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Batavia town planners approve Country Line Electrical storage building site plan

By Mike Pettinella
Sep 20, 2023, 2:00pm


The Batavia Town Planning Board met for 4 ½ minutes on Tuesday night, just enough time to unanimously pass a site plan from Country Line Electrical Distributors, Inc. to construct an accessory building on its East Main Street Road property.

William Massett, business owner, submitted the proposal to build a 12- by 84-foot open air pipe storage building in the Commercial district at 5065 East Main St. Rd. The plan previously was recommended for approval by the Genesee County Planning Board.

Initially, the project calls for the construction of a roof in case of rain to make it easier for loading and unloading, said Jennifer Massett, who was at the meeting. She said that owners eventually will fence it in for safety and security.

That was the only item on the board’s agenda.

Mancuso Bowling Center enters high-tech world of Brunswick Sync scoring system

By Mike Pettinella
Sep 6, 2023, 10:35am
tv screens
The newly installed Brunswick Sync scoring system features large color upper monitors and big screen TVs across Mancuso Bowling Center's 24 lanes. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

Mancuso Bowling Center has elevated its game with the installation of the Brunswick Sync scoring and management system.

Tuesday Night Coed bowlers were the first league bowlers to experience the state-of-the-art platform last night – a system that features 50-inch, full color upper monitors and interactive, touchscreen lower monitors along with six 55-inch color televisions strategically placed across the 24 lanes.

Two more big screen TVs have been placed behind the service bar and the customer service desk.

“It’s nicely lit and easy to read,” said Rebecca Bates, a league bowler for the past three years. “So, we’ll see if it keeps score good.”

General Manager Mike Sputore reported no scoring problems on opening night of what is an eight-month fall-winter league season.

“Sync is Brunswick’s latest model of automatic scoring, and it controls food and beverage (point of sale ordering) as well as far as restaurant capabilities,” Sputore said. “And there are a bunch of different (bowling) games – not just standard bowling.”

Sputore said the lower monitors are “very user friendly” and the upper monitors are loaded with numerous colorful and high-tech graphics. Casual bowlers can even upload their photo onto the upper monitor when playing a specialty game known as Angry Birds.

Other games (some are 10 frames and some are five frames) include Creature Feature, EZ Bowl, HORSE, Ka Pow!, My Shot, Pin Pals, PinPix, Rival Rumble and 3-6-9 Free Strike. 

“It has so many different features, including the Open Lane app, where bowlers’ scores can be downloaded and then sent to their email,” Sputore noted.

The scoring upgrade replaces the Brunswick Frameworx system that had been in place for the past 25 years or so.

“(Proprietor) Rick (Mancuso) did a good job of research and getting the right stuff that works – and it looks beautiful,” Sputore said. “It’s quite a substantial investment.”

Sputore said that Sync interfaces with league secretarial software and handles a multitude of back office tasks.

The Sync system also reads the down-lane speed of the bowling ball and posts that number on the upper monitor after the bowler’s delivery.

“Yeah, it does the ball detect; average first ball speed,” he said. “It’s very convenient for league and tournament bowlers. Now, if you make a bad shot and you see that you threw it three miles an hour slower than your last one, that’s probably the reason.”

league bowling
Tuesday Night Coed League kicks off the fall-winter season.
lower monitor
Mancuso Bowling Center Manager Mike Sputore enters the name for Adam Flint, who was substituting in the Tuesday Night Coed League.
Open bowling takes on a new look with the graphics from the Angry Birds specialty game.

GCASA's new women and children's residence in Albion to serve Genesee County needs

By Mike Pettinella
Sep 5, 2023, 1:01pm
women and children's residence
Architect's rendering of GCASA's women and children's residence being constructed in Albion.

Providing a safe and secure place to live for women battling substance use disorder, including those with children, is yet another vital phase of the mission of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to offer a wide spectrum of care.

“This project is only one of maybe three similar facilities west of Syracuse,” said GCASA Chief Executive Officer John Bennett, speaking of the agency’s 25-bed women and children’s residence that will be located on Butts Road in Albion. “We will serve Genesee and Orleans counties, primarily, and also the Western and Finger Lakes regions.”

Part of the wooded nine-acre lot just outside of the Albion village limits is being cleared to make way for the construction of the building frame and roof this fall, Bennett said. The home – which will take on a woodsy look of green siding and black window trim -- is expected to open around October of next year.

“Once open, it will include an early childhood learning center, walking paths in the woods, a large playground, a small workout area for residents, an area for arts and crafts, and more,” he offered. “We continue to find ways to break down barriers for individuals to enter and remain in treatment services. We currently offer extra services such as our drop-in daycare, transportation, case management, recovery services, and a 24/7 peer hotline, as well as our core services.”

GCASA has expanded its programs exponentially under Bennett’s guidance, with its workforce tripling in size over the past 15 years. The women’s and children’s residential facility in Albion fills a great need in substance use treatment, he noted.

“Since 2015, we have seen a significant increase in our female (client) population,” Bennett said. “It used to be 75 percent men and 25 percent women. Now, with opioids – pills – becoming more popular among women, the need in the community to serve women has multiplied.

“One of the barriers for women entering a residential program is, ‘Who will care for their children?’ In our program, women will be able to have their children (under school age) with them while in care.”

Bennett said the Albion location will provide services to women 18 and older during their recovery, with five of the 25 units set up to accommodate women with children younger than kindergarten age. Up to two children can live in those units.

GCASA will operate the facility, with staffing at all hours, seven days a week, Bennett said. A grant from the New York State Department of Health has covered $4.6 million of the $5.2-million cost of construction.

“We looked at buying the Cloverhill Adult Home building in the village but it really wasn’t set up appropriately for the project. It would have taken much to convert and to rehab it,” he said. “When we did purchase the property on Butts Road, the Town of Albion was incredibly welcoming. It’s near to the village but provides privacy for the residents.”

Responding to questions from citizens in the area, Bennett said that only a small part of the land is designated as wetlands and that area will be left untouched, and that GCASA will put in plantings along the driveway upon completion to provide privacy for those living along Butts Road.

“GCASA always strives to be a good neighbor,” he said. “All of our buildings are well-kept.”

The agency is working with the firm of Fontanese Folts Aubrecht Ernst Architects, P.C., of Orchard Park, the same company that has contributed design expertise for seven other GCASA projects. Whitney East, Inc., based in Le Roy and Rochester, is the general contractor.

Bennett said that once operational, the women and children’s residence will enable GCASA to make the Atwater Community Residence in Batavia a “male-only” facility.

“When this is done, we’ll have significantly expanded our bed capacity for all -- providing stabilization, rehabilitation and re-entry into the community,” he said.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Photos from the ground at Wings Over Batavia

By Mike Pettinella
Sep 3, 2023, 10:04am
A10 team
Members of the U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team in formation at Saturday's Wings Over Batavia air show are, from left, Sr. Airman Anwar Allen, Sr. Airman Toriano Decuir, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Ross, Staff Sgt. Cody Polzin, Tech. Sgt. Allen Brewer, Master Sgt. Bryen Sandoval, Capt. Jose Shuco Paiz and Capt. Lindsay "MAD" Johnson, the pilot. Photo by Phil Casper.
air force recruits
The air show served as the backdrop for a U.S. Air Force recruitment ceremony. Pledging their allegiance to serve in the military are, from left, Antonio Perez of Holley, Adele Feeley of Le Roy, Cole Swain of Pike, Andrew Waters of Middleport and Trevor Nicholson of Orchard Park. Photo by Phil Casper.
Rescue tank
Air show attendees were attracted to the police Rescue vehicle.
air store
The air show offered plenty of merchandise and souvenir items for sale.
food vendors
Jon Rolfe of Chili cooks the chicken kabobs at one of the several food vendor booths at the Wings OVer Batavia air show. Photos by Mike Pettinella.
Palermo family
Pete and Doreen Zeliff, left, air show organizers, with the Ricky Palermo family and friends. Submitted photo.

Skywriting spurs pre-show sales and volunteers for Wings Over Batavia

By Mike Pettinella
Sep 2, 2023, 8:00am
airshow wings over batavia

A late surge in volunteer sign-ups has Batavian Pete Zeliff, catalyst of Genesee County’s return to the air show arena after a 25-year hiatus, feeling pretty good just hours before the start of the star-studded Wings Over Batavia event.

“After the last volunteer meeting we had, another 180 people signed up to be volunteers. So, we’re near 400 volunteers right now for this show, which is about right where we wanted to be,” Zeliff said on Friday at the rehearsal for the show that takes place today and Sunday nights at Genesee County Airport on Saile Drive.

Zeliff said he’s projecting attendance of 10,000 to 12,000 per day. The show runs from 5-9 p.m. both days.

