s sponsors include House of Bounce, Iron Reps Gym, Get Sealed, Ridans Sports Bar and Ken Mistler, and more will be announced over the next few weeks.

Tammy and Jermaine
Board President Tammy Hathaway and Director/Defensive Assistant Jermaine Henderson. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

“We are building on the best of what we learned last year and will be adding on to make this a team that the community can be proud of,” she said.

Sponsorship information can be found on the Genesee County Spartans Facebook page.

Rounding out the coaching staff are Craig Tiberio, defensive coordinator; Jon Grand, defensive assistant, and Burton Howell, offensive coordinator. Lauren Donovan is the board secretary and marketing/media coordinator.

Also on the board of directors are Marc Anthony Bucci, treasurer; Terry Smith, player accountability; Otis Thomas and Victor Thomas.

The Spartans’ final fundraiser is scheduled for May 25 – a golf tournament at Davis Country Meadows in Pavilion.

Genesee County Spartans’ schedule:

May 11, scrimmage, Auburn Pride

June 1 Lockport Wildcats

June 8 at Rochester Chargers

June 15 at East Coast Blue Devils

June 22 at Watertown Red & Black

June 29 Rochester Chargers

July 13 at Lockport Wildcats

July 20 Ithaca Warriors

July 27 East Coast Blue Devils

Genesee County Spartans’ roster:

No. Name Position (If determined)
0 Jedidiah Reese RB
1 Tai Reffell-Pugh
2 Alex Rood QB
3 Deyonci Farley WR
5 Rayshawn Huitt
6 Patrick Krantz DB
7 Gunner Rapone DT
8 Ryley Elliott DL
9 Marley English LB
10 Eric Snell OLB
11 Max Rapone LB
12 Corey Turpin QB
13 Kaden Marucci LB
14 Jzhon Henderson RB
15 Devan Flanagan
17 Nick Santos
19 Jalen White
20 Jzon Richardson WR
21 Delonta Curry LB
22 Cody Wenner WR
23 Kristopher Geising C
24 Michael Jamar Floyd DT
25 Dontre Woods LB
28 Keith Neureuter DE
29 Marcos Velazquez
33 Robert Thurston Jr. TE
40 Matthew Dillon LB
41 Nick Figlow
44 Brian Calderon
45 Amir Cleveland S
52 Jordan Chambers OL
54 Nick Mitchell
56 Steve Kowalczyk OL
60 Thomas Richmond
70 Timothy King OL
71 Anthony Natrigo OL
75 Austyn Fernandez OL
78 Baylee Vercruysse LB
93 Randy Reiner DL

Town planners set public hearings for solar farm, motocross, snow equipment storage, biogas projects

By Mike Pettinella

The Batavia Town Planning Board on Tuesday night set public hearings for four projects, including a 5-megawatt ground-mounted commercial solar system on a large agricultural parcel at 9327 Wortendyke Rd.

Speaking at the board’s meeting at the Batavia Town Hall, Will Nieles, project developer representing New Leaf Energy said the solar array will cover about 15.7 acres of a 51.3-acre field in an Agricultural-Residential zoned district.

The application has been submitted by Judy Green/Wortendyke Road Solar 1, LLC. Previously, the project was recommended for approval by the Genesee County Planning Board.

Nieles said the site was selected due to its extensive natural screening, noting that no major tree clearing will be needed. Marc Kenward of Erdman Anthony engineering suggested that the board conduct a visual simulation to see how the solar farm will look years ahead.

Kacey Rose, also of Erdman Anthony, said that all setbacks are within town zoning requirements, and that none of the land designated as wetlands will be affected. She added that trucks will be coming and going from the site about 25 times per day during construction.

The board scheduled the public hearing for 7:15 p.m. on May 21. It also called for a State Environmental Quality Review, site plan review and special use permit.

In other action, the board:

-- Set a public hearing for 7:15 p.m. on May 7 to consider a special use permit and conduct a SEQR for East Coast Speedway’s plan to reopen a motocross track on the grounds of the former Polar Wave on Harloff Road. 

Jason Bonsignore of East Coast Speedway said the project has been modified to include one parcel of land – instead of the original proposal of two parcels – in an effort to bring the motorcycle, ATV and go-kart track back “exactly as years ago.”

The board is requiring a special use permit for the project to go forward.

-- Set a public hearing for 7 p.m. on May 21 in conjunction with a request by Peter Yasses of Byron to obtain a special use permit to construct a 100-foot by 50-foot storage facility at 8887 Alexander Rd. to store his loaders and snow removal equipment.

Yasses said he does much snow removal work in Batavia and has found it difficult to go back and forth to Byron.

“I rent space now in the city. I’d like to own something,” he said.

He also is seeking a build a 30x30 enclosed salt shed and will have a couple small piles of top soil on the land that he plans to purchase.

The board voted to conduct a SEQR and seek lead agency status for the proposal.

-- Set a public hearing for 7 p.m. on May 7 in connection with the proposed CH4 Biogas plant at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park. 

Discussion centered around compiling a list of comments from regulatory agencies, the planning board and others to submit to the applicants prior to the board hearing from town residents on May 7.

Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf to speak about substance use disorder, mental health on May 8

By Press Release
Ryan Leaf
Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, right, and former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Ham at a Legends & Stars event in February 2023 at Batavia Downs Gaming. Now a motivational speaker, Leaf is scheduled to speak at Genesee Community College on May 8. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Press release:

“Twelve years ago today I woke up on the floor of a jail cell...with no hope or possible idea what could be! There was no possibility of this life, no love of my life, no career, no future, no family, no recovery," Leaf wrote on X. "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending! There is Hope!” – Ryan Leaf, April 1, 2024.

In 1998, the San Diego Chargers selected Ryan Leaf, standout quarterback from Washington State University, as the No. 2 overall pick in the National Football League Draft behind Peyton Manning. A finalist for the Heisman Trophy following his junior year, the future looked bright for the Great Falls, Mont., native.

However, dreams of a storied NFL career turned into a nightmare for the strong-armed 6-foot5-inch, 235-pound signal caller as issues involving bad behavior, injuries, work ethic and focus -- beyond poor play – limited his time as a pro to four nonproductive years.

Leaf went into a downward spiral, eventually ending up in prison for burglary and drug-related offenses – a period of time he referred to in his statement above.

Although he wasn’t able to survive in the world of professional football, Leaf has turned his life around – carving out a respected space throughout the United States as a motivational speaker and ambassador for sobriety.

He said he has been in recovery from substance use disorder for the past 11 years, and has devoted his life to helping others overcome the stigma of mental health and addiction as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community and CEO/President of RAM Consultant, Inc.

Leaf, 47, is coming to Batavia in May to share his experiences, both triumph and challenges, and offer invaluable lessons in resilience and the power of determination.

“Asking for help is the strongest thing you’ll ever do,” Leaf says, referring to those struggling with substance use.

Leaf also works as a college football analyst for the ESPN network.

UConnectCare (formerly Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse) invites the public to attend his presentation, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 8 at Genesee Community College, Room T102.

To reserve your seat, call 585-815-1883 or send an email to by May 1.

Paul Townsend Memorial bowling tournament raises more than $3,000 for Crossroads House

By Mike Pettinella
Townsend family
Tom Fluker, left, proprietor of StrikeForce Lanes in Oakfield, greets members of the Townsend family, James, Joanne and Holly, during Saturday's Paul Townsend Memorial No-Tap Doubles Tournament. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

The bowling community came out in force to remember one of its own over the weekend and a Batavia organization dedicated to providing end-of-life care reaped the rewards.

Seventy-one teams participated in the first Paul Townsend Memorial No-Tap Doubles Tournament on Saturday at StrikeForce Lanes in Oakfield, helping to raise more than $3,000 for Crossroads House, a not-for-profit two-bed comfort home on Liberty Street that serves terminally ill residents of Genesee and Wyoming counties.


A portion of the entry fees plus proceeds from a large number of basket raffles and other fundraisers went to Crossroads House in memory of Paul Townsend, a lifelong Batavian and avid bowler who passed away on Sept. 27, 2023, at the age of 61. 

The tournament was organized by his wife, Joanne; son, James, and daughter and son-in-law, Holly and Joshua Napoli, with assistance from family members, friends and representatives of Crossroads House.

James addressed the bowlers and others who took part in the event before each of the three squads of bowling.

