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May 17, 2021 - 7:45pm

durei_2.pngThe lawyer who coordinates the Assigned Counsel Department for Genesee County said she believes that virtual court appearances will continue in one form or another even as society pulls out of the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kristie DeFreze, (photo at right), an attorney with the Bonarigo & McCutcheon law firm in Batavia, made that observation this afternoon as she presented a review of the indigent legal services unit during the Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting.

“I think that, in some form, it is here to stay – at least in Family Court,” said DeFreze, noting that she see positives and negatives to conducting court proceedings remotely via Zoom or other type of videoconferencing. “For certain court appearances, they will keep it around.”

DeFreze said that virtual sessions seem to have cut down on court time and waiting time – as well as expenses – but have led to an increase in time spent communicating with clients and other parties.

County Attorney Kevin Earl agreed, stating that virtual meetings are good for routine appearances, such as traffic court cases, but “when it comes to hearing and trials, it’s very difficult to know ahead of time what exhibits you need, (which can lead to delays).”

The decision to continue remote proceedings rests with the administrative judge of the judicial district, she said. That position in this area – the 8th Judicial District – currently is held by Paula L. Feroleto.

In reporting the makeup of the panel attorneys in Genesee County, DeFreze said that most of the lawyers practice outside of Genesee County.

On the criminal panel, nine of 13 are from outside the county; on the family panel, eight of 12 are from outside the county; and on the appeal panel, five of six are from outside the county.

When asked why this was, she said it is a matter of dollars and cents.

“We have a smaller pool here when compared to Erie and Monroe counties, plus the pay rate is very low,” she said.

While attorneys may normally charge $150 to $300 an hour for their services, they receive only $60 an hour for criminal cases, and $75 an hour for felony or family court cases in which they are called upon to step in for the county public defender’s office.

“We’re working to increase that rate … which would give local attorneys more incentive to get on the panel,” she said.

DeFreze said that referrals are up in family court from 117 in 2020 to 151 so far this year, and down in criminal court from 120 in 2020 to 110 this year. She pointed out that the time frame for the 2020 referrals was from Jan. 1 through June 15.

She reported that the assignment backlog due to COVID shutdowns has mostly caught up in family court because the court has been accepting filings and scheduling appearances for the second half of 2020 through the present. On the criminal side, she said there is a backlog because justice courts have just starting scheduling sessions on appearance tickets in the last month.

Going forward, DeFreze, who contracts with the county as the Assigned Counsel administrator, said she is looking into establishing an electronic voucher system for attorneys’ clock hours/reimbursement along with a resource office outside of the courthouse for lawyers to meet with clients and potential witnesses and have access to equipment such as a printer and scanner.

She said that additional expenses incurred would be paid out of a state grant specifically to enhance delivery of public defense services in four key areas: counsel at arraignment; caseload relief; initiatives to improve the quality of indigent defense; and eligibility standards for representation.

“I will work with the county attorney on the appropriate process for review and comment on these updates,” she reported. “This will allow us to ensure quality representation for our indigent defendants and family court parties, and more efficiently track the statistics required for annual reporting.”

April 20, 2021 - 11:56am

Any and all options, including a way to compensate members of municipal volunteer fire departments, are on the table as Genesee County leaders tackle the ongoing problem of staffing during emergency situations.

On Monday, the county legislature’s Public Service Committee voted in favor of funding a contract with Municipal Resources Inc., of Plymouth, N.H., to provide consultant services toward developing a comprehensive fire service implementation plan.

The cost, not to exceed $101,675, will be paid by using available funds from the county’s 1 percent sales tax allocation. The full legislature is expected to ratify the proposal.

“Whether it’s a fire, EMS (emergency medical services) issue. motor-vehicle accident or a carbon monoxide alarm, it doesn’t matter what the incident is, we have to have the right number of people available that are able bodied and trained to get to the scene …,” County Emergency Services Coordinator Tim Yaeger said this morning. “They need to respond in the required amount of time, based on national standards, based on what the fire service believes they need to be – and holding their company to that standard and what the public expects. It’s not an easy answer; it’s not an easy fix.”

That’s why county officials are opting to call upon MRI, a company with a track record of helping municipalities in other counties and states find solutions to similar dilemmas.

Yaeger: It's a Nationwide Problem

“This issue is not just Genesee County. This issue is New York State, across the nation,” said Yaeger, who has been working with a task force set up by the Public Service Committee to study the problem. It’s more severe in some spots and less severe in others."