“Yesterday, when Nate Hammond went up and did the sky writing, every time he went up and did that, the online ticket sales spiked. So, that was great to see that,” he noted.

The show is being sponsored by more than 30 businesses and individuals from the surrounding area.

“We did okay on sponsors, but I wish we could have done a little better,” he said. “But we’ll get there. It’s our first year.”

Zeliff said he is impressed by the caliber of performers who have flown into Batavia to participate.

“Well, I think a lot of people didn’t realize (the magnitude of the show) or didn’t think that it was really going to happen,” he said. “Now, with everything going on here, people are seeing that this is going to happen.”

When asked how Genesee County was able to attract such top-notch talent, a couple of the performers said it was due to their respect for Pete’s wife, Doreen Hillard-Zeliff.

“Dennis (Dunbar, show chairperson) helps, but Doreen is the reason why everybody’s here. Doreen is it,” said Kevin Coleman of the Red Bull team. 

His partner, Luke Aikins, agreed.

“I think Doreen and Dennis, that combination of those two. At every air show Dennis has ever organized, everything runs smooth. They take care of the performers. And that's what Doreen and Dennis are known for from us. They keep us safe, and they give us great support. And we're happy to be here for them,” he said.

Zeliff had no problem getting on that bandwagon.

“Doreen was the air show mom to all these guys when they were young and getting started,” he said. “You can see that they have a lot of respect for Doreen.

“And it’s amazing to have the lineup that we have. The A-10 sitting out here on the ramp. There hasn’t been – other than helicopters at practice here from the National Guard – a military plane on the ramp in 26 years. Plus, Mike Goulian, Rob Holland, Lee Lauderback. We’ve got the top performers in the industry.”

Photos from Friday's rehearsal flights by Jim Burns.

airshow wings over batavia
airshow wings over batavia
airshow wings over batavia
airshow wings over batavia
airshow wings over batavia
airshow wings over batavia

Red Bull duo jumping at the chance to wow the spectators at Wings Over Batavia this weekend

By Mike Pettinella
Sep 1, 2023, 7:39pm
Red Bull
The Red Bull team, from left, skydiver Luke Aikins and pilot Kevin Coleman, at today's Wings Over Batavia preparation at the Genesee County Airport. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Kevin Coleman is living the dream.

“I’m 33 years old and I started flying air shows when I was 18. So, I grew up in an air show family and my dad flew air shows. Ever since I was 3 years old, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” the Coushatta, La. resident said this afternoon while getting ready for this weekend’s Wings Over Batavia Air Show.

Coleman and skydiver Luke Aikins comprise the Red Bull “Airforce” team that wows audiences all over the world. The event at the Genesee County Airport is their 16th show this year.

Their airplane is an Extra EA-300, a 1,200-pound, 400-horsepower machine that was built specially for aerobatics, Coleman said.

“Basically, it was built to do all the cool stunts or tricks, whatever you want to call it,” he added. “So, it's not comfortable; it's not a good traveling airplane. It's built for one purpose and that's to fly air shows and do all the cool stunts.”

Sponsored by Red Bull, Coleman said he’s been flying this plane since 2010.

“I own the airplane, while Red Bull is our partner that makes the deal go around,” he said.

Aikins, 49, of Seattle, said he’s been skydiving since 1989, amassing 22,000 dives over that time.

“I’ve done lots of jumping all over the place. I think the thing that is most known about me happened in 2017 when I jumped out of a plane without a parachute and landed in a giant net,” he said. “I did that on live TV and that was from 25,000 feet.”

Coleman quickly responded, “When he says it was a giant net, it was not a giant net. It was a small net.”

Aikens then said it was a 100- by 100-foot net “and I landed in that, without a parachute.”

He won’t be attempting that stunt this weekend, but he said he has something really special in store.

“Here in Batavia, I’m going to jump into a big American flag to start the show and Kevin’s going to circle around me with smoke while the national anthem goes on,” he said. “After that, Kevin’s going to put on an awesome display with the extra flip-and-twist-into-it turns and blow your mind.”

Later at night, Aikins said he’s going to come out wearing a wingsuit with pyrotechnics (sparklers) on his feet.

“I'm going to come out with a wingsuit with a sparklers on my feet and I’m going to jump out from about 7,000 feet and fly my wingsuit at night … and open a parachute and land in that.”

Overdose Awareness Day shines light on effort to spread 'hope and healing'

By Mike Pettinella
Aug 31, 2023, 9:08am
Overdose Awareness Day
Overdose Awareness Day at Austin Park on Wednesday featured messages of hope from community members on the dangers of opioids.  Photos by Steve Ognibene.
Cheryl Netter

Cheryl Netter and Scott Davis are two of the fortunate ones. They are people who have survived the grip of addiction and have emerged on the other side, now devoting their lives to helping others who are struggling with substance use disorder.

So many others didn’t make it. More than 100,000 in the United States over the past year alone – and nearly 80 Genesee and Orleans County residents who died of a drug overdose over the past four years.

Netter (photo at left) and Davis briefly shared their stories of anguish successful recovery on Wednesday afternoon at the annual Overdose Awareness Day at Austin Park.

The event, organized to raise awareness of the dangers of opioids and to remember those who have succumbed to an overdose, was coordinated by the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, in conjunction with the National Institute of Health’s HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative.

Recognized as a community “hope coach,” Netter said she is “an overdose and suicide attempt survivor.”

“Leading up to my (suicide) attempt, much of my struggle and pain I chose not to allow people to see. I spent my younger years masking my way through life, not recognizing or even acknowledging my inner struggles,” she said. “This led me to dabbling with mental health issues, risky behavior, substance use and trying to (commit) suicide. I stand with you today only by the grace of God, and with many years of recovery and I'm able to tell my story in my own voice.”

She quickly shifted her focus off of herself to speak about those who are no longer with us because of drugs.

“We're here and I want to remember and acknowledge those individuals gathered here today, along with their families and friends. Those who aren’t able to tell their story with their own voice due to …losing the struggle of addiction and to talk about the crisis we’re all facing right now.”

Netter encouraged family members and friends to keep the stories of those departed alive.

“We’re sowing seeds of hope and healing, not only in the hearts and lives of others, but also in our own hearts and our own life,” she said. “Strength and recovery can be found by giving a voice to the stories of those who may otherwise go unseen and unheard.”

Scott Davis

Davis (photo at right) has been a certified peer recovery advocate for the Rochester Regional Health system for the past two years – a far cry from where he was for most of his adult life while addicted to heroin and fentanyl.

He shared that when his mother died in 2008, his life spiraled out of control, and the result was incarceration, institutions and near death. Eventually, and with the help of medication for opioid use disorder and support from family and friends, Davis pulled himself up, and continues in his recovery.

Two years ago, his brother died from an overdose, a searing pain that he said he is “working through.”

“Every day, there is something that reminds me of him,” he said. “He’s always there with me.”

Other speakers included John Bennett, chief executive officer at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse; Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments, and Dawn Stone, peer advocate at Spectrum Health in Wyoming County.

John Bennett: We’re Working to Save Lives

John Bennett

“You would think that in the year 2023, with all of the people who have come out publicly – all the movie stars and athletes that have come out and talked about their addiction – that the stigma would reduce? But it hasn’t. It’s still there,” Bennett said. “So, I just want to thank all the people here today who are recovery warriors. It’s the work that you guys do every day. The support agencies like GCASA, to support the people in the community, that really make a big difference.”

He mentioned how the agency has grown in recent years from 65 to almost 200 employees and adding needed services such as housing for various groups, childcare, transportation and The Recovery Station social meeting place on Clinton Street Road.

“We also provide services for the homeless, particularly through a homeless housing grant that we recently got,” he said. “We’re going to be working on coming up with transitional housing crisis beds for these folks, where they will have a place to stay for seven to 15 days. Those are hard to find, but we’re working to make those come true.”

Bennett said recovery workers are making a difference by trying to save lives.

“My heart goes out to all of you who have lost a loved one. I can’t imagine the grief and loss. But know that we’re trying to make a difference behind the scenes to help future loss of life,” he said.

Paul Pettit: An ‘Urgent Public Health Threat’

Paul Pettit

Pettit said that data shows that the opioid epidemic continues to be a “very urgent public health and public safety threat in our communities.”

“Drug overdose deaths continue to be the number one leading cause of injury mortality in the United States,” he said. “It’s been that way for many years now. And unfortunately, it's probably going to continue to be the number one cause of death. It's more than vehicle accidents and other types of injuries.”

More than 100,000 people died by overdose last year in the U.S., he said, adding that since 2019, there have been 56 overdose deaths in Genesee County and 23 overdose deaths in Orleans County.