"We can't thank you enough for the support you have shown our family," he said. "My father would be overwhelmed by the turnout here today."

Twelve of the 71 teams earned prize money, with Dennis Maid of Byron teaming up with Jeff Pangrazio of Batavia to earn the $400 first prize with a 1,789 score with handicap.

Bill Lyons Sr. of Elba and Ron Shultz of Oakfield placed second with 1,737, good for $280, while brothers Peyton and Colton Yasses of Oakfield finished in third place with 1,693, winning $240.

Other cashers were as follows:

Cassidy Bratcher and Jimmy Macaluso of Le Roy, 1,688 ($200); Bob Zemla of Buffalo and Bob Van Dorn of Batavia, 1,663 ($190); Corey Winters of Middleport and Alishia Foss of Brockport, 1,659 ($170); Jane Chaddock and James Elmore of Batavia, 1,640 ($150); Danielle Schultz and Chris Fowler of Batavia, 1,611 ($130).

Dennis Maid and Chase Cone of Bergen, 1,606 ($120); Rich Mortellaro of Corfu and Scott Shields of Batavia, 1,589 ($100); Aiden Warner of Basom and Peyton Yasses, 1,588 ($90); Shawn Illerbrun of Warsaw and Brian Green of Batavia, 1,586 ($70).

The tournament was sponsored by Striking Effects Pro Shop in Batavia and StrikeForce Lanes/Rusty Rail Bar & Grill.

James bowling
James Townsend gets ready to roll the ceremonial first ball to start the bowling tournament/fundraiser in memory of his father, Paul.

Western New York off-track betting branches to get marketing shot in the arm

By Mike Pettinella
Thomas Wamp

In what may prove to be a course reversal, Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors on Thursday said they are open to allocating more money to promote the branch segment of the public benefit company.

“We want to make an attempt to market it (the off-track betting branches). It seems like all marketing has been geared toward Batavia Downs Gaming,” said Thomas Wamp, board member representing Livingston County, prior to the monthly directors’ meeting at the Park Road gaming establishment.

For quite some time, WROTB management has pointed out that the corporation’s eight branch locations -- save one or two -- have been losing money. As a result, the publicized plan has been to reduce the number of branches, while working to add E-Z Bet sites, which do not have employees.

Wamp (photo at right) said the board is putting that strategy “on hold” as it explores ways to make the branches profitable.

“This being the 50th anniversary of WROTB, we believe we need to provide an opportunity to market and increase the pari-mutuel (horse wagering) handle,” he said. “Branches have served as a beneficial aspect of the corporation. It would be sad to eliminate the pari-mutuel end of the OTB operation.”

When asked about specific steps to enhance the branch side of the equation, Wamp offered ideas such as utilizing Thurman Thomas, WROTB’s ambassador; hiring another staff person or two to go to the branches to instruct on the use of self-vending terminal, and producing television and radio advertising spots focusing on off-track betting.

“We’ll let (Marketing Director) Ryan (Hasenauer) and his staff come up with ways to do this,” he added. “We trust that he’s on board with taking some of his personnel to come up with ideas to stimulate interest.”

Wamp noted that the on-track harness horse racing handle at Batavia Downs has picked up in recent months.

“That shows that there is some interest in horse racing. We have an excellent track, and we need to play up that benefit,” he said.

Antonella Rotilio, labor relations representative for the employees’ union at Batavia Downs Gaming has been calling for a joint effort of WROTB management, board and employees to explore ways to increase branch traffic.

The Batavian reached out to Rotilio, rep for the United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222, for comment. Her response:

"We are very pleased to hear the board's plan. This is all we wanted -- a fighting chance. Many of my members at the branches have felt forgotten about as the focus has been on the casino. This is an opportunity to invest in them, the communities and the local governments. We want the branches to be as successful as the casino, and yesterday's news gives us hope that we may have a fighting chance."

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, contacted by telephone this morning, acknowledged that horse racing, overall, has declined but said that it was incumbent upon the corporation "to look at all possible options before making a final decision (on branch closings)."

"As we approach the 50th anniversary of WROTB and the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, it is smart to make a concerted effort to promote the branches and other areas we offer pertaining to horse racing," he said. "We'll employ various means, including television advertising, over the next few months."

WROTB, Genesee County honor Richard Siebert for dedication, commitment to Batavia Downs

By Mike Pettinella
Dick and Dennis
Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Board Chair Dennis Bassett, right, shows his appreciation for Richard Siebert's many years of service to the company with a smooch on the cheek at this morning's ceremony honoring Siebert at Batavia Downs Gaming. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

As lifelong Batavian Richard E. “Dick” Siebert thanked those that have helped turn a once decimated Batavia Downs into what it has become today – a successful gaming and horse racing destination, he turned his attention to Dennis Bassett, the current chair of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors.

Speaking this morning at a ceremony at the Park Road facility honoring his 29-plus years as a WROTB director, Siebert turned his head, looking for Bassett in the crowd of well-wishers.

“Dennis and I disagreed about things over the years, but Dennis, I got to tell you,” Siebert said before being cut off by Bassett, who approached the lectern and proceeded to plant a big kiss upon Siebert’s left cheek.

As the audience roared with approval, Bassett said, “I miss you, I miss you.”

WROTB management set this time aside to dedicate a plaque in Siebert’s honor, which has been erected outside the remodeled Genesee Banquet Room adjacent to the Hotel at Batavia Downs lobby on the second floor.


The plaque reads as follows:

“In grateful appreciation for your years of tireless leadership and commitment as a longtime member and past chairman of the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation. Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel Board of Directors, 1994-2023. We applaud you for your unwavering guidance and contributions to the success of this company. Dedicated on this day. March 28th, 2024.”

Siebert, active for many years as the Genesee County Republican Party chair, was a key figure in WROTB’s purchase of Batavia Downs in 1998 after it encountered hard times. He has been a staunch supporter of the track (and now casino).

“Batavia Downs has always been in my heart,” he said, acknowledging that he was “overwhelmed and humbled” by the gathering and plaque dedication.

“When I got out of college in 1958, I thought I was going to set the world on fire. I got a job working for M&T Bank … a bookkeeper for 55 dollars a week. I found out that Batavia Downs was hiring bankers to work in their money room. So, being a banker, I applied at Batavia Downs way back in 1958 to work in the money room.

“I got hired right away for $14 a night … I worked in that money room for 15 years, and when I think back on that if somebody ever told me in that money room that someday I would be on the board of directors for Batavia Downs—and even be the chairman for one year or so—I would have said, ‘What are you smokin' man?’ (to a burst of laughter).

“It is what it is, and things worked out. I’m just glad that I could be a part of this board for the 29 years …”

Siebert recalled when the former owners, the Sambergs, ran into financial difficulties and when the harness track was empty “with nothing in it but seagulls and asbestos.”

“When we bought it, it was a wreck. The board worked on it. Many people wanted to sell it … but we stayed with it, and this is a whole tribute to our county and the whole scope of things – Genesee County, the City of Batavia,” he said.

He then mentioned the current staff at Batavia Downs Gaming, giving leadership credit for what the organization has become.

“Just looking at the staff, (President/CEO) Henry Wojtaszek, (Chief Operating Officer) Scott (Kiedrowski), (VP/Administration) Bill White and (Chief Financial Officer) Jackie Leach,” he said.

“Jackie Leach, especially, … is the one who really saved the day for us because when COVID shut us down, we were empty. She kept the banks away from our doors. She arranged for the loans that we got to keep our staff working, which we did pay back.”

Looking around, he found her in the crowd and said, “You did a great job,” to more applause.

“I have to say this is the best staff … that I’ve ever seen in my 29 years.”

Siebert closed by acknowledging former Genesee County Judge Charles Zambito, who replaced him on the board last May.

“I can’t think of a better person to take my place, Chuck. I know you’ll do a great job.”

Several people praised Siebert prior to the unveiling of the plaque.

“The thing that strikes me the most, in this world of rough and tumble, actually cutthroat, this world of politics in the gaming industry – a very tough industry, is that I’ve never met a gentleman like Dick Siebert,” he said. “Just a great man. If I had to sum him up … I would talk about the following adjectives -- respected, dignified, caring, savvy, a true family man, dedicated, calm, cool, collected, fearless and always willing to take a chance. Nobody, in my opinion, … no one loves Genesee County and Batavia gaming more than Dick Siebert.”