Yaeger said he has been talking to his colleagues across the state in an effort to solve this “crisis without evidence.”

“Unfortunately, we haven’t made much headway to it, and that’s why – maybe it’s too big of a nut to crack statewide. So, let’s look at it in a small segment and just look at Genesee County for now and see where we go,” he said.

While it’s way too early to predict the outcome of the consultant’s work, Yaeger said he supports some type of payment for the “volunteers who spend hundreds and thousands of hours at their fire departments.”

“In New York State, it’s either career or volunteer or a combination department, which really are more career than they are volunteer,” he said. “So, what we’re trying to do is look at ways to compensate volunteers. And that’s what many states and counties have done, even in the Northeast itself, is to compensate the volunteers for their time.”

Thousands of Hours with No Pay

He said volunteers’ tasks are numerous, including preparing for the emergency, administrative work, human relations work, fundraising, training, equipment maintenance and preparedness training.

“That’s thousands of hours that they’re committing to before the alarm even goes off,” he said. “And then when there is an alarm, taking training courses. So, those two things in combination with their administrative duties required to run a fire department. It would nice to see those men and women be compensated at some level. It is something that we’re looking at right now.

“It’s hard to find people and get paid, and now we’re expecting these folks to be available 24/7, 365 and do the job for free. It’s almost impossible.”

Yaeger said the task force was unsuccessful in its search for grant funding and turned to the legislature to address a situation that was first studied at the county level 20 years ago.

“This has been a problem for decades and I think they’ve finally realized now that it has gotten so severe that we have to take some more aggressive action to look for a solution,” he said.

Stein: We Need to be Prepared

County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said she is looking forward to finding out “exactly what we have in capacity in Genesee County and then, perhaps, find a path toward being able to fulfill the mission and responsibility of first responders in our county.”

“This takes in every town fire department, fire districts and we also are having the entire conversation shared with those departments and our emergency management staff, which will include the City of Batavia,” she said. “This is important to us because we are one tragedy away from something that is really horrific. We want to be able to stop that from happening.”

Yaeger agreed that the City of Batavia FD, which features a full-time paid staff, must be involved in the discussion.

“Anybody that provides fire and EMS services, they have to be involved in this,” he said. “The city is a key component to this conversation.”

He said the county and task force will begin “data mining” – providing pertinent information for MRI, such as the current number of firefighters, their qualifications, their age and their availability.

“Staffing is the number one issue that is causing our problem. We have to look at where we are today with staffing and then, how do we fix that,” he said, noting that some areas of the county are well protected while others “are really struggling.”

Have to Consider the Costs

Yaeger said that all are aware that potential costs to the taxpayers have to be considered.

“We have to as a group and as a community step in and find some solutions that are going to work and meet everybody’s need while maintaining that caution of expense,” he offered. “That’s what everybody wants to know. What’s it going to cost? We realize that, the committee realizes that and the consulting firm does as well.”

In a related matter, the PSC voted to accept a hazardous materials emergency preparedness grant for $5,172 from the United States Department of Transportation through the New York Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

The grant program focuses on efforts that result in the prevention of serious hazmat transportation related incidents, principally those of high consequences to residents and the environment.

Previously: Task force seeks outside help to solve emergency services 'crisis without evidence'

March 15, 2021 - 7:54pm

eric_wies_2.jpgTim Yaeger calls it a “crisis without evidence.”

Eric Wies says it’s time for “drastic change.”

Yaeger, coordinator of Genesee County Emergency Services, and Wies, president of the Bergen Volunteer Fire Department, reported today to the Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee on the findings of a task force set up to take an in-depth look at the state of emergency response in the county.

In short, what they have found is a critical shortage of volunteer firefighters. The situation has become so dire that some fire companies don’t have enough personnel to respond to an emergency and are having to call neighboring departments to assist.

“People in the system know it, but outside (in the general public) they don’t see the severe staffing issues,” he said. “We need a sustained response – 24/7 and 365. We need sustainability.”

He said studies of the problem – the lack of young men and women to replace those who have served their communities as volunteer firefighters for many years – have been conducted at different times, but nothing has been done about it.

“It’s been a matter of pointing a finger to blame somebody,” he said. “Nobody is to blame. There is no time (to waste). It’s more demanding every day.”