“That’s 79 individuals that have lost their lives to overdoses that we could have prevented; that we are working to prevent it. And that's why we're here today -- to bring awareness to that and to honor them,” he said.

Pettit credited the GOW Opioid Task Force, a three-county coalition founded in 2017, and the more recent HEALing Genesee initiative for examples of community human services agencies coming together to fight this epidemic. 

“Three areas that we continue to focus on in the community is opioid overdose prevention and education and naloxone (Narcan) distribution … medication for opioid use disorder and linking individuals to treatment, and safer opioid prescribing and dispensing.

Dawn Stone: ‘It Takes a Community’

Dawn Stone

Noting that she provides support and encouragement for people from the age of 5 to 90, Stone said “it takes a community” to combat the increasing mental health and substance use epidemic.

In recovery for 19 years, she said that 21 people have died due to an overdose in Wyoming County in recent years, with 41 being the average age of those individuals.

“It’s not just young people,” she said. “Substance use affects all ages. We need to ask our elders, ‘Are you OK?’ and offer them the help they need.”

To conclude the program, Brandi Smith of Batavia, who has been in recovery from heroin, fentanyl and cocaine for six years, read a poem, No Hero in Heroin, in memory of her brother, Jason, who died of an overdose.

In part, the poem states, “So alone, so filled with fear, but I kept on swimming, well, drowning in tears; I never gave up, finally said my goodbyes, found beauty in life, without you by my side; You’re part of my past now, no longer a friend, despite you name, there’s no HERO in heroin.”

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Photos by Steven Ognibene.

agency booth
Information sharing was a big part of the event as representatives of more than 20 human service agencies participated.
Children joined in on the experience by taking part in educational exercises.
Amy Kabel, left, and Sue Gagne served as co-chairs for the observance. Here they stand in front of flags representing those who have died due to an overdose.
face painting
Seven-year-old Elizabeth Dorchak getting her face painted at a GCASA booth.

Batavia native Mike Sputore hired as Blue Devils' varsity baseball coach

By Mike Pettinella
Aug 29, 2023, 11:34am
Mike Sputore

Mike Sputore fell in love with the game of baseball when he was a young boy growing up on the southside of Batavia.

He excelled at the sport, starting as a member of the Ramblers, who were coached by his father, Paul, in the Batavia Minor League on the diamond at the corner of State and Denio Streets and continuing through two seasons as a pitcher and third baseman for the Genesee Community College Cougars.

Sputore’s baseball career didn’t end then, however. In a sense, it was just beginning. For the past 20 years, he has been a coach at various levels – including the past two years as the varsity head coach at Pembroke Central School.

This summer, when he heard that James Patric was stepping away from the job after two years at the helm, Sputore submitted his resume to Mike Bromley, director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics for the Batavia City School District.

“In 2022, James had reached out to me about coaching the jayvee team at Batavia, but I was committed to Pembroke at that time,” said Sputore during an interview with The Batavian on Monday at Mancuso Bowling Center, where he is employed as the general manager. “When the position did come available, I applied and was interviewed by Mike and (physical education staff members) Brennan Briggs and Nick Burk.”

Apparently, Sputore, a 1999 BHS graduate, aced the interview and was offered the job.

“We had several applicants and Mike came through as the leading candidate,” Bromley said. “He had some great experiences as a coach at Notre Dame and the last couple years at Pembroke as the varsity coach. We know that he has a love for Batavia baseball, with his family deeply involved in baseball here for a long time.

“We think that he has some of the attributes that it would take to be the next varsity coach here in Batavia – a good work ethic, great with kids and loves baseball. Just a good fit.”

Sputore credits his dad, who was president of Batavia Minor League for many years, for introducing him to the sport.

“He was a big influence when I was young and now, I’m enjoying it more and more the older I get,” Sputore said. “It’s very satisfying to help others in reaching their goals.”

After progressing through the summer youth baseball programs in the city – Minor, Little and Junior-Senior leagues, Sputore was a three-year starter at Batavia High under coaches Pep Johnson and Rick Saunders – claiming a Section 5 title in 1998 and earning Monroe County Honorable Mention status as a pitcher and third baseman.

Interestingly, Sputore’s brother, Chris, also won a Section 5 championship as a Blue Devil in 1994.

Mike Sputore played American Legion ball, before enrolling at GCC. It was there that he started his coaching career, serving as an assistant in 2003.

From there, he joined the Notre Dame High baseball program, recruited by varsity coach Rick Mancuso to run the jayvee program. In 2006, he became the varsity assistant coach under Mike Rapone and stayed in that capacity for 11 more years.

From 2018 until last season, Sputore coached at Pembroke – helping to build its program while coaching at the modified and varsity levels.

“We were very young (at Pembroke), but we made progress,” Sputore said, noting that the team won five games over the past two seasons after not winning any the previous couple years. “Going to Batavia, I feel the program has been set up for success, thanks to James, and we hope to continue the tradition built by Pep and Rick.”

Sputore said his expectations for his players start with two words – hustle and effort.

“It takes zero talent to hustle and give your best effort at all times,” he said. “We’re looking for kids to be coachable and to be motivated to succeed.”

He said he hopes to get his players on the field for some practice in October and is planning some “winter workouts” with the drop-down batting cage at the high school’s auxiliary gym. He also is excited about the “Meet the Coach Night” on Sept. 12 at the high school for all of the program’s players and parents.

Ryan Mansell, a five-year ballplayer at Brockport State, has accepted a health teacher position at BCSD and has been hired as the baseball program assistant. Other coaches are Derrick Busch (junior varsity), Greg Mruczek (modified A) and Rich Wagner (modified B).

Sputore has a son, Benjamin, a senior at BHS, and a daughter, Brooklyn, an eighth grader at Oakfield-Alabama Central School. His wife, Jillion, is a teacher at John Kennedy Intermediate School.

Six rural counties join litigation aimed at overturning changes to WROTB governance

By Mike Pettinella
Aug 28, 2023, 5:41pm

Lawmakers in six of the 15 counties that benefit from revenues generated by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. have passed resolutions to participate in a pending lawsuit to overturn changes to the structure and voting format of the public benefit company’s board of directors.

Legislative bodies in Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming, Livingston and Seneca counties have joined Genesee County in an effort to nullify bills passed by New York State -- during budget negotiations in May – that eliminated the board at that time and shifted voting to a weighted system.

Albany’s action transferred the voting power from the rural (predominately Republican counties to the urban (predominately Democratic municipalities of Erie and Monroe counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

Genesee County Attorney James Wujcik today said that he has been talking to lawyers representing the rural counties, confirming that six have signed on thus far. Others rural counties that may opt in are Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Oswego, Wayne and Steuben. The status of Schuyler County is unknown at this point.

“So far, six counties have passed resolutions authorizing their county attorneys to enjoin litigation,” said Wujcik, who added that a draft of the lawsuit is forthcoming.

He also confirmed a report in the Niagara Gazette that Genesee, Niagara and Orleans counties have committed $5,000 each to retain the Lippes Mathias law firm of Buffalo. According to a story on Aug. 1, the newspaper reported that the firm’s lead attorney, Dennis Vacco, will be paid $400 per hour as the “coordinating attorney of all activities” while three others will be paid $375, $350 and $280 per hour.

Should 12 counties sign on to the lawsuit, each would be expected to pay the same amount in attorneys’ and related fees.

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said that premise of the litigation is “to protect the counties’ Home Rule rights” – the one-county, one-vote format -- that have been in place since WROTB’s creation 50 years ago.

“Genesee County’s position is that we must protect our citizens who, by a referendum, voted to join Western Regional,” Stein said. “People trying to change the result of an election is an overreach, and we can’t let that occur in New York State.”

A portion of the resolution passed by the Genesee County Legislature in June refers to the Home Rule provision, noting that:

WHEREAS, the New York State Court of Appeals recognized in Matter of Moran v. La Guardia, 270 N.Y. 450, 452 that “To repeal or modify a statute requires a legislative act of equal dignity and import.” Nothing less than a Home Rule Message from a majority of the founding counties will suffice, i.e. “the doctrine of Legislative Equivalency”. The doctrine of legislative equivalency has uniformly been applied with respect to the modification and or amendment of prior legislation, and,

WHEREAS, none of the founding counties, especially Genesee County, the home County of WROTB, enacted Home Rule Messages requesting that N.Y. Rac. Pari-Mut. Wag. & Breeding Law § 502, be modified and/or amended, and never authorized a relinquishment of control of WROTB to Erie County, Monroe County, City of Buffalo, and City of Rochester, and WHEREAS, Batavia Downs is located in the Town and City of Batavia in a residential area and this is an important quality of life issue for the host County of Genesee to not be negatively impacted by any change to the Board of Directors make up.