“Richard -- a true legend, a true legend. I had the pleasure of being on the board with Dick for 14 of his 29 years. And I want to say, a gentleman's gentleman. And if there's anyone who loved Batavia Downs, it was Richard Siebert. He consistently brought his colleagues, his friends, and his neighbors to participate in whatever we had at Batavia Downs. And at the board meetings, he didn't fail to thank the staff for treating his guests and him in the utmost positive manner. But as you would imagine, Dick always had areas for improvement, so he shared that with them as well. But Dick, I want you to know that the board is a better place because you passed this way. Your unwavering support, your unwavering dedication for what we were trying to do and what we've been trying to do here at Batavia Downs is going to be etched in your plaque and in this banquet room for years on.

“We're so thrilled for you today. Not only did you spend almost 30 years, which was your goal of being on that board, but you actually got to write the check from Genesee County for the inception and the investment that the county made. And you have always taken great pride and great privilege in having that hands-on opportunity for this entire entity here. And we are grateful for that. And we are grateful that you continue to guide and to challenge and to take courageously bold steps at times on behalf of all of the counties that are members here. We know that when you served us, you kept the fact that Genesee County is the host community in the forefront of your mind and that our people work here, and our people are benefited from their careers here. And our economy here in this region is benefited by this organization.”

Torrey spoke of his time working at the OTB branch in the Genesee Country Mall while in high school and then working at the Ellicott Street headquarters after graduating from college in the accounting department. He said Siebert stood by him and “brought me over here when we first opened the track.”

“It wasn’t always like this. Batavia Downs went through some lean times, and I appreciate he was always there for me … I hope I've let you know how much I appreciate you over the years. But if I haven't before … And nobody deserves this more than you do.”

“I had the opportunity of working with you because when I first started working here -- when we first opened way back here at Batavia Downs -- and it certainly has come a long way, and I'm sure your leadership is the reason why it has gotten this far. (Relaying a message from Hawley): Congratulations to my lifelong friend and mentor. Your years of service to our Western New York community should serve as a prime example of what citizens should emulate in terms of leadership in their communities. Congratulations.”

Dick Siebert
Photo by Mike Pettinella.
Dick and Charles
Richard Siebert and Charles Zambito, who took over as Genesee County's representative on the WROTB board last May.
Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Erin go bragh!

By Mike Pettinella
rusty nail
Staff and patrons at Rusty Nail Bar & Grill/StrikeForce Lanes in Oakfield are celebrating St. Patrick's Day today with traditional Irish dinners, beer specials and giveaways. From left are Tom Porter, Chris Fowler, Pat Wester, Jodi Puccio, Kim Fluker, Traci Wester, Chris Shultz and Zack Wester. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

County Planning Department pushes 'gas backwards' idea for Byrne Dairy's Route 63 proposal

By Mike Pettinella
master plan
Master plan for a parcel along Lewiston Road (Route 63) in the Town of Batavia shows a mix of commercial (orange) and residential (green) sites. 

Due to a lack of a quorum on Thursday night, recommendations by the Genesee County Planning Department staff – and not the county Planning Board – have been issued for the six referrals that were on the agenda.

The most notable of the applications was one from Sonbyrne Sales Inc. (Byrne Dairy), which is seeking a special use permit and site plan review for a new convenience store and gas station on Lewiston Road (Route 63) in the Town of Batavia.

Planning Department Director Felipe Oltramari, in an email sent after last night’s meeting to Batavia Town Planning Board members, indicated that he was recommending disapproval of Sonbyrne Sales’ proposal because it doesn’t fit well with the town’s decision to tag that large parcel near the First United Methodist Church as a Certified Smart Growth Reserved Development Area.

Furthermore, in the email, he noted that the planning department’s recommendation was “non-binding” because there was no quorum (four planning board members were present and five were needed to vote) and that all of the applications would now go back to the appropriate town/village planning boards.

“Since we didn’t have a meeting, the local boards can act within 30 days after sending us their referrals," Oltramari said. “We will not meet again in 30 days, so they don’t have to wait that long.”

In his explanation for disapproval of the Byrne Dairy referral, Oltramari wrote that “the master plan agreed to between the Town of Batavia and Genesee County had the intention of creating a pedestrian friendly environment.”


dairy site plan

Oltramari pointed out that Byrne Dairy’s current proposal has the gas pumps in front of the building, along Route 63 (see site plan above) and that conflicts with the town’s master plan for that location.

He said the planning department has provided the town with an example of an “inverted gas station” with pumps behind the building “to illustrate the type of site configuration that would allow a convenience store/gas station to closely conform to what was envisioned for the site.

Earlier this week, he provided some background in a phone interview with The Batavian.

“In March of last year, the Town of Batavia made a development area certification application to the County for the entire field between the Thruway and Veterans Memorial Drive,” he said. “That field was not originally a Development Area in the County Smart Growth Plan. It was a piece of farmland that we wanted to protect.

“The town asked for it to be included as a development area, and it was approved with the caveat that it be reserved for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development, something different than the car-oriented development on Veterans Memorial Drive.”

Oltramari said “the vision for this area” included property behind County Building 2 on West Main Street Road and the Batavia Town Hall all the way to the Thruway – a proposal called “Townville.”

“The certification of the development area would allow for any use to automatically get water hookups, that's what the Smart Growth really regulates. Outside of development areas you have to get permission to get a water hookup; it is not guaranteed,” he explained.


He went on to say the town’s action was triggered by Tractor Supply's desire to move from East Main Street Road to the west side of Batavia.

“They wanted the parcel, owned by Call Farms, with automatic water hookups,” he said.

Oltramari said the Calls sponsored the project and the master plan was created with the assistance of the Town of Batavia engineers and County Planning (see the green and orange rendering by Dynamic Engineers at top). Their proposal was for mixed uses, including two story Main Street buildings with residential in the upper floor, and a residential cul-de-sac with townhouses or other such housing.

Earlier this month at a Batavia Town Planning Board meeting, Christian Brunelle, senior executive vice president of Sonbyrne Sales, Inc., presented the company’s plan to develop the parcel in front of Tractor Supply.

Byrne Dairy wants to build a traditional gas station with parking and pump islands in front. But that doesn’t fit the master plan that was used to certify the development area.

“The master plan calls for the building to be upfront and parking to the rear,” Oltramari said, adding that a future road, to be known as Rumsey Road, would run from behind Home Depot through the new development to Route 63.


gas backwards

Oltramari said that the inverted gas station approach would provide a “nice little gateway” into the development.

“The building would be up front and the pump islands behind it (see rendering above). The architect that drew it up called it ‘gas backwards,’” he said.

“I think to have a nice building instead of a gas station up front in that corner (along Route 63) would make that whole development look better in the future. It would also have the added benefit of buffering current and future neighboring residential properties from the sights and smells related to the gas sales part of the operation.”

The Byrne Dairy proposal now will go back to the Batavia Town Planning board for consideration, likely in early April since the board’s March 19 meeting has been cancelled.

In other action, the planning department recommends approval of a special use permit for Gordon and Denise Linsey to operate a coffee shop at 6520 Knowlesville Rd. in the Town of Alabama.

The Linseys said they want to renovate the space that has been used as a gift shop for the past 10 years at the former St. Patrick’s Church. Their application states that they will offer deli/breakfast sandwiches, baked goods, soup and smoothies in addition to coffee and beverages. 

Soul Food Brunch dishes ‘food for thought’ while commemorating Black History Month

By Mike Pettinella
Kenyetta Reese
Photo by Mike Pettinella.

The first Soul Food Brunch at GoArt! on Tuesday afternoon provided both tasty African-American cuisine and some honest food for thought.

The gathering at East Main and Bank streets drew about 60 people, including members of Genesee County’s Black-owned businesses that were featured on a flyer handed out to the attendees.

After enjoying a menu of fried chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, eggs, greens, macaroni and cheese, banana pudding and lemon pound cake, many of the attendees stuck around for a brief presentation led by brunch organizer Kenyetta Reese, a case manager at UConnectCare.

While the event was set up to highlight Black History Month, Reese noted that she and her family have been subjected to racism in recent months and years.

“I’ve actually experienced racism in the past six months,” she said. “So, if you could raise your hand here if you have also experienced racism in the past six months? How about in the past 30 days?”

Several people raised their hands.

Reese said recent events “have stirred up some trauma that she had from all of the hockey seasons that I was quiet.”