Wies, the task force chair (in photo at right), said that the Bergen Volunteer FD has two members over the age of 65 and they're still active.

“We don’t have an influx of young individuals,” he said, supporting Yaeger’s statement that “it’s a young person’s game.”

Wies said discussions within the task force and with county fire officials brought out a sobering reality: “We need change, and not just change, but we need drastic change. And not just immediately but going forward for our residents.”

He said the current structure of emergency services in Genesee County doesn't measure up to what is required to ensure complete coverage.

“If we were to take a map of Genesee County and imagine what emergency services would look like in this county – from scratch – it wouldn’t look anything like it is today … There has to be some drastic change in the framework.”

Wies said the committee concluded -- due to the fact that all have full-time jobs along with their part-time and volunteer roles in emergency and governmental services -- that it wouldn’t be able to develop an implementation plan.

“We’re not looking for a planning document that would sit on a shelf. We want a planning document that will evolve with the county for years to come but also to implement change because we feel we’re on the verge of meeting that change,” he said.

He said the committee reached out to firms that with expertise in evaluating municipal emergency response, and heard back from three of them – Center for Public Safety Management LLC, VFIS and Municipal Resources Inc. The task force then reviewed the proposals from each company, conducted interviews and listened to presentations prior to choosing MRI, which is based in Plymouth, N.H.

“From a pricing standpoint, the lowest price was $27,400 and, the highest price, with some annual options, was from MRI at $94,625,” he said. “Ultimately, the company that we felt was the best fit for us is MRI and, unfortunately, that’s most expensive option.”

Wies said reasons in that decision included the fact that MRI’s team leader represents a municipal fire department that is similar in size to what the county offers and that MRI is willing to come to this area with a five-person team to hold meetings with county officials, all emergency services departments, law enforcement and business people.

“… and we definitely agree that they could provide the most insight as to what situation we have, what the issues are and hopefully coming out with a solution that will fit us for years to come,” he said, adding that the next step is figuring a way to fund a potential agreement with MRI.

Both men said they need “stakeholder buy-in” with a goal of maintaining the identities and utilizing the current town and village fire companies.

Yaeger said it’s all about “what the citizens deserve and what do they expect (when an emergency occurs)? And we need to get there.”

When asked if there was a statewide push to address this issue, Yaeger said “nobody has had the audacity to stand up” to effect change. “New York has to wake up and realize there’s a severe problem in our state."

Prompting Wies to say, “That’s why we think it’s best for Genesee County to go it alone.”

Others on the task force are County legislators Gordon Dibble and Gregg Torrey, Elba FD Chief Mike Heale, Elba Town Supervisor Donna Hynes, Pavilion Town Supervisor Robert LaPoint, Byron FD Chief Bob Mruczek and County Emergency Services Deputy Coordinator Bill Schutt.

February 17, 2021 - 9:15am

The Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee on Tuesday voted in favor of appropriating more than $11,000 in citizen donations to the ongoing renovation project at the Genesee County Animal Shelter at 3841 W. Main Street Road.

The approved resolution calls for using $11,437 in donations in order for contractors to epoxy coat additional flooring and provide fenced-in tops to the moveable kennels that are proposed for the “stray side” of the shelter.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens, in reporting to the committee, said these items were not included in the original plan.

Afterward, he went into more detail about the project, which has a price tag of more than $220,000.

“The floors are being resealed and re-epoxied, primarily for bacteria control and cleaning,” he said. “The what we call ‘stray side’ of the kennel – the naughty side of the kennel, per se – is basically being redone. We’re putting automatic flush drains in the floor drain so that cleaning and sanitation can happen easier and quicker.”

Other improvements, mostly to facilitate the housing of dogs, include weatherization, regrouting and the introduction of mobile kennels, he said.

“There’s the weatherization of the enclosure around the kennels so that the external portions of the kennels are heated and conditioned as well as the inside. We are doing substantial regrouting and repointing of all the block and tile work in between the actual kennels themselves,” he said.

Hens said the pole barn-type building “looks nice on the outside” but is 20 years old, resulting in the rotting out of materials and ground that are constantly exposed to urine, feces and water.

“That is being replaced, and we’re swapping out for mobile kennels, primarily so the volunteers and the staff can move kennels around,” he added. “We’re trying to create a quarantine space for contaminated animals and things like that.”

The number of animals at the shelter, which is under the supervision of the Sheriff’s Office, varies from week to week, he said, noting that recently there were 57 dogs and cats at the facility.