Democratic State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo initiated action to dismantle the WROTB board and change the voting structure in light of a state Comptroller’s audit that found fault with the corporation’s use of tickets to sporting events (notably, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres) and concerts; “gold-plated” health insurance for directors, and for President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek’s use of a company vehicle.

Wojtaszek has said that the corporation has taken corrective measures since then, recently stating that management is working on new health insurance options for employees, but not board members.

Union rep: Employees want their ideas to be heard before more Off-Track Betting parlors are closed

By Mike Pettinella
Aug 25, 2023, 1:12pm

The labor relations agent for the employees union at Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. is calling for an “open and honest" conversation with management and the board of directors concerning the future of the public benefit company's brick-and-mortar OTB branches.

Antonella Rotilio. (photo at right), who attended Thursday’s board meeting at the Park Road facility but was not on the agenda to speak, said recent closings of OTB parlors have occurred without proper communication with the union, and a published report of more closings have branch employees worried that they will be losing their jobs.

“My number one concern is obviously for my members (employees). They had read a few weeks ago in article printed by The Batavian in which (WROTB President/Chief Executive Office) Henry (Wojtaszek) had stated that they were possibly going to be closing more branches. I believe it was five,” Rotilio said by telephone this morning.

“These employees are reading these articles. And they have to go to work. They have to work those jobs, and they just saw that another branch closed (the Phoenix branch in Oswego County was closed at the end of July). And all of them are afraid. This isn't a corporation where they come in and they're there a year and then leave. Some of our members -- a lot of our members of the branches -- have been there 30 years. So, this is a big thing. They've spent their entire adulthood in those branches. It's more than a job; it's their life.”

Rotilio represents workers through the United Professional & Service Employees Union Local 1222 at Batavia Downs Gaming and at eight OTB parlors throughout the corporation’s 15 counties and cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

She was referring to a story in The Batavian following the July board meeting, at which Wojtaszek said management’s plan is to reduce the number of OTB branches from the current eight to five by 2025. He said more emphasis is being placed on EZ Bet, which are self-betting terminals in existing bars and restaurants. WROTB has 27 EZ Bet locations across Western New York.

“When they read an article like that and see what’s happening, they’re nervous,” she added. “So, they thought is, why can't we have a conversation with the board and management because we work at the branches, and we handle the customers. I think a conversation that's open and honest and maybe gives options -- maybe listens to what the members have to say and the ideas that they have to maybe cut costs and keep the operation going – would make them feel like they had a little control over their future. To not know if tomorrow they're going to come into your shop and they say, ‘We're closing,’ is an awful feeling.”

They eight OTB branches are located in Williamsville, Cheektowaga, Auburn, Jamestown, Gates, Penfield, Tonawanda and Rochester. Twenty years or so ago, there were more than 30 branches scattered throughout WROTB’s 15 counties and cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

Rotilio said management and the board owes it to their employees to include them when considering short- and long-term plans for these locations. Instead, she contends, branch workers are hearing from customers about rumors of branch closings.

“Customers will come in and they're telling employees what they're hearing because there's some kind of attachment to either the corporation or someone who works at the corporation,” she said.  “It’s like months before an action is taken and the customer knows, while they employees are thinking, ‘Is this true?’ And the union is not told at all in advance what they’re going to do.”

She said employees at the Military Road branch in Niagara Falls were given 10 days’ notice.

“We were very upset about that and we reached out to the corporation. And when Phoenix closed, they notified us after the fact,” she said. “That’s why I think meeting with us -- meeting with the members and having an honest conversation and looking at the numbers together – would have a positive impact because everybody is worried about their job.”

Rotilio acknowledged that the handles (revenues) vary at the different branches and said she realizes that the financials dictate company policy.

WROTB officials on Thursday reported that the branches, grouped in with intertrack wagering, Dial-A=Be, EZ bet, online Batavia Bets and live racing, incurred year-to-date losses of about $600,000. That includes a book loss posted on the sale of the Military Road OTB branch in Niagara Falls.

Contacted this morning, Wojtaszek said that finances “are a big part” of the equation, but said the corporation needs to consider the employees as well.

“Our obligation is to make revenue and turn it over to the member communities,” he said. “To maximize revenue; to make sure that we do work with our employees. As I have said many times, we have the best employees in Western New York, we believe that.

“What will happen in the next few months is that we will discuss the branches and the situation with the various counties that currently have branches in them, and find out what their intentions are. We will, obviously, we will include the workers, the employees within that discussion. We will let them know what’s going on. So, that’s certainly the plan.”

Wojtaszek said the COVID-19 pandemic “forced us to take a hard look at where we were going for the future and that’s when we put together the plan that we discussed a few months ago (to close three more branches by 2025).”

“But, certainly we should be discussing with the members of the board where those locations for the branches are and then we should be discussing with those employees, how it affects them. That is the plan.”

When asked if management knew which branches were earmarked for closing, Wojtaszek said the proposal wasn’t etched in stone, but is something that “we are continuously looking at.”

“It’s something that changes over a period of time, depending on the circumstances. If one of these branches are doing better, financially, it might not need to close, or if other circumstances change. But, at the time, it was based upon geography, where EZ Bets were relocated, and in the end, it's always going to be how are they doing financially?”

He said the corporation is not looking to totally eliminate the branches, but has indicated that an emphasis is being placed on EZ Bet locations, which are housed in established businesses such as restaurants and/or bars.

Wojtaszek defended WROTB’s decision to close branches recent months, noting that the corporation sustained losses for a long period of time.

“I think the moves that we have made over the last couple of years were warranted,” he said. “We don't want anybody to lose their jobs or employment. But we'll do what's necessary to make sure that the corporation remains strong. But again, we'll do that with the advice and input from the various board members and also we will speak with our employees as we make any moves going forward.”

He said there will, in fact, be the “open and honest” conversation that Rotilio is advocating.

And they're off: Batavia Downs looks to add 'historical horse racing' component to gaming experience

By Mike Pettinella
Aug 24, 2023, 2:27pm

Batavia Downs Gaming is looking to add an “historical horse racing” component to its gaming options.

“It’s our No. 2 (priority) behind getting involved in I-Gaming,” said Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. at the public benefit company’s board of directors meeting this morning.

Historical horse racing, or HHR, has been around for several years and, in most instances, refers to gaming that permits players to wager on replays of past horse races – while placing their bets on slot-like historical racing terminals, or HRTs.

Wojtaszek said HHR has been “put in place to help Off-Track Betting locations,” and statistics show that it has become a multi-billion industry in itself.

According to the Betting USA website, six states – Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wyoming – offer historical horse racing wagering as of January 2023.

“We’re making a push to pass legislation (to allow HHR in New York State) in 2024,” Wojtaszek said.

HHR machines come in a wide variety of styles, but all are based on the results of randomized past races. 

Also, from the Betting USA website:

“… each round of play begins with the machine selecting one race at random from a database of up to a hundred thousand past races. The terminal obscures names and dates but provides a handicapping form so players can select three horses, just as they would at a live race.

However, many terminals offer a way for players to automate the selection process, so they end up with a machine that looks and feels just like a slot. Only the last few seconds of the race are displayed on a small part of the screen. The rest of the monitor displays reels and symbols to show the player what, if anything, they won off the slot pull.

The Batavian previously has reported about WROTB’s desire to get in on the iGaming craze, which covers any kind of online betting that wagers on the outcome of a game or event. Sports betting, poker, eSports and online casinos are under the iGaming umbrella.

“Data shows that brick-and-mortar (facilities) are not hurt by (iGaming). So, we’re in the mix,” said Wojtaszek, pointing to a possible rollout in 2025.

He did acknowledge that Batavia Downs Gaming likely won't be authorized to offer sports betting, which has grown exponentially via apps such as DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Caesars.

Wojtaszek said those four sportsbooks hold about 90 percent of the market share, and “we’ll probably see a shrinkage” in the number of other sportsbooks as time goes on.

In other developments:

-- Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that Batavia Downs Gaming set another record in July, amassing $7.8 million in net win – the highest figure in corporation history. Net win is the amount of money left in the Video Lottery Terminal machines after paying out the customers.

Credits played for the month fell just short of $100 million, an increase of $6.9 million compared to July 22 and $13.5 million compared to July 21.

On the pari-mutuel (horse racing) side, the handle was $4.7 million in July, down 7 percent from last July but up 5 percent from the corporation’s operating plan.

The July surcharge to be returned to the 17 municipalities came in at $56,675, and operational earnings of $1.04 million for July have Leach predicting that third-quarter earnings distributions to municipalities will come in at around $2 million.

-- Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer reported that the public is invited to see and take a photo with a Clydesdale from 2-4 p.m. this Saturday during Robert J. Kane Memorial Invitational Pace weekend at Batavia Downs.