“My presence was loud, but I was somewhat quiet,” she recalled. “So, this event is for my son. He’s somewhere in this building.

“For every single time he was called the N-word on the ice, from the stands, for every unnecessary penalty, for the time parents called the police on him for checking their kid into the boards. Yes, someone actually called the police.”

She said her son was kicked out of games “for no reason.”

“For every game he cried, and I didn’t know. This event is for him, and I will no longer be quiet. His time is right now,” she said to applause.

Reese said that blatant racism is dismissed or disregarded.

“Microaggressions or exclusionary behaviors, if you will, boldly still exist and live hard for people of color still in 2024,” she offered. “With that said, we are here to celebrate Black History Month by sharing knowledge and a meal. Most importantly, to celebrate one another with two allies of our community and our workplace.”

She encouraged attendees to meet someone new today as “there’s a lot of power and strength in this room and in this building right now.”

Reese’s daughter, Tzyonah, took the stage, providing statistics pertaining to Black people and mental health.

“Did you know that 63 percent of black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness?” she said. “People may experience shame about having a mental illness and worry that they may be discriminated against due to a condition.

“Nearly 90 percent of Black and African American people over the age of 12 with a substance use disorder did not receive treatment.

"In 2018, 58 percent of Black and African-American young adults with serious mental illness did not receive treatments.

"According to the APA (American Psychological Association), only 4 percent of psychologists are African-American. African American adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population.

"Twenty-five percent of African-Americans seek treatment for a mental health issue compared to 40 percent of White individuals.”

Tzyonah said that she “struggles with” mental health issues … but continues to “work on myself and I continue to grow.”

“I remain so unbelievably vibrant, positive, resilient, strong, independent, hardworking.”

She said her custom printing business, Made by Tzy, provides her with a creative outlet “that brings me joy.”

“It gives me a voice and a platform to create dialogue and showcase the beauty, triumph and struggle of the Black experience through my art.”

From there, Brandon Armstrong, owner of the first Black-owned barber shop in Genesee County – Royals at 317 Ellicott St., Batavia, took a few minutes to talk about the Moors, African people around the 700s AD that, in his words, “were very smart and civilized back in those days.”

“They were well-studied in science and math … and they ushered in like a renaissance era,” he said. “Europe was very uncivilized. They weren’t bathing; there was a lot of sickness, a lot of diseases, and they were living with their animals.”

Armstrong said the Moors “came in with medicine – rubbing alcohol, disinfectant, soap – and showed the people how to groom themselves and bathe. They brought them clothing.”

He mentioned that the Moors originated the famous Italian dress shoe, the Moorigator.

“If you just look at that the word Moori, it’s a variation of the word Moorish. Right? And then if you look at the gator, the gator isn't indigenous to Italy, right? So, we see the black influence, even to this day, down to the shoes and from African culture.”

GoArt! Executive Director Gregory Hallock followed Reese by announcing the agency has received a grant from BlackSpace, a New York City-based nonprofit collective of planners, architects, artists and designers devoted to creating spaces in communities to shine a light on Black culture and creativity.

He said he has scheduled a gathering at 6 p.m. March 11 at GoArt! for people to share ideas with architects for the new space.

“So, a space that we're digging down is available for us to do what we want to it, because it's not historic,” Hallock said, speaking of plans to install two art studios/classrooms, wood workshop, storage room, gallery and other amenities in the building’s basement. “It will become historic once it’s finished.”

Cathy Mack, a GoArt! director said most in the Black community aren’t aware of the programs that are available and encouraged those citizens to make reservations to attend the meeting and provide their input.

Hallock also reported that the agency is collaborating with another nonprofit to build a new 18,000-square-foot space in Medina that will include galleries, a podcast studio, a film studio, artisan shops, a music studio, artist-in-resident spaces, art classrooms and a music garden.

soul food brunch
Fried chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and mac and cheese were on the menu at Tuesday's Soul Food Brunch at GoArt!
Jada Rolle of Le Roy's Transformation Salon addresses the gathering at the Soul Food Brunch on Tuesday. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

iGaming, EZ Bet expansion into Erie County on list of WROTB's lobbying efforts: Wojtaszek

By Mike Pettinella

The president and chief executive officer of Western Region Off-Track Betting Corp. said he is “paying close attention” to potential legislation that would permit online wagering in New York State.

Speaking by telephone this morning, Henry Wojtaszek also said leadership of the public benefit company is making its collective voice heard to loosen the restrictions on placement of EZ Bet locations in Erie County – a topic that was reported by The Batavian last September.

Concerning online wagering, known as iGaming, Wojtaszek said that he and Board Chair Dennis Bassett traveled to Albany for a “lobby day” a couple weeks ago to speak with lawmakers and their staff.

“We’re paying close attention to the legislation, and we will make sure that we attempt to be included in the bill as being eligible for iGaming,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether or not there's enough support to pass it this year. We made our position known to them that we were unified with other OTBs that we wish to be included in that legislation.”

Asked whether WROTB was in favor of iGaming, which opponents contend would hurt brick-and-mortar facilities such as Batavia Downs Gaming, Wojtaszek was noncommittal.

“At this point, we're open to seeing what the numbers are, what the study shows,” he responded. “I don't think we have enough data yet to determine how it'll affect our industry. I guess the bottom line is if it’s going to come to New York, we want to be part of the process.”

Last month, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who represents Queens, reintroduced legislation to permit remote bets such as blackjack, poker and craps. Addabbo said iGaming, along with iLottery, could generate around $1 billion per year.

His action prompted casino workers in Queens to send a draft a letter stating that Addabbo is trying to undermine their ability to make a living. Addabbo is the chair of the Senate committee on racing, gaming and wagering.

According to reporting by the New York Post earlier this week, the letter was sent by the Hotel & Gaming Trades Council union on behalf of employees at Resorts World casino at Aqueduct.

WROTB Seeks More EZ Bets in Erie County

Several months ago, Wojtaszek said WROTB “could easily get between five and 15” more EZ Bet locations in Erie County if a state law giving Hamburg Gaming (Buffalo Raceway) veto power over EZ Bet placement was changed or eliminated.

Today, he said the corporation has a new board member, Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, who says she would like to see more Erie County businesses have the opportunity to set aside a portion of their venues for those wishing to place remote bets.

The law on the books currently states that Hamburg Gaming can prevent any EZ Bet locations within a 30-mile radius of its facility. WROTB has 28 EZ Bet locations, but only one in Erie County, that being The Cove on Transit Road in Depew.

EZ Bet (standalone terminals without employees) is a money-maker for the corporation as it generated $428,000 in profit last year and is projected to increase the bottom line by $492,000 in 2024. EZ Bet wagering also makes money for the businesses, which split the proceeds with WROTB.

Wojtaszek said Rodriguez-Dabney approached him and wanted to know why the corporation wasn’t able to locate more EZ Bets in Erie County and the City of Buffalo.

“When I explained to her the statute, she said then we need to look at having this revised to accommodate some of the businesses that want to have them,” he said. “And I agree with her.”

Wojtaszek also said WROTB had been open to a revenue-sharing agreement with Hamburg Gaming, adding that several businesses have approached him about become EZ Bet sites only to get turned down by Hamburg Gaming.

He said lobbyists will continue to push for a change to this law until the end of the current legislative session, which ends in June.

“We’ll keep up our lobbying efforts because it affects other OTBs across the state as well,” he said. “Again, we went there with a unified voice two weeks ago to bring that up as part of what we’re looking for.”

WROTB to honor Batavian Richard Siebert with plaque in new-look Genesee banquet room

By Mike Pettinella
Richard Siebert

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials today said they will be honoring former director Batavian Richard Siebert for his many years of service to Batavia Downs and Batavia Downs Gaming.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, at today’s board meeting at the Park Road facility, said that Siebert will be recognized at a noon reception on March 28 with a plaque in the newly remodeled Genesee banquet room on the second floor of Batavia Downs Gaming.

Siebert (photo at right) served on the board for 29 years until resigning in early May after it was announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul that the governing body would be dismantled and restructured.

Wojtaszek said that he’s contacted Siebert about the recognition.

“Dick said he’s going to try to bring his family,” he said. “He was very touched, and he definitely wants to be here.”

Wojtaszek also raved over changes that are being made to what had been known as the Grandstands banquet room.

“Our staff did a great job,” he said. “We’re expanding our catering services … and the room looks fantastic. It’s not done yet, but we’re pretty close to it.”