Construction is underway, he said, but has been delayed a bit due to COVID-19-related supply-chain issues. He said he hopes to have the work finished by April.

In other action, the committee approved the following resolutions, which will be forwarded to the Ways & Means Committee and/or the entire legislature for final voting:

  • Extension of a contract with GLOW Counties and Environmental Enterprises Inc. for the GLOW Household Hazardous Waste Collection Program at a cost not to exceed $33,000 for 2021.

GLOW Solid Waste Coordinator Peggy Grayson said the county has contracted with GLOW Counties and Environmental Enterprises for 17 years and has received exceptional service. She said collection of household goods is scheduled for Sept. 18 at the Wyoming County Highway Department in Rock Glen and collection of electronics will take place on Sept. 25.

  • Amending the Sheriff’s Office budget to use $79,921 this year in available grant funding from the Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and an agreement with the Village of Bergen to provide additional services.

The grants include two DHSES grants ($47,661), a NYS GTSC Police Traffic Services Grant ($27,000) and the Village of Bergen agreement ($5,260).

Sheriff William Sheron said the DHSES money will be used to place laptop computers, radios and other communications equipment in patrol cars, while the Police Traffic Services Grant funds will be used to pay overtime necessary to support the program’s requirements.

Available funds from the Village of Bergen contract will be used as warranted to provide additional patrols in the village during the spring and summer months, he said.

The committee also accepted a $2,000 grant for the Sheriff’s Office to participate in the statewide Child Passenger Safety Program between Oct. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021.

Sheron said deputies would be available to show people how to properly install child safety car seats and to provide seats, if necessary.

  • Approval of special events applications at the Genesee County Park and Forest, a memorandum of understanding and a donation to support a Student Conservation Association internship as the county continues its relationship with the Association for Conservation of Recreational and Natural Spaces.

The ACORNS group will be using the park for a music event on Aug. 7 and a 5K/10K trail run and walk fundraiser on Oct. 3. Proceeds are used to assist the county with future programming, donations and other support.

The memorandum of understanding solidifies ACORNS’ standing with the county, according to Highway Superintendent Hens, who reported the organization has grown from 16 to 50 members who help the county promote the park.

ACORNS has donated $5,700 to the county to fund a 16-week, full-time SCA intern, whose responsibilities will include overseeing volunteers and assisting with environmental education.

Legislator Christian Yunker praised ACORNS, stating that the group “does tremendous things to support the county park.”

November 30, 2020 - 8:26pm

In a move designed as a safeguard against unforeseen economic calamity, Genesee County is modifying its 2021 funding contracts with outside agencies.

The Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services and Public Service committees today recommended approval of contracts with the Holland Land Office Museum, PathStone Inc., Nioga Library System and Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District – all with new wording that gives the county an out clause.

A similar pact with Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Genesee County was withdrawn, however, to give the agency’s board of directors more time to review the changes.

“The language change is simply putting in a clause that allows for the county to withhold funding in the event of an emergency,” County Manager Matt Landers said. “It is standard language we are putting in all of our contracts.”

Landers said that since the contract for CCE is forwarded “outside of our area to Cornell University, we haven’t allowed for enough time for proper review by CCE’s board.”

“We are just giving them some additional time to review,” he said, adding that the county attorney is working with CCE to make sure the latter has plenty of time to look at the recommended changes. He said he plans to reintroduce a modified resolution in January.

Additionally, the county will be making monthly or quarterly payments instead of one annual payment, Landers said.

“With some of the prior agreements, even (with) a clause to withhold funding, if we gave them all the money up front, it really wouldn’t do any good,” he explained. “So, we’re going through and streamlining so that payments are either going to be monthly or quarterly, and then also having a clause with the standard language that we’re putting in -- a 21-day notification.”

In response to a question from Legislator Marianne Clattenburg about the specifics of a 21-day clause, Landers and County Attorney Kevin Earl said it was inserted into the contracts to give the county flexibility.

“We’re trying to reassure partners that we’re not looking to pull the rug out from under them, but we’re just looking to not be in a position where we are required to continue funding when our funding technically dries up,” Landers said.

Earl added that it gives the outside agencies “time to react” to the withholding of funding.

“We can completely stop all the payments or any part of the payments,” he said, acknowledging that any action would have to be approved by the legislature per a resolution.