The heavy draft-horse breed – that averages 68 to 72 inches tall, 2,000 pounds in weight and was made famous by the Budweiser brewing company – will be stationed in the winner’s circle of the racetrack.

The Kane Memorial will feature a full field of eight horses that have excelled this year on the harness horse racing circuit.

Racing secretary Don Hoover said that the wagering handle, when considering simulcasting and on-site betting thus far, for 23 race days, is averaging $243,237 – up 77 percent over the average handle in 2022. The live handle (patrons at Batavia Downs) is down about 9 percent from last year, however.

-- Paul Bartow of Watkins Glen has joined the board of directors, representing Schuyler County. His appointment by his county’s legislature completes the 17-member board roster.

Bartow is vice president of the Schuyler County Cooperative Extension and a member of the county planning commission and historical society boards.

By appointment only: Mike Barrett winding down after 50-plus years at Batavia Marine

By Mike Pettinella
Jul 25, 2023, 3:05pm
mike barrett
Mike Barrett is embarking on the next chapter of his life after more than 50 years at Batavia Marine & Sporting Supply. Photos by Howard Owens.

Please read: After 68 years we are winding down. Our hours will be by appointment only. Please call (585) 343-4131 and leave a message. A big “thank you” from the Barrett family for your patronage. Remember to vote and carry on the good fight.

With that handwritten message on a large piece of orange paper taped to the front door, Mike Barrett, owner of Batavia Marine & Sporting Supply, let the world know that he’s ready to begin a new phase of a retail sales career that began more than a half-century ago.

“It’s been good while it lasted, but you have to leave your heart and soul here,” said Barrett, 71, in a sit-down interview with The Batavian on Monday afternoon at his store at 413 West Main St. “I’ve been blessed with a mother (the late Mary) and wife (Donna) who have been very understanding over all these years.”

Founded by brothers Dave (Mike’s father) and Charlie in 1955, Batavia Marine was well-known as a hunting and fishing store that eventually ventured into sales of outboard motors, snowblowers, snowmobiles and camping equipment. One of Batavia's longest-running businesses, it also featured a huge selection of trapping supplies.

mike barrett

Mike Barrett went to work on a part-time basis while attending high school at Notre Dame before taking a full-time position in 1972. While he manned the store, his brother, Paul, focused on outboards.

“Actually, my grandparents at one time owned all of the land from here right over to Sport of Kings,” said Barrett, who recently returned from a trip to the Adirondacks with his wife, a longtime employee of the Genesee County District Attorney’s office who now works part-time at the Department of Motor Vehicles and County Clerk’s offices. “My dad also owned another Batavia business, Colt Clamp, which was started in the late 1800s.”

Barrett, who is recovering from a mini-stroke earlier this month, said, “The arrow has been pointing at retirement.”

“My health is not the best. I guess that pounding the floor for 50-plus years got to me,” he said. “Besides that, hunting and fishing have declined. It’s difficult to get stuff. It seems like everything is geared toward the mass merchandisers now.”

Although he has decided to accommodate customers strictly by appointment, Barrett said he’s not moving away from Batavia, and he’s not selling the building.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “There really is no definitive timetable (on liquidating the inventory).”

Barrett estimates that he has sold around 24,000 guns (rifles, pistols, shotguns, etc.) but admitted that sales have declined significantly in recent years.

mike barrett

“The kids don’t hunt and fish anymore, and the new gun laws have people scared to bring their guns out of the house,” he offered. “They’ve passed some stupid restrictions that really didn’t stop any crime.”

Batavia City Council member Rick Richmond, who worked at Batavia Marine for three years, including during COVID, said Barrett has served the city, county and region with the utmost integrity.

“Mike is one of the most honest people I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “I want to put this into perspective. I remember one time that he placed a fishing order. When the hooks came in – they come in a box of 12 – I recall him getting on the phone and calling up the distributor and saying, “Hey, I got my hooks. But one of the boxes had 13 hooks. Please send me the bill.

“He wanted a bill for a package of hooks that would sell for a dollar, sixty-nine!”

For his part, Barrett said he is fortunate to have married the former Donna Stearns, who grew up in Stafford, in 1986.

mike barrett

“She didn’t know what she was getting involved with,” he said with a chuckle.

Barrett said his “bucket list” doesn’t include any cruises or flights to Europe, just a couple of items – visiting a close friend in the Southern Tier and his sister, Emily, in New Jersey. His other sister, Liz, lives in Rochester.

Looking ahead, he said that “Hopefully, the Good Lord will let me live out a long retirement.”

“Most of all, I want to thank all the customers, especially the regulars (who made Batavia Marine & Sporting Supply a daily destination). I’m going to really miss them.”

Democratic Committee leaders to represent Erie County, Buffalo on WROTB board of directors

By Mike Pettinella
Jul 17, 2023, 1:07pm

Two high-ranking officials of the Erie County Democratic Committee have been appointed to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek informed The Batavian today that Jennifer Hibit and Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, secretary and vice chair of the ECDC, respectively, will be joining the board and are expected to attend its next meeting on July 27 at Batavia Downs Gaming.

Hibit will represent Erie County, replacing Francis Warthling, while Rodriguez-Dabney will represent the City of Buffalo, replacing Michelle Parmer-Garner.

Wojtaszek also said that Terrance Baxter, a Republican and current Town of Moravia supervisor, will represent Cayuga County on the board. Baxter replaces Paul Lattimore.

The board was disbanded in May by New York State Assembly and Senate leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul in response to a proposal by Democratic State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo to reconfigure the voting method from one municipality/one vote to a weighted system based on population.

As a result, the majority of the 100 votes are in the hands of directors from Erie and Monroe counties and Buffalo and Rochester.

Monroe and Schuyler counties have yet to announce their appointees to the 17-director board.

Hibit spent 11 years as the Chief of Staff for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz before taking a position as the director of Human Resources last year with the Erie County Water Authority. During her time with Poloncarz’ staff, she served as the campaign manager for his election and re-election campaigns. 

Rodriguez-Dabney, an attorney, recently accepted the position of Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Before that, she served for 15 months as the First Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff for the City of Buffalo.

Baxter is a Member at Large on the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District board and is a former Cayuga County legislator.

As previously reported by The Batavian, the other board members are Charles Zambito of Elba (Genesee County), Edward Morgan (Orleans County), Susan May (Wyoming County), Mark Burr (Cattaraugus County), Vincent Horrigan (Chautauqua County), Thomas Wamp (Livingston County), Elliott Winter (Niagara County), Mark Bombardo (Oswego County), Dennis Bassett (Rochester), Richard Ricci (Seneca County), Michael Horton (Steuben County) and Kenneth Lauderdale (Wayne County).

The weighted voting system gives Erie County 24 votes, followed by Monroe County (20), Buffalo (10) and Rochester (eight). Niagara County also has eight votes, while Chautauqua has five; Oswego, four; Steuben, Wayne, Cattaraugus and Cayuga, three each; Livingston and Genesee, two each; Wyoming, Orleans, Seneca and Schuyler, one each. The directors will serve four-year terms.

HEALing Genesee banks on proven strategies to reduce opioid-related overdose fatalities

By Mike Pettinella
Jul 5, 2023, 12:18pm
HEALing Genesee
Leading the HEALing Genesee initiative to reduce opioid overdose deaths are, from left, Columbia University research team members Louisa Gilbert, Nabila El-Bassel, Timothy Hunt and James David; Christen Foley, Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force coordinator; Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Department; Randi Johnson, physician assistant at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

A wide-ranging, cooperative effort is being made at the grassroots level to “HEAL” those afflicted by opioid use disorder and to prevent opioid overdose deaths.

Professionals in the substance use treatment/prevention and mental health fields in Genesee County have been working in conjunction with a research team from Columbia University over the past year to develop and implement evidence-based strategies as part of the HEALing Communities Study.

HEALing refers to Helping to End Addiction Long-term and is the catchphrase of a program launched by the National Institutes of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The goal is to identify evidence-based programs that are most effective at the local level in preventing and treating opioid use disorder – with a target of reducing opioid-related overdose deaths by 40 percent.

HEALing Genesee is part of the second phase of the HCS, which will run through the spring of 2024. Other counties in this phase include Broome, Chautauqua, Cortland, Monroe, Orange, Sullivan and Yates.

Members of the Columbia University research team, along with officials from the NIH’s Institute on Drug Abuse, came to Batavia last week to meet with the Genesee County Health Department and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse personnel who have been serving on the county’s implementation team.

“Drug overdose requires a comprehensive approach to first define the breadth of the problem and then to promote harm reduction and evidence-based treatments known to be effective with opioid use disorder,” said Timothy Hunt, PhD, of the Columbia U. School of Social Work, who is the HEALing Communities Study Intervention and Community Engagement Investigative Lead.