In other developments from the meeting:

-- Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported five-year earnings and surcharge distribution figures totaling $28,387,714.

“With Western OTB, if we have losses in a year, we cannot offset future earnings with those losses. So, for really a four-year period (not including 2020 when there were no earnings), we've distributed $28.4 million, which I feel for a small venue is extremely impressive,” she said.

WROTB distributed $5.8 million in surcharge and earnings to its 17 member municipalities in 2021, a year after having only 722,740 in surcharge distributions, due to the pandemic.

The number jumped to $8.4 million in 2022 and $9.7 million last year, including fourth-quarter earnings distributions of just shy of $1.9 million.

Genesee County received $208,114 in surcharge and earnings distributions in 2023, up from $179,105 in 2022.

Looking forward, she said the corporation is aiming for a net win (money left in the video lottery terminals after payouts) in 2024 of $89 million.

“If that’s the case, it could very well (exceed $9.7 million),” she said.

Leach pointed out that “back in the day, when our pari-mutuel (horse race wagering) was, like 1990 when it was $200 million, our surcharge distributions were close to $4 million.”

“That’s not the case anymore, but our earnings distribution – $9.1 million for 2023 – was the highest in the corporation’s history,” she noted.

-- Board Chair Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) said that the company’s internal investigation into a lawsuit by three former bartenders at Batavia Downs Gaming is ongoing.

“We talked about it in executive session and our investigation continues, but I have nothing new to report,” he said, adding that he hasn’t heard anything more from attorneys representing Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont.

The trio is suing the corporation, claiming wage theft by supervisors who kept a share of pooled tips. Also, Sweet is alleging sexual harassment against Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and Director of Security Daniel Wood.

Kiedrowski and Wood are named as defendants, along with WROTB and Batavia Downs Gaming, in the suit that was filed in Supreme Court in Genesee County. Both Kiedrowski and Wood are working while the lawsuit unfolds.

-- The board voted to amend a pair of resolutions authorizing the purchase of concert tickets and parking passes for all shows at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in 2024 and for Buffalo Bills’ licensing fees, tickets and a suite through 2026.

The Darien Lake cost went up from $30,000 to $35,000 while the cost for the Bills’ games has been set at $157,202.90 in 2024, $163,413.05 in 2025 and $165,733.70 in 2026.

When asked about the value received for these expenses, Bassett firmly defended the need to continue this practice.

“I will stand up in front of anybody. We’re an organization that is competing against the municipalities around us, competing against other people for their time and we have to treat our special customers special,” he said.

“We have a benefit of having a winning football team in our presence. And I've been on the board 14 years, and it hasn't been a winning football team all the time. As a matter of fact, when I first came on the board, we couldn't give the Buffalo Bills tickets away.”

Bassett acknowledged that WROTB has gotten “slammed for entertainment,” but added that directors have put processes in place to identify who is attending.

“We provide host, and the host entertains our customers. And as far as I know, it's a good investment for us to entertain our what I consider our special customers. And were going to continue that.”

File photo by Joanne Beck.

WROTB board prepared to hire outside law firm to investigate sexual harassment, wage theft allegations

By Mike Pettinella
Dennis Bassett

The chair of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors this afternoon said it’s likely that an outside law firm will be hired to look into sexual harassment and wage theft allegations by three former Batavia Downs Gaming employees.

“The allegations in the lawsuit made by the OTB employees are certainly concerning to us as a board and warrant an investigation,” Dennis Bassett, (photo at right), who represents the City of Rochester, told The Batavian. “Presently, we are discussing whether we should seek an outside law firm to conduct further investigation to ensure the integrity of their findings.”

Bassett said he spoke to all the other directors by telephone on Thursday and is fairly certain that attorneys from an independent firm not connected to the public benefit company will be retained.

“Our intention is not to delay moving forward on this,” he added.

Former WROTB bartenders Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont are suing the corporation, claiming wage theft by supervisors who kept a share of pooled tips.

Furthermore, Sweet is alleging sexual harassment against Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and Director of Security Daniel Wood.

Kiedrowski and Wood are named as defendants, along with WROTB and Batavia Downs Gaming, in the suit that was filed in Supreme Court in Genesee County on Wednesday.

Bassett said that both Kiedrowski and Wood are on the job pending the outcome of the investigation and lawsuit.

“They are innocent until we find out the facts,” he said. “We’re going to look at all the facts, as well as our institutional policies and how we responded (to the allegations).”

He said some of the allegations in the lawsuit were not presented to WROTB administration, necessitating the need for an independent investigation.

“By hiring an outside firm, we would send a signal that we want to get to the bottom of this and act accordingly,” he said. “I don’t believe administration had all the pieces to do a thorough investigation but did as much as they could with the facts presented.”

When it was mentioned that WROTB continues to find itself embroiled in legal troubles, giving the corporation a “black eye,” Bassett sighed before responding.

“Regardless of how successful we are – and we certainly have been over the past couple of years, we cannot and will not in any way overlook the concerns of our employees,” he said. “We will look into this and take it very seriously. At the end of the day, our success depends on how our employees are treated.”

On Thursday, The Batavian reported in detail on the lawsuit, which was reported by the United Public Service Employees Union on Oct. 30. Batavia Downs Gaming fired Sweet on Nov. 16, while Armison and Cline quit their jobs in the spring.

A letter dated Dec. 8 from the attorney representing Sweet, Armison, and Cline indicated that the trio was seeking $250,000 “to right these wrongs:” and that Sweet be reinstated and her disciplinary record be swept clean. If those conditions weren’t met by Dec. 22, according to the letter, the demand for compensation increases to $500,000, along with the threat of a lawsuit.

WROTB officials contend that Sweet was let go for stealing from a customer, something that is disputed in the lawsuit.

Previously: Former Batavia Downs employees file lawsuit alleging wage theft and sexual harassment; OTB documents point to inconsistencies

WROTB earnings in 2023 at an all-time high: CFO

By Mike Pettinella

Preliminary figures from last month’s activity throughout Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. are indicating that the public benefit company will rack up another record year in 2023.

“Our preliminary numbers for December as well as the last quarter of the year were such that it looks like we’ll have achieved record earnings for ’23,” said WROTB Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach during Thursday’s board of directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “It’s trending toward $9.3 million to $9.4 million.”

Leach said that earnings in October and November rose to $1,078,193 – up more than $500,000 than the anticipated in the corporation’s operating plan.

In light of that, $44,091 was distributed to WROTB’s 17 member municipalities in surcharge for the month of November.

As reported on Thursday, Dennis Morgan, director representing the City of Rochester, was elected by the board to serve as chair.

The vice chair position will be held by Edward Morgan (Orleans County), who served in the same capacity for many years before the board’s dismantling by New York State last spring.

In other developments, the board approved:

  • A contract with former Buffalo Sabre Danny Gare for “goodwill appearances” on behalf of WROTB in 2024. The pact calls for Gare to receive $29,000, with details to be spelled out in the near future.
  • A one-year contract with Great Lakes Environmental & Safety Consultants, Inc., for $20,400 for “continual workplace safety compliance assistance.”
  • A proposal from L&M Specialty Fabrication of Batavia for $90,853.58 for a complete custom gate with electric and truck modifications for the harness horse track at Batavia Downs.
  • A contract with Jim Fink for one year at $1,500 per month to support WROTB’s social media marketing and provide organizational updates to staff.

WROTB's new director from Erie County fires off slew of questions; board grants raises to senior officers

By Mike Pettinella
Bassett and Wojtaszek
Dennis Bassett, left, was elected as chairman of the board of directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. at Thursday morning's meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. At right is President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Timothy Callan, the newest appointee to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board, isn’t able to vote yet – he’s waiting for his license from the New York Gaming Commission – but that didn’t prevent him from questioning the other directors and WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek on several matters Thursday morning.

Callan, the Erie County Deputy County comptroller, is representing Erie County on the board after his appointment by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Callan’s boss, County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick, has been an outspoken critic of the public benefit company’s policies and practices.

He is replacing Jennifer Hibit, secretary of the Erie County Democratic Committee, who resigned due to a state law prohibiting “party officers” from serving on the WROTB board.

As Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester), who was elected unanimously today as the board chair for the remainder of his four-year term, led the meeting, Callan made his presence known, seeking answers about the corporation’s hiring practices, salary adjustments, branches, lobbying firms and insurance.