Details of the various contracts are as follows:

-- Holland Land Office Museum

The county will enter into agreement with the Holland Purchase Historical Society Inc. for the operation of the museum and programming for 2021 at an annual cost of $33,554 – the same level of funding as the past four years. Payments will be made on a monthly basis.

When asked if the amount of funding was adequate, Landers said the museum, as is the case with the other outside agencies, is “getting by.”

“I’m sure they could do more with more, but they’re making it stretch, and providing an excellent service in the community for the money that we give them,” he said.

-- PathStone Inc.

The 2021 contract with PathStone Corporation of Rochester for housing support and consulting service calls for the county to provide up to $12,150 in funding – an annual amount equal to what was authorized over the past four years.

-- Nioga Library System.

This agreement supports the Nioga Library System with $41,680 for 2021 in quarterly payments. This, too, is the same amount provided by the county in 2020.

The Nioga Library System is comprised of 21 libraries in Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties, including Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia, Haxton Memorial Library in Oakfield, Corfu Public Library, Hollwedel Memorial Library in Pavilion, Byron-Bergen Public Library, and Woodward Memorial Library in Le Roy.

In September, The Batavian reported that Nioga officials anticipated a 25 percent or more cut in funding from New York State in 2021.

-- Soil and Water Conservation District

The county has agreed to support the agency to the tune of $151,891 for 2021, with payments made in regular installments.

One of 58 such districts in the state, the Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District provides services and funds projects related to the conservation of soil and water resources, improvement of water quality, preservation of wildlife habitat and management of soil erosion.

-- Cornell Cooperative Extension

For the fifth straight year, the county is offering sponsorship in the amount of $338,548 per a memorandum of agreement with CCE.

The agency, with its office in Batavia, is in the process of hiring a new executive director. Interviews of finalists Jocelyn Sikorski of Batavia and Julianna Frisch of Brockport were scheduled to be conducted earlier today via Zoom videoconferencing.

November 16, 2020 - 5:40pm

The Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee this afternoon approved the acceptance of a $758,980.80 bid by Concrete Applied Technologies Corp. of Alden – one of 12 bids submitted to Highway Superintendent Tim Hens – to replace the Upton Road over Bowen Creek bridge in the Town of Batavia.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the meeting was held remotely via Zoom videoconferencing.

In a highly-competitive bidding process, CATCO’s bid was just $650 less than the next lowest bid, Hens said, adding that he is aware of the company’s solid reputation.

“We have never worked directly with them but they have been involved with the City (of Batavia) on a few projects,” he said. “They did the Main Street project about 20 years ago and they have a very good reputation. They’re a well run company and they do a lot of work in Buffalo and Rochester.”

According to the resolution that was voted upon, 95 percent of the cost will be covered by federal aid with the remaining 5 percent to come from the county’s Reserve Fund.

Hens said CATCO’s bid is $68,000 less than the engineers’ estimate of probable construction costs.

Work is expected to begin next spring or summer.

In other action, the committee:

  • Voted in favor of a one-year contract with Safe Driver Solutions of Dansville, effective Jan. 1, for federally required drug and alcohol testing, terminating a previous pact with Partners in Safety of Middletown.

Hens said a couple issues factored into the decision, including having a company closer to Genesee County and Safe Driver Solutions’ pricing procedures.

Partners in Safety charges the county for all of its drivers, even if they aren't selected for random drug and alcohol testing, he said.

“It just happens to be the timing of our renewal of our annual contract, and their (Safe Driver Solutions) pricing structure is different because they only charge you for the actual people who get selected randomly,” Hens said.

He explained that "the pool is actually much (larger) because the way they operate under federal rules, they basically create a driver pool with all of their clients – so we get lumped in with the towns in Livingston County and Livingston County highway.”

“It’s a bigger group of people so we’re not hitting as many employees on an annual basis, and essentially not getting charged for that.”

Hens said he anticipates saving around $1,000 annual with Safe Driver Solutions and likes the fact that the county will be working with a local company to address issues concerning screening, post-accident responses and reasonable suspicious responses. Per the contract, Safe Driver Solutions staff members travel to the highway department to do the testing.

  • Voted to add a second citizen representative to the Criminal Justice Advisory Council, following up on CJAC’s decision at a meeting in September to make the committee as diverse as possible.

To make room for the citizen rep, the Genesee County Bar Association delegate has been removed in light of the appointee’s recent retirement and a sufficient number of attorneys and law enforcement members on the committee.