“The partnership for the HEALing Communities Study between the Genesee Department of Health and organizations like Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse illustrates a community coming together, even when challenged by the COVID pandemic, to focus on this highly stigmatized public health crisis.”

Hunt applauded the Genesee group for its “commitment to capturing up-to-date data on fatal and non-fatal overdoses thus allowing the community to plan and focus strategies to populations and locations at high risk.”

HEALing Genesee leaders have identified several strategies to reach its goal, including various ways of getting naloxone (brand name Narcan) into as many hands as possible. Naloxone is a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.

Initiatives include distribution of leave-behind kits by the Batavia City Fire Department, establishing a text-for-naloxone hotline (text KIT to 1-877-535-2461) and placing NaloxBoxes at businesses.

Columbia U. Professor Nabila El-Bassel, HCS principal investigator, said she was impressed with the amount of collaboration in Genesee County.

“The Columbia University team and our funder from the National Institute on Drug Abuse who visited Genesee HCS coalition extend our gratitude for their unwavering commitment to addressing the overdose crisis with a data-driven solutions and improving access to treatment and care for those in need in Genesee,” she said.

“Today, we witnessed the innovation in delivering drug treatment and services with high integrity and responsiveness to community needs.  The success of the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force and HEALing Communities Study is also a testament to the extraordinary power of collaboration that exists.”

Staff from more than a dozen local agencies have collaborated with HEALing Genesee, including professionals from Genesee County Mental Health, Genesee County Department of Social Services, Genesee Justice, VA Medical Center, City of Batavia Fire Department, GCASA, Horizon Health Services, Rochester Regional Health (United Memorial Medical Center, Hope Haven Center and Batavia Primary Care), Oakfield Family Pharmacy, Oak Orchard Health and Lake Plains Community Care Network.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 2.1 million Americans have opioid use disorder, yet fewer than 20 percent of those receive specialty care in a given year. New York State has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in the nation, with Genesee County having one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in New York State.

The county’s opioid overdose death rate peaked at more than 36 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 and was still around 22 deaths per 100,000 in 2022. As a result, Genesee was selected as a HEALing Communities location.

Hunt concluded that HEALing Genesee, by virtue of its evidence-based strategies and robust communication campaigns, and with support from agencies such as GCASA, is on the right track.

“Our HCS partner, GCASA, provides needed care along a continuum of readiness, and is a rare accommodation to needed levels of care which include harm reduction, detox, rehabilitation and outpatient care, including much-needed access to methadone and Buprenorphine,” he stated. 

To learn more about the HEALing Communities Study and to help end overdoses in Genesee County, visit:

-- HEALing Communities Study Website:

-- GOW Opioid Taskforce Website:

-- GO Health Facebook:

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Scholarship recipients, 'friends' honored at GCASA event

By Mike Pettinella
May 25, 2023, 11:07am
GCASA 'Friends'
Receiving “Friends of GCASA” awards for 2023 are, seated from left, Heather Jackson, Jay Balduf, Megan Boring; standing, Patrick Cecere, Pam McCarthy, Scott Wooten, Matt Prawel, Lt. Bob Tedford.

Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse officials on Wednesday afternoon honored six “friends” of the nonprofit agency and five GCASA Foundation scholarship award winners at their annual meeting at Terry Hills Restaurant.

Friends of GCASA awards went to the City of Batavia Fire Department, Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Prawel, Patrick Cecere, Heather Jackson, Mercy Flight EMS and the United Memorial Medical Center MOMS Program.

Scholarship recipients for 2023 are Carly Cerasani, Arianna Hale, Valerie Pastore, Lauren Reimer and Lilly LeTourneau. They each received $1,000 for enrolling in fields relating to human services and/or social services.


-- City of Batavia Fire Department was recognized for its role in becoming the first Public Safety Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative fire department in New York State. It is one of only a few fire companies in the United States to take part in PAARI, which enables people struggling with substance use to reach out to police and fire department personnel for help, without fear of arrest.

-- Deputy Matt Prawel, a school resource officer for the Albion Central School District, developed a fentanyl awareness presentation to fifth through 12th graders, which includes a video about the deadly drug for families to view. He also is a leading member of the school’s prom awareness committee, and is committed to delivering the message of making safe and healthy choices.

-- Patrick Cecere works at the Genesee County Public Defender’s Office as a social worker/case manager. He consistently has assisted clients of GCASA as they navigate the legal system, advocating for all with fairness, professionalism and compassion.

-- Heather Jackson, an Orleans County Social Services caseworker and former probation officer, has worked collaboratively with GCASA counselors in various areas, notably assisting with patient-centered treatment plans and through programs that provide essential services to youth clients of GCASA. She also chairs Orleans County’s National Night Out, an event that brings law enforcement and community groups together in an alcohol- and drug-free setting.

-- Mercy Flight EMS, with its operations center on Call Parkway, Batavia, has been called on upon more frequently as GCASA’s medical needs have increased since the inception of its detoxification program, and was recognized for the “kind and respectful way in which personnel has interacted with clients.” Mercy Flight EMS staff also were commended for listening to GCASA’s clinical recommendations, especially when it comes to transporting individuals to other facilities.

-- The UMMC Moms Program, specifically Megan Boring and Jay Balduf, has partnered with the Health Moms/Healthy Babies initiative at GCASA. Boring and Balduf were honored for making themselves available to serve GCASA clients as a referral source to those who have yet to receive support for their substance use disorder. Boring has made great strides through her coordinator role of the Prenatal Task Force in Batavia, while Balduf shared her wealth of experience as a registered nurse and maternal health educator at UMMC Healthy Living.


-- Carly Cerasani, a 2023 graduate of Pembroke High School, who is considering attending Brown University in the fall to study Psychology, with a long-term goal of obtaining a doctorate degree. She aspires to improving others’ lives, especially children.

-- Arianna Hale, a 2023 graduate of Pembroke High School, will be attending Genesee Community College in the fall to study Humanities and Social Science, with plans to go on from there to earn a degree in Psychology.  She said that she wants to focus her energies on people who need care and support.

-- Valerie Pastore, a 2023 graduate of Byron-Bergen High School, plans to attend Alfred University in the fall to study Psychology. She seeks to work in the healthcare field, with an eye on helping people through research.

-- Lauren Reimer, a 2023 graduate of Batavia High, will be receiving her associate’s degree from Genesee Community College this spring through advanced placement credits. Her future college plans are to be determined, but she plans to study Biomedical Sciences.

-- Lilly LeTourneau graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and currently is enrolled in the New York State Fellowship Program through the Genesee & Orleans Health Department. She has assisted in a project with Genesee County Mental Health to assess the impact of COVID-19 on mental health services. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Buffalo.


Lynn Strzelecki and Bradley Mazur were elected as new members of the GCASA Board of Directors while President Tim Batzel and directors Jackie Dunham and Pattie Kepner were re-elected. All terms are three years.

Strzelecki is a previous GCASA director while Mazur, the Genesee County undersheriff, joins for the first time. Mazur is the chair of the Genesee County Stop DWI Advisory Council.

Batzel, Vice President Katie Cotter and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Rarick were re-elected.


In 2022, GCASA prevention educators provided services to more than 36,000 youth and adults, with the WNY Prevention Resource Center providing 18 trainings to nearly 500 people. The GOW Opioid Task Force lists 460 active members, with many of them trained in the administration of Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

On the clinical side, GCASA opened a 16-bed detox center in Batavia in early 2022. Medication programs now serve more than 300 individuals in two locations, with clinical visits topping 21,000 last year. The Genesee Opioid Treatment Program and outpatient clinic were awarded an integrated certification to create a seamless program for outpatient services.

GCASA scholarships
GCASA Foundation scholars for 2023 are, seated from left, Lauren Reimer, Lilly LeTourneau; standing, Carly Cerasani, Arianna Hale, Valerie Pastore.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Medications to treat substance use disorder are proven 'tools' in recovery, panelists say

By Mike Pettinella
May 4, 2023, 11:35am
town hall panel
Participants in Wednesday’s MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” at the Genesee County Office for the Aging are, from left, Dr. Samantha Gray, Randi Johnson, Reilly Climenhaga, moderator Paul Pettit, Kate Gregory, Daniel Hauck and Scott Davis. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Treating someone struggling with substance use disorder can take many paths, but the road to recovery can become much easier to navigate with the help of specific clinically proven medications.

That premise was brought to light on Wednesday night by six professionals in the substance use field – including two who have experienced the pain of addiction – who participated in a “MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” event at the Genesee County Office for the Aging.

The session was sponsored by the HEAL Initiative and Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, with Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Departments, serving as moderator. About 45 people attended.