When Personnel Committee Chair Elliott Winter (Niagara County) introduced the establishment of a new position, assistant general manager for Food & Beverage, Callan sought information about WROTB’s hiring practices.

Wojtaszek said the new job is not a union position, adding that employees coming in at “Grade 6 or below are hired by me, after posting and after an interview usually with the department head, and the higher level positions are hired by the board.”

Callan said that the proposition of a new assistant general manager “prompted me to ask these general questions about who hires, interviews, makes decisions on personnel.”

Responding, Wojtaszek said that, in this case, he would be the one doing the hiring.

Callan then asked for a document showing the different positions in the corporation, with Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach pointing him to the operating plan for 2024. After that, Callan requested a copy of the WROTB organizational chart.

Next on Winter’s report were monthly salary adjustments for the corporation’s senior management team -- $1,250 for Wojtaszek, $1,041.67 for Leach, $625 each for VP/Administration William White and Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and $416.67 for VP/Operations Sean Schiano.

Winter based the raises -- ranging from $15,000 per year for Wojtaszek to $5,000 per year for Schiano -- on “the success of the corporation in 2023.”

Callan asked what the salaries would be after the adjustments, with Wojtaszek answering, “we can get you those numbers.”

The Batavian received those numbers from Leach in an email this afternoon.

The increases, which were approved unanimously by the board, bump the salaries up as follows:

  • Wojtaszek, $299,128
  • Leach, $244,045
  • Kiedrowski, $180,098
  • White, $174,898
  • Schiano, $142,072.

“These are considerable salary adjustments,” Callan noted. 

Bassett responded, “They really aren’t,” and asked Director Jimmy Wilmot (Monroe County), who has experience in the gaming industry, to “talk big picture” about the competitive environment facing casinos such as Batavia Downs Gaming.

“I won’t get into the weeds about private businesses that I’ve participated in … but this industry in general is very nomadic; to keep people, you have to pay them,” Wilmot said. 

Callan said he understood that, adding that “this is a governmental entity.”

“This is a government entity that is competing in a very competitive commercial environment,” Bassett offered. “And if we're going to -- as we talked in our committee meeting yesterday -- if we're going to keep leading-edge people that manage this business the way we would like them to manage it and lead the way we have led …”

He then cited 2023 statistics that indicate Batavia Downs Gaming increased by 11 percent in net win (the amount in the video lottery terminals after payouts), by 8.4 percent in attendance, by 14 percent in beverage and food sales and by 15 percent in hotel sales and suites.

“And we increased our distribution to municipalities which is key to me and most important to me; that was up over 9 percent,” he added. “This board felt that with those gains – and it doesn’t happen every year – and with the success this leadership had in 2023 … it was important to reward the leadership team.”

Callan then asked if each one of those officers had contracts (they do) and if the contracts provide for adjustments such as these and annual cost-of-living adjustments.

The answer he received was that there are no cost-of-living provisions in the contract and that the officers’ base compensation can be reviewed only by the board of directors.

“When was the last time that these five individuals had compensation adjustments?” Callan asked.

The board authorized contracts for each of these officers in May 2023, just prior to the reorganization of the board by the state government, and each of the five received substantial raises at that time as well.

Callan’s next topic was the status of WROTB’s eight branch locations, or what used to be called OTB parlors. 

“It’s my impression or maybe more than an impression that the branch locations don't make a lot of money and, in many cases, are negative in the corporation’s financial statement,” he said. “The cost to operate the branches is more than the revenue coming in from the branches.”

Callan wanted to know if there is a plan in place pertaining to the branches, wondered out loud what happens to employees when branches are closed and asked whether there are plans to close more branches in 2024.

Bassett acknowledged that the branch operation side of the company is under scrutiny.

“We have been looking at the branches, and we have been closing branches that were not profitable,” he said. “And a number of employees in those branches have been retiring. And what I presented to the leadership team yesterday was a strategic plan.”

He said that part of the strategic plan is to “reinvent” the branches “because we do want WROTB out in the community and how we can work with those branches to better have them be a part of the overall look and feel of our organization.”

In previous meetings, Wojtaszek informed the board that management was taking a hard look at the branches, and he reiterated that at Thursday’s meeting.

“The answer is that we will be looking at the branches very shortly -- within the next couple of months,” he said. “We haven't made any decisions. We talked about previously meeting with the branches and the employees ahead of time, and that is what we intend to do before we make any decisions.”

Leach said that seven of the eight branches were not profitable in 2022 but did point out that revenue from branch activity does contribute to the surcharge distributed to the 17 member municipalities.

Further discussion of the branches, initiated by Callan, focused on whether the corporation owned or leased the buildings and how sales of those buildings are recorded.

Three resolutions before the board spelled out six-month extensions with three Albany-based lobbying firms – Bolton-St. Johns at $8,500 per month, Upstate Strategic Advisors at $3,500 per month, and Mercury Public Affairs at $8,000 per month.

On this subject, Callan asked whether the corporation was getting its money’s worth and whether there were metrics in place to gauge its effectiveness.

“Generally speaking, what are the lobbyists doing? Are they lobbying state legislators? Are they lobbying the governor’s office? Are they interacting with the Gaming Commission? Are they interacting with local governments?” he said.

“All of the above,” Wojtaszek said.

Continuing, “We discussed some topics and, as you said earlier, are not appropriate to discuss in a public forum. We have certain items that we're going to ask them to look at, and we certainly will share that with you in another setting.”

Bassett said the board desires to put metrics in place to be able to evaluate the success of the lobbyists.

“We want to … have a level of specificity around those individuals that we’re hiring and the results they provide to this board.”

All three resolutions passed without a “no” vote.

Directors passed a resolution to contract with Travelers Insurance Co. through Dec. 10, 2024, for property insurance for the Hotel at Batavia Downs. The premium is set at $59,261.

With that, Callan asked about the process of contracting with insurance companies.

Wojtaszek said management is reviewing proposals for Batavia Downs Gaming, with the intention of using a competitive bidding process. Garland Insurance of Phoenix, Ariz., has provided insurance for the facility since 2016.

Batavia man looking to 'community' to help him find a kidney from a live donor

By Mike Pettinella
Jim Urtel
Jim Urtel of Batavia has a life-changing Christmas wish: a kidney transplant. He has connected with the Kidneys for Communities organization in an effort to see that wish come true. At right is his partner, Renee Hozlock. Photo by Mike Pettinella

After eight years on dialysis and currently living with a deteriorating transplanted kidney, Batavia resident Jim Urtel Jr. is reaching out to a charitable organization that has taken a page from the “it takes a village” model.

Urtel, 54, a Le Roy High School graduate and longtime trainer/groom of racehorses, needs a second kidney transplant – this time from a live donor.

In an effort to speed up the process, he has connected with Kidneys for Communities, a nonprofit that is dedicated to increasing the pool of living kidney donors in the United States.

“I found out about Kidneys for Communities last June from an old friend, her name was Pam, that I met back in 2020, when I got the first transplant,” Urtel said on Friday. “I just started looking online to see if I could find any help or something. Thankfully, this (organization) helps people like me who need a kidney from a live donor.”

Urtel, encouraged by his parents and by his partner of 30 years, Renee Hozlock, is doing the things he needs to do – exercising regularly (he’s dropped 50 pounds), counting his calories, drinking plenty of bottled water and maintaining a positive attitude – as he waits for a donor.

Prior to 2012, Urtel was busy in the harness horse racing industry, mostly in Pennsylvania. An only child, he came back to Batavia to be there for his mom after his grandmother became ill.

“I was getting ready to work for a guy at the track here in Batavia and I had been a little bit sick for about a week or so. When I laid down at night, I had trouble breathing,” he recalled. “So, I decided to go to the emergency room and get checked out. I thought I had pneumonia or maybe bad bronchitis.”

After testing, he was told that his blood pressure “was through the ceiling,” he said, and that his kidneys had shut down.

“I had untreated sleep apnea and that was raising the blood pressure,” he said.

It was then that he started on dialysis and that lasted for eight years before he received a transplant in 2020 from a deceased donor. As it turned out, there were problems with the transplanted kidney.

“The first year was rough. I had tons of extra fluid. They couldn’t regulate the blood pressure and I gained 50 pounds,” Urtel said. “Little did I know, this kidney was bad, they didn’t tell me that. I think it was a little bit of a little story to keep me going.”