“I have sustained healthy sobriety for just under three years, and one of the tools I used to get that sobriety in my toolbox of recovery is buprenorphine,” said Reilly Climenhaga, a detox technician at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who said he has fought the substance use battle in his life for more than 20 years. “My issues and those of many others go much deeper than just the use of a chemical. There are many paths to sobriety for someone addicted to opiates, but I truly believe that using MOUD (Medication for Opioid Use Disorder) greatly increases a person's chances.”

The Food & Drug Administration has approved buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone to manage opioid use disorder, and those medications are available through local agencies such as GCASA, Horizon Health Services and Rochester Regional Health.

Pettit pointed out that opioid use disorder has been recognized as a chronic disease and these medications work by relieving withdrawal symptoms, addressing psychological cravings and lowering the risk of return to use and overdose death.

“And that is the goal of The HEALing Communities study (a countywide initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health and Columbia University) – to reduce opioid deaths by 40 percent,” he said, noting that data shows that Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in New York.

Dr. Samantha Gray, PhD, an advanced practice clinician at Horizon Health Service’s Batavia location and an adjunct professor at the University of Buffalo, emphasized that MOUD not only helps with substance use disorder but also with the mental health aspect that usually is a key part of the treatment process.

“Over at Horizon, we are an integrated clinic. So, we assess for both substance use and mental health,” she said. “For those of you who are familiar with this population, those two things generally go hand in hand.”

Randi Johnson, a physician assistant at GCASA who works at the agency’s detoxification facility and Albion outpatient clinic, said MOUD, despite what people may think, is not a matter of trading one drug for another.

“I think we've probably all heard that at one point or another. But the important thing to remember is that we are treating this like a disease,” she said. “So, if you go to your primary care physician, you have high blood pressure, you have diabetes, you have any number of other common complaints, we're going to give you a medication to help treat that.

“The beauty of MOUD is that we can use this to take away any withdrawal symptoms for patients. This allows them clarity … it gives them a good baseline that they can function at, so that they can work with the counselors to change the behavioral aspect of this.”

Johnson said she has utilized buprenorphine micro-inductions – a gradual process -- to successfully initiate many patients on buprenorphine.

For Daniel Hauck, a clinical supervisor at Hope Haven Inpatient Rehabilitation, RRH Chemical Dependency unit in Batavia, medication for opioid use disorder has evolved over the years, leading to his acceptance of the practice.

“As I’ve seen it evolve, I've seen that there's better access to those medications. And as we really see better outcomes, it becomes much easier to engage a patient who feels hopeless in that moment, to actually be willing to come into that first appointment and come back to that second appointment,” he offered. “Oftentimes, that hopelessness comes from times where they have tried and feel like they failed.”

Hauck, along with panelist Kate Gregory, a licensed master social worker who manages the chemical dependency unit at RRH and Hope Haven, said they have made great strides in expanding services locally.

Gregory said it was a matter of figuring out how to serve patients better by developing immediate access.

“We launched a community-based care where we were able to go out and really serve patients, where they are literally meeting patients where they're at -- figuring out how not to let the EMR (electronic medical record) stop us from getting creative, and instead really expanding our services to meet the patient at any stage in their recovery,” she said.

When RRH added peer recovery advocates, that was a game-changer, she said.

One of those peers is Scott Davis, who also took part as a panelist at the public forum. Davis is in his second year as a recovery coach and certified peer advocate with RRH and is in recovery after many years of substance use.

In and out of legal trouble, including stints behind bars, Davis said that MOUD as prescribed by a physician was a key factor in his recovery.

“When I went to inpatient (treatment) in 2019, fentanyl was everything in my life,” he said. “I had cravings in rehab but I chose to go to a higher dose (of MOUD). I talked to my doctor, he had a plan, and when I got out I went to the Atwater (Community Residence) halfway house.”

It was there that Davis said he finally found the support system he needed, and eventually went to work for GCASA as a peer, before joining RRH as a recovery coach.

The panelists also shared their thoughts about the stigma attached to substance use disorder – perceptions among friends, family members and the community that can affect a patient’s self-worth.

“I think that, as a mental health or addiction therapist, it’s really important to just acknowledge that that exists. That validation alone can be huge,” Gregory said. “It’s also really important to infuse the culture of your agency with the right language and with the right education and with the right trainings and expectations around what creates a welcoming environment for people.”

She acknowledged the differing views of community members, and said that continuing education through public forums such as this town hall meeting will help to change perceptions.

Johnson said a major hurdle is that patients tend to believe the negative things that are said about them.

“As much as the community stigmatizes them at times, they come in and they believe that so wholeheartedly,” she said. “And so, one of the conversations I usually have with my patients, because almost every single one of them will come in and say I failed my urine test today, that it’s not pass or fail. We have that education in the visits with them because I don't want them to feel like one use constitutes a failure.”

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

town hall attendees

About 45 people attended the two-hour session that explored the issues surrounding medication for opioid use disorder.

Possible restructuring of WROTB board of directors has local Republican lawmakers up in arms

By Mike Pettinella
Apr 28, 2023, 6:09pm

Local New York State politicians are speaking out against a report that Democratic legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul are considering changes to the structure of the board of directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, all Republicans, issued statements Thursday and today, indicating their opposition to what they believe is a proposal to eliminate individual counties’ authority to select WROTB directors.

Press release from Tenney:

“For 50 years, Western Regional Off Track Betting has shared operational control between 15 county governments and the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo. Under this established system, Western Regional OTB has brought jobs, tax revenue, and entertainment to Western New York. Over the past two years, Western OTB returned over $13.9 million to offset local county taxes across Western New York,

“County leaders throughout New York’s 24th district have reached out concerned about efforts to dismantle, politicize, and disadvantage rural communities within Western Regional OTB. When ‘Home Rule’ created the ownership of Western Regional OTB, member counties were given equal representation. NYS Senate Bill 7855 would strip rural counties of their 50-year established authority of this public-private sector partnership in favor of Governor Hochul and left-wing legislators in Albany.

“I stand with local leaders across the district in calling on Kathy Hochul to drop this misguided plan. It should be dead on arrival during budget negotiations in the Albany sewer. With a budget that is nearly four weeks late, a crime surge, and historic mass outmigration, Albany Democrats should leave Western OTB alone and focus on the real problems facing New Yorkers.”

Press release from Borrello:

“Although they already control the major levers of power in Albany, that hasn’t stopped Democrat One-Party Rule for brazenly and continually hunting for more opportunities to conquer and silence those outside their control. Their latest power grab targets Western Regional Off-Track Betting which has operated for five decades under a model of shared operational control between 15 county governments and the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

"However, changes under consideration right now would eliminate this cooperative structure of the past 50 years and replace it with a politicized board that would do Albany’s bidding. The voices of our rural counties would be silenced and the jobs and revenue they depend on put at risk.

"I am fiercely opposed to this last-minute attempt to slide this controversial proposal into the budget as the final details come together. It is another shameful attempt at rigging the system for political purposes and should be rejected.”

Statement from Hawley:

Hawley called the proposal "a power grab trying to diminish the influence of smaller, less populated counties."

"It's called Western New York OTB, not Erie County OTB," he said, responding to a text message from The Batavian. "This is similar to what Western New York complains about in the State Legislature. Excessive control by New York City. Shameful and wrong."

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, contacted today, said he and Board Chair Richard Bianchi are monitoring the situation.

“We are waiting to find out what the actual language of the proposed legislation is before making an official statement,” Wojtaszek said.

Currently, the individuals serving on WROTB’s 17-member board, which represents its 17-member municipalities, are appointed by their county or city (Buffalo and Rochester) legislative bodies.

First-quarter financials have Batavia Downs Gaming officials predicting another record year

By Mike Pettinella
Apr 27, 2023, 11:48am

Just a few months removed from what Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials reported as a record year for revenue, signs are pointing toward even greater earnings for Batavia Downs Gaming in 2023.

“We experienced a record 2022 and now the first quarter of 2023 is up 16 percent in what we distribute (to member municipalities),” WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said following this morning’s board of directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “It’s the highest net win by more than a half a million for the corporation, so it’s really been a blockbuster first three months of the year for us.”

Jacquelyne Leach, the corporation’s chief financial officer, provided a report to The Batavian that shows that distribution of surcharge and earnings to the 17 participating municipalities for the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same time period in 2022.

The numbers indicate that $2,269,956 in surcharge and earnings was generated this year compared to $1,956,149 in the first quarter of last year.

Genesee County’s share increased by 18 percent – from $42,002 to $49,664.

Leach also pointed out that the "net win" for March was the corporation's highest ever, $7.7 million. "Net win" is defined as credits played in the machines less credits won, she said.

Wojtaszek said Batavia Downs Gaming is bucking the trend in the gaming industry, citing information shared at a recent conference in Atlantic City.