Tested recently, it was determined that his kidney failure risk factor was at a high level, once again making him eligible for a transplant.

“This time, it's going to have to be a live donor because I already did eight years of dialysis and the average lifespan on dialysis is seven,” he said. “That’s why I’m working with Kidneys for Communities. They have pairing programs and other ways to find matches.”

While Renee said she was willing to donate one of her kidneys, she’s not a match.

The chief executive officer for Kidney for Communities said he can relate to Urtel’s plight.

“First of all, I'm a kidney recipient myself,” Atul Agnihotri said by telephone on Friday. “So, I sort of know what Jim's going through and that’s the foundation of how we started this organization. I felt that I got lucky when I received my kidney, and a lot of people in the same journey with me were not as lucky.”

Agnihotri said his organization focuses on sharing patients’ stories in their own communities to maximize their chances of receiving transplants.

“We know that within the community is where the affinity, the relationships and identification is the strongest,” he said. “And members are willing to help other members. A community could be that you are living in a smaller city were people have this binding relationship with each other, or you could be going to the same church.”

Kidneys for Communities does not charge a fee to donors, recipients or transplant centers, Agnihotri said.

“We collect our own funds. All our funders currently are people that are associated with kidney disease, either their themselves as recipients, family members of the recipients or their donors,” he explained.

“If you look at our organization, we have an incredible list of people that are associated with it. A lot of those people are altruistic donors, meaning that they just kind of like walked in and said, whoever needs a kidney, I'm willing to give one.”

And that’s just the type of person that Jim Urtel is hoping to find.

For more about how to help Urtel:

For more information about Kidneys for Communities, go to

Batavia native Scott C. Woodward promoted to the rank of U.S. Army Brigadier General

By Mike Pettinella
Scott Woodward

“Give it a shot and see if you like it or not.”

With those words, or something to that effect, Scott Woodward accepted his father’s advice and took a shot at qualifying for the U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program at SUNY Brockport.

“When I went to college, I competed for one of the two-year ROTC scholarships between my sophomore and junior year,” said Woodward, (photo at right), a 1989 graduate of Batavia High School. “I was interested in ROTC, but it was never pushed on me.

“My dad asked me to give it a shot and see if you like it or not. I ended up getting the scholarship and, from there, it just kind of came naturally to me, and I did pretty well at it.”

“Pretty well” is quite the understatement.

Today, Woodward is five months away from a 30-year career in the Army and has progressed through the ranks to earn the title as Brig. Gen. Scott C. Woodward – making his parents, Tim and Maria, his family and his hometown proud.


Woodward was promoted from colonel to brigadier general by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff on Dec. 7 at a ceremony in McLean, Va. His promotion was delayed for several months due to a confirmation hold by Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

The 52-year-old Batavia native, who now serves as the Deputy Commanding General-Training at the Army’s Combined Arms Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said he sometimes has to pinch himself to make sure it’s not a dream.

“It’s weird,” he said during a phone interview with The Batavian earlier this week. “I had to catch myself because I’m still trying to say ‘Colonel’ sometimes (when talking about himself) because I was a Colonel for seven years.”

For an officer to reach such an elite level, it takes a combination of service and leading others, said Woodward, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant after completing the ROTC program.


Woodward has all of that, and more, on a resume that includes four deployments in Iraq during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve, along with deployments in Bosnia-Herzegovina for Operation Joint Forge and Kuwait for Operation Desert Spring.

“It was March 2003, as a captain during OIF, when I was experienced combat,” Woodward said. “I went over there as a troop commander during the ground war – the initial invasion, we went all the way from Kuwait to Baghdad.”

He took on a different role during Inherent Resolve in 2014 after being promoted to lieutenant colonel.

“I was a G3 (operations officer) for the First Infantry Division … right when the whole ISIS thing really kicked off,” he noted.


Woodward has excelled at various posts in the states, as well, including:

-- The Armor Colonels assignment officer, Senior Leader Development, Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington DC.

-- Operations Officer, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas.

-- Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff G3/5/7, HQDA, Washington DC.

-- Executive Officer to the Commanding General of US Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, Va.

He is a graduate of Armor Officer basic course, Aviation Officer advanced course, the Command and General Staff College, and the US Army War College, where he earned a master’s degree in strategic studies from the Army War College.

Woodward said that being a commander is vital to moving up the ladder in the Army, and he was fortunate to be selected to lead men and women every step of the way, as a captain of a tank company and reconnaissance troop in Fort Stewart, Ga., as a lieutenant colonel of a cavalry squadron at Fort Riley, Kan., as a colonel of a cavalry regiment at Fort Irwin, Calif.

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Last August, Woodward was named the new Combined Arms Center-Training Deputy Commander during a ceremony in Fort Leavenworth.

The previous Commanding General Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin (photo at left) said Woodward was the right person for the job, which oversees around 1,400 enlisted men and women and civilians.

According to an Army public relations’ article, Martin pointed out that he had served with Woodward at the Training and Doctrine Command.

“I’ve seen what this officer can do,” Martin said. “I saw what he did in the Mojave Desert leading the Blackhorse (11th U.S. Cavalry) Regiment and I have nothing but high hopes and great expectations for what you will do for CAC Training.”

Woodward said he calls Kansas home, having met his wife, Judy, there in 2006, and having been stationed there five times. One of his two daughters graduated from the University of Kansas.

Speaking about his new job, he said, “Essentially, I manage the training enterprise for the entire Army; all the training aids, training devices, simulators, simulations, ranges, the constructive simulations that we run for our corps and divisions.”

It’s a high-level management position with a $2.3 billion portfolio every year, he added.


For someone who thought he would give the Army four years and move on, Woodward said his motivation to serve is as strong as ever.

“I would say that the thing that keeps me in the Army -- the thing that keeps me motivated -- is the people,” he offered. “I’m serving with the best people in the world. And I think the job we do on a daily basis is worth it to me and to the people I serve with and what we do for the American public, I believe in it.

“And that's what keeps me motivated and staying in. I still think I'm making a difference in people's lives. And I still feel like I can contribute.”

Woodward was quick to add that he’s “proud” to be from Western New York and from Batavia.

His Batavia family is well known, with his parents, Tim and Maria (Gilmartin), and brother, T.J., having owned and operated Gilmartin Funeral Home for many years. His sister, Michelle, now resides in Atlanta.


Military service is not foreign to the Woodwards and Gilmartins as Tim served in the New York Army National Guard and his late brother, Mike, was in the Navy. Both grandfathers, the late Earl Woodward and Darwin Gilmartin, served in the Navy during World War II.

Woodward has two grown daughters, Savannah, who lives in Newport News, Va., and Sydney, who resides in Charlottesville, Va.

Although he hasn’t been in Western New York for quite some time, his love for the Buffalo Bills hasn’t waned.

“The Bills played out here a couple weeks ago against the Chiefs and I went to the game with a Bills’ jersey on,” he said excitedly, talking about Buffalo’s thrilling 20-17 victory. “I’m still and always will be a Bills fan.”

training run
Combined Arms Center-Training Deputy Commanding General Brig. Gen. Scott Woodward speaks to Soldiers from CAC-T headquarters and subordinate organizations after he and CAC-T Senior Enlisted Advisor Sgt. Maj. Chris Kohunsky led the Soldiers on a group run Dec. 15 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Photos courtesy of Tisha Swart-Entwistle, Combined Arms Center-Training Public Affairs.

Elba outlasts Notre Dame, 49-44, in GR girls' basketball

By Mike Pettinella
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Elba defeated host Notre Dame, 49-44, in Genesee Region girls’ basketball action Wednesday night.

Sofia Falleti recorded a double-double for the Irish, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Nina Bartz added 12 for ND.

ND Coach Vinny Falleti:

“Our team played hard tonight and made runs to come back but couldn’t put together a complete game against a physical Elba team. The game was back and forth with a lot of intensity. We will see each other again late in the season.”

Statistics from Elba have yet to be submitted.

For more high school sports competition from last night, click on the Sports tab at the top of the home page.

Photos by Debra Reilly

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Decisions, decisions. Future of its branches to be focus of WROTB deliberations; union seeks input

By Mike Pettinella

The top-ranking official of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. says many factors will be taken into consideration in the coming weeks to determine the future of the public benefit company’s OTB branches.

Meanwhile, the representative of the employees’ union is reiterating her insistence that the workers at those eight locations are included in the process.