“We heard that while the industry is doing pretty well as a whole, the indication is that the brick-and-mortar part of the casino (business) isn’t necessarily up, depending where you are, geographically,” he said. “But we’re clearly a brick-and-mortar operation and we’re clearly having a banner year. Our numbers are definitely up.”

He said he is optimistic that 2023 will exceed last year’s figures.

“(The first quarter) is usually the slow season. We’ve experienced no slowdown and now we’re coming into the busy part – with the Triple Crown, the concerts and many other events that we have here. So, we’re looking forward to a great 2023.”

On another front, Wojtaszek said a committee looking into the possibility of expanding The Hotel at Batavia Downs met on Wednesday and is leaning toward recommending the expenditure of up to $100,000 for a feasibility study and architect’s rendering.

“We’re going to be careful in our analysis of it and spending any money, but in order to figure out whether or not the expansion of the hotel is warranted, we’re most likely going to have an architect give us some drawings and have a market study done as to the return on the investment … if we do expand,” he said.

Following last month’s meeting, Wojtaszek mentioned the possibility of adding 42 rooms to the 84-room facility, but today he backtracked a bit.

“We discussed it yesterday and decided not to sit on a number at this point,” he said.

He pointed out that the hotel has been very busy and sold out on many nights, but wasn’t sure if “we’ve hit that tipping point to necessitate additional rooms.”

Wojtaszek also noted that an expansion would enhance the ease of guests’ entrance into the hotel.

“We want to make sure we have a safe drop-off area and convenient drop-off area for people,” he said. “Now, it’s a difficult situation relative to the drop-off and entrance to the hotel. We’ve acknowledged that and we’re trying to give a better experience to the guests arriving at the hotel.”

He did say that Downs’ officials will address the drop-off situation regardless of the decision on expansion.

Town hall meeting on May 3 in Batavia will tackle subject of medication for opioid use disorder

By Press Release
Apr 19, 2023, 1:46pm

Press release:

While there are plenty of acronyms in the field of substance use prevention and treatment, not many are as relevant to today’s environment than MOUD.

The Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, in conjunction with The HEAL Initiative, is continuing its effort to inform the public of the benefits of MOUD – medication for opioid use disorder – by hosting a public forum on May 3 at the Genesee County Office for the Aging at 2 Bank St.

The “MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” will feature six speakers, including two men who are in recovery, and will be moderated by Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Departments.

Registration is set for 5 p.m., with the session to run from 5:15 to 7 p.m. Registration is recommended but not required, and a light dinner will be served. Naloxone training will be offered following the presentation.

“The major insights that we are looking to share with the public are defining MOUD and illustrating its effectiveness in treatment,” said Christen Foley, GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator. “We hope that this town hall meeting is a step toward clearing up any misconceptions with MOUD and reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorder.”

The forum also will touch upon topics such as creating a supportive environment for those struggling with opioid use disorder and providing local treatment and recovery resources in the region.

Panelists are as follows:

-- Dr. Samantha Gray, PhD, an advanced practice clinician at Horizon Health Service’s Batavia location and an adjunct professor within the department

of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology at the University at Buffalo. She also has her own private practice.

Dr. Gray said she became invested as an advocate after her father passed away from an overdose in 2015. Her experience beyond the outpatient settings includes work with methadone programs, crisis response, homeless shelters, housing programs and community/resource coordination.


-- Reilly Climenhaga, a detox technician at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who has recovery coach and peer advocate certifications.  He struggled with opioid use disorder for more than 20 years, and has been on and off since the age of 20. He had been taking Sublocade -- a once-a-month injection of buprenorphine.

Climenhaga said that MOUD, coupled with working a strict program of recovery, has changed his life for the better.


-- Randi Johnson, a physician assistant at GCASA for three years, working at the Albion outpatient clinic, at the detoxification facility and the methadone clinic. Previously, she worked in emergency room and urgent care settings.

Johnson said she has utilized buprenorphine micro-inductions to successfully initiate many patients on buprenorphine.

-- Scott Davis, who is in his second year as a recovery coach and certified peer advocate with the Rochester Regional Health system. In recovery for three years, he attributes his success to determination, faith, a strong support team and the application of medication for substance use disorder.

Davis works with clients through Monroe County treatment courts – providing guidance and peer support, providing transportation for same day/next day inpatient admissions, and other services, including reentry into society following incarceration.

-- Kate Gregory, a licensed master social worker who is the manager of Chemical Dependency at Rochester Regional Health and Hope Haven Inpatient unit.

A social worker since 2005, she has worked in both the mental health and chemical dependency fields in a variety of treatment settings, with direct patient care ranging from residential counseling, inpatient social work, jail counseling, community based crisis response and primary therapy.

Gregory, a RRH employee since 2018, was instrumental in overseeing the development of the system’s central access team to increase immediate access and response support across all RRH chemical dependency departments.

-- Daniel Hauck, clinical supervisor at Hope Haven Inpatient Rehabilitation, RRH Chemical Dependency unit in Batavia. He has worked in the substance use treatment field since 2005 across multiple states, having received Master Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor status, specializing in trauma-informed care, community engagement and crisis intervention.

Hauck also has worked as a treatment court liaison for the Tompkins County Drug Court.

To register for the town hall meeting, go to

Judge sends Abrams to county jail while attorneys attempt to uncover more about burglary allegations

By Mike Pettinella
Apr 14, 2023, 3:53pm

Genesee County Court Judge Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini this afternoon remanded a Town of Alabama man to county jail for at least the next several days while attorneys on both sides look into the circumstances surrounding an alleged burglary on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.

Isaac D. Abrams, 22, who apparently owns smoke shops and dispensaries on the reservation, was charged by State Police with second-degree attempted burglary, a Class C felony, in connection with an incident at a dispensary on the evening of March 10.

He was arrested on March 30 and subsequently released with non-monetary conditions pending today’s court appearance.

Abrams has been under intensive probation supervision as a result of previous criminal charges, including first-degree burglary of a dwelling, causing injury, a Class B felony, and third-degree assault, a Class A misdemeanor.

During today’s proceedings and in light of the latest charges, Cianfrini pointed out that the probation department has recommended the revocation of Abrams’ IPS status – action supported by Assistant District Attorney Andrew DiPasquale.

At that point, Fred Rarick, who has represented Abrams since 2018, claimed that the charges were “merely allegations” and that his client turned over recordings that will show that “some people have ulterior motives.”

Rarick said that Abrams was invited to mediate a dispute at the business, and that the business owner, Cassi Abrams, “notified state troopers that my client did absolutely nothing wrong.”

“It’s a little bit premature to revoke the IPS,” Rarick said, adding that Abrams has been doing well in mandated drug treatment court.

Cianfrini, however, indicated that Abrams tested positive for marijuana on Thursday, and at that point, asked both lawyers to approach the bench. Following a five-minute discussion – during which Rarick could be heard stating that Abrams was asked to assist in the dispute involving family members – Cianfrini rendered her decision.

“I’m not revoking the interim probation supervision, but these are serious allegations,” she said. “I am remanding you, without bail, at this point (to let the attorneys research this).”

Before being handcuffed and led out of court, Abrams pleaded with the judge to set him free as “I need to get more recordings, please.”

Abrams is scheduled to return to treatment court next Thursday – two days after a scheduled appearance in Alabama Town Court.

Outside the courtroom after adjournment, Rarick said he respected Cianfrini’s decision, “but it’s just very interesting that this allegedly occurred weeks ago and he was just recently arrested.”

“Severe allegations of an armed robbery and he threatened to kill somebody? He did go and talk to the troopers and he explained everything. There are recordings which, when we go to trial, will be brought out to find out what these motivations are.”

Rarick also said there is a co-defendant in the matter.

“We’ll have to talk to his attorney. I don’t know, I wasn’t there,” he said. “There’s a lot going on with Mr. Abrams. He had his dispensary and he had another dispensary that was burned down. His other dispensary was robbed. So, I’m going to be looking into the motivations of these people.”

Concerning the positive test for marijuana, Rarick said that he has been informed that Abrams possesses a medical marijuana card.

“This whole thing is about relations, land disputes and it’s so sad,” he said, noting that cousins are at odds with each other, “Things that are happening on the Reservation. It used to be who gets to have a fuel station and now it’s who gets to have dispensaries there – and there are dispensaries every 50 feet or so.”

Rarick said Abrams was accused of taking money from a safe.

“I do question that when there is an allegation that a gun was involved, why the troopers didn’t go out immediately -- they know where Mr. Abrams is – to find this guy,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense and I think that will come out in the trial once we get these people under a real oath versus a misdemeanor.”

Previously: Judge gives Tonawanda resident a chance to put his past behind him

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