With only two of the branches projected to show a profit for 2024, management and the board of directors will be taking a deep dive into that segment of WROTB’s organization soon after the first of the year, President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said on Friday.

“It’s definitely a concern, and it’s something that the board has asked us to address,” he said. “We will address it with our employees, we will look at it and we will make decisions that are in the best interests of the company as to what the mix might be between branches and EZ Bet locations.”

As she did after a WROTB board meeting in August, Antonella Rotilio, labor relations rep for United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222, contends that no decisions should be made without the input of the branch employees.

Antonella Rotilio

"Right now, we're in the dark,” she said, also on Friday. “There have been no conversations about saving the branches. We know that Henry’s goal is to close the branches. All we’re looking for is some transparency and to be part of the conversation before they take action and go to the board to approve what they’ve done.”

Rotilio (photo at left) said she believes that management nor the board respects the union.

“We have employees who have been with the corporation for 30 years and they should not be reading anything in print about possibly losing their jobs. It should be a discussion at the very least with the union,” she said.

When asked about respect for the employees, Wojtaszek replied that he has “great respect for our employees; they do a great job. We've tried to reward them for the great year that they've had (with a 4 ½ percent raise for 2024). We love the way they treat our customers. We love our employees.”

When asked about respect for the union, he said, “We love our employees.”

Over the years, WROTB, headquartered at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road, has whittled down the number of branches to the current eight while increasing its EZ Bet location presence to 28. EZ Bets are employee-less sites at existing businesses where customers can wager on horse racing.

Rotilio said the branches employ about 40 people, many who have been on the job for quite some time, in Auburn, Jamestown, Rochester, Monroe County (two), Erie County (two), Niagara County and at Batavia Downs Gaming.

The corporation’s operating plan for next year lists only the Clinton branch in Erie County and the Lyell branch in Rochester as profitable. All told, the projected net loss for the branches is close to $300,000. The total handle for all the branches is projected to exceed $22 million.

Rotilio said the branches provide a vital service to the customers and host communities and believes that more effort should be put into promoting them.

“They (management) don’t come to us and say, ‘Hey, this branch has been underperforming for this amount of time or this many years, we need to work on a plan. It’s just they show up one day and say, ‘We're closing the branch.’ So, it's coming out of nowhere,” she said.

In October, the board voted in favor of the sale of OTB branches in Phoenix, Oswego County, and West Ridge Road, Monroe County.

Branch employees’ lives are in limbo, fearing that their jobs could be terminated at a moment’s notice, Rotilio added.

“I have said to board members that before you vote on a decision based on (financial) numbers that you’re seeing, you need to meet with us, talk to the members (union employees) because it affects the communities as well,” she said. “We hear from the customers, telling us that this has been part of their lives for a long time.”

Wojtaszek said the plan is to communicate with the employees and share their concerns with the board.

“In the end, the board will do what is best for the company,” he said, emphasizing that no one in the corporation has brought up eliminating all of the branches.

He noted that he would like to see legislation at the state level that would allow sports betting to take place at OTB branches.

“We've always talked about that. If sports betting was allowed in these OTB branches, that certainly will make a difference,” he said. “Part of the problem is they made it available so that some of these sports betting companies can take horse bets but not the reverse. FanDuel now has horse race betting on their website, but we can’t offer sports betting.”

Board OKs 4 1/2 percent raise for WROTB employees, feasibility study for expansion of Hotel at Batavia Downs

By Mike Pettinella

A raise for all Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. employees, a plan to expand The Hotel at Batavia Downs and an application to add more terminals to the gaming floor.

Those items and the passage of about 65 resolutions that had been in the hopper for up to three months gave WROTB directors plenty of activity at this morning’s board meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

Directors voted in favor of a resolution granting all employees of the public benefit company a 4 ½ percent raise, effective Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2024.

“The organization is only as good as the people who support the organization,” said Temporary Chair Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester). “… It a step in the right direction for us as a board.”

The pay increase extends to all employees, union and non-union, including senior management, who were given a three-year contract last spring.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said the (United Professional & Service Employees) Union signed a contract “that gives those workers the same raise as the entire corporation.”

“In the old days, they had a separate clause in there where they would have a raise depending upon what they negotiated that year,” he said. “But the latest contract that they signed, they get the same as every other employee at WROTB.”

The resolutions stated that Batavia Downs Gaming’s net win (money left in the gaming machines after payouts to customers) rose by $7.2 million from 2022 to 2023 and attendance increased by more than 58,000 during that same period. Additionally, food and beverage, and hotel room sales increased by 14 percent.

Update: Antonella Rotilio, UPSEU labor relations representative, said that the union is "very pleased that the board acknowledges the success of the corporation because of the members and the employees. Those are big steps."


The board passed two resolutions pertaining to The Hotel at Batavia Downs – one to extend its contract with Hart Hotel Inc. to manage the 84-room facility for three more years at a cost not to exceed $9,000 per month and the other to authorize spending up to $100,000 for a feasibility study to determine if expansion is warranted.

Wojtaszek said that Dave Hart, owner of Hart Hotel Inc., will “take the lead on looking for an architect to do the drawing and for a company to study how an expansion would affect our business.”

He said the board will not make a decision until the feasibility study is complete and submitted for review. He said adding 40 rooms has been talked about but “nothing is definite at this point.”


Vice President/Operations Sean Schiano has applied to the New York State Gaming Commission for the right to add 18 more Video Lottery Terminals to the gaming floor.

Wojtaszek said the addition of 18 games would max out the floor, increasing the total number to 928.

“After that (approval) we probably will not have much more room to expand on the current floor, so we’d have to take a different approach,” he said. “But those 18 will fit on our current makeup.”

In other action, the board voted to approve the 2024 Operating Plan that was submitted by Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach and her staff. 

Previously: Member municipality distributions to approach $10 million in 2024: WROTB chief financial officer

WROTB's Erie County director resigns due to state law prohibiting 'party officials'; five 'public officials' can stay

By Mike Pettinella

The makeup of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors is changing once again.

As a result of a New York State law prohibiting political party officials from obtaining a license from the state Gaming Commission to serve on the WROTB board, Jennifer Hibit, who was appointed to represent Erie County in June, has resigned.

Hibit is the secretary of the Erie County Democratic Committee.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek today confirmed that Hibit is no longer on the 17-member board and has been replaced by Deputy County Comptroller Timothy Callan.

Callan was not at this morning’s directors’ meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming because he has yet to receive his license from the Gaming Commission.

Following the meeting, Wojtaszek told The Batavian that the law covers two areas – someone who is a party officer and someone who is a public officer that potentially could have a conflict of interest.

“The law defines a party officer as someone with a national, state or county political committee, and that applies to Hibit as well as Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney (City of Buffalo representative),” he said.

Wojtaszek noted that Rodriguez-Dabney, who is the vice chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee, has not indicated whether she will be resigning yet.

Continuing, he said the when looking at the public officer portion of the law, it defines someone that could be ineligible as an elected or appointed official “who has a conflict due to dealing with the pari-mutuel betting process or taxation thereof.”

When exploring that section of the law, there are five current WROTB directors that fall into that category:

-- Terrance Baxter, Moravia (Cayuga County) town supervisor;
-- Edward Morgan, Orleans County legislator;
-- Paul Bartow, Schuyler County planning commission and historical society board member;
-- Michael Horton, Savona (Steuben County) Village Court judge;
-- Susan Way, member of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors.

Wojtaszek said those five were required to sign a form indicating there was no conflict of interest, action that was confirmed by Morgan during a break in today’s meeting.

“They can stay on the board as long as they certify that there is no conflict and that the prohibition does not apply to them,” Wojtaszek added.

With Hibit not there because of her resignation and Rodriguez-Dabney also absent, the board needed the presence of Monroe County director James A. Wilmot to be in attendance – and he was -- to have a quorum. Erie County has 24 votes and Buffalo has 10 out of the 100 votes in the weighted voting system; Monroe County has 20 votes.

Hibit’s replacement, Callan, works for County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick, who has publicly spoken out against WROTB’s policies and practices.

In a report from a Buffalo-based publication, Hibit said she had disclosed her role with the Democratic Committee when she applied for the position, and a Gaming Commission official stated that it was an oversight until recently.

In a related matter, the board is scheduled to vote on a new permanent chairperson at its January meeting. Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) has been serving as the temporary chair.

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