The CJAC, created in 1981, services to promote public good and safety through improved coordination and cooperation among criminal justice agencies and other organizations in the community. More than 30 people from law enforcement, human services and social services agencies are on the committee. 

September 15, 2020 - 11:50am

The federal government is letting counties such as Genesee down by failing to “bridge” a gap in funding necessary to prevent a collapse of its infrastructure, Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said on Monday.

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse, Hens said most of the county’s large bridges are in desperate need of repair – a situation that seems to have fallen upon deaf ears in Washington.

“We have roughly 100 federal aid bridges and they all have design lives on them of 50 to 75 years,” Hens said, noting that the majority of these spans were built in the 1940s, ‘50s and early ‘60s. “All at the same time, we’re getting slammed with 40 to 50 bridges that need to be replaced and we’re only getting funded for one or two every other year. There’s no way we’re going to keep up.”

Hens said federal money used to come in to do two bridges a year, and then it decreased to one per year. It’s even less frequent now.

“It’s extremely frustrating … we have pushed very, very hard (for funding) all the way up to the president,” he said, adding that he’s uncertain of the status of a bill currently in the Senate.

Genesee County, as is the case with other municipalities across the state, is in the midst of a serious financial crunch due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut things down in mid-March. The economy has started to recover, but sales tax revenue for the year is down and New York State has cut aid by 20 percent across the board.

Delays in federal funding for roads and bridges forced the county to have to pay “the full shot” (instead of the usual 5 percent) to replace a bridge on Stroh Road in Alexander, a cost of $1.8 million that was taken from the $7.5 million allocated for infrastructure after the sale of the county nursing home.

Hens said the county’s bridges are “getting worse,” advising that 48 of the 92 larger bridges (over 20 feet) are listed as deficient per state standards.

“Statewide, we are probably on the lower end of bridge conditions … and we’re definitely near the bottom of the list of counties in terms of the condition of our bridges,” he said.

Genesee County is responsible for all bridges in the county, an “an extra burden on us that most counties don’t have,” Hens said.

As he presented his departmental review, Hens said the large bridges showed nine “red flags” in 2020 – up from just two in 2019 – with two of those problems permanently corrected with the rehabilitation of bridges on Colby Road in Darien and McLernon Road in Bethany.

The county has 278 bridges of less than 20 feet, and 19 of the worst 30 have been replaced since 2016, including one this year.

Overall, keeping the roads up to snuff and performing preventative maintenance have become more challenging due to budget restraints and lack of funding, Hens said.

Along those lines, he said it is likely (pending negotiations with the employees’ union) that the county will switch to one-person snowplowing – instead of the usual two in the truck – to save money.

“The bottom line is that it seems like we keep kicking the can down the road relative to preventative maintenance and as anybody knows if you put off maintenance on your home, you’ll have bigger problems to deal with – and that’s where we’re headed with highways and bridges,” Hens said. “The continued budget cuts – we’re really out of options at this point. It’s kind of like which finger do you want to cut off your hand?”

He said that further cuts for highway will lead to dropping critical services such as driveway installations and ditching.

“There’s just nothing left to get rid of. Even if I was thinking about trying to privatize some of my department, you still have the maintenance and capital expense – there’s nothing left to cut, bottom line,” he said.

Hens’ 10-year capital plan shows expenditures for infrastructure and related expenses totaling $125 million.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg brought up the nursing home money and asked what the county’s share was when federal aid for infrastructure came into play.

Hens said that the county’s share is normally 5 percent, prompting Clattenburg to respond that 5 percent of $125 million was about $6 million – less than the $7.5 million in nursing home money.

“Where’s the crisis here?” she asked. To which Hens replied, “The crisis is the fact that we don’t always get federal aid. I usually program two federal aid bridges a year and we don’t always get that.”

Clattenburg then blamed federal lawmakers for putting the county in such a bind.

“We need to stop fighting each other and start thinking about real problems that people are having in Congress. We’re ready to go – we’ve been frugal. We put the money away so we can do this work, and now everything is stalled,” she said.

Legislator Andrew Young agreed, wondering, “Why they’re not talking about an infrastructure bill at the federal level? I don’t get it.”

Despite the financial woes, Hens said he is submitting a county road fund budget of $5,799,749 for 2021, within about $18,000 of the 2020 budget. The county’s general fund contributes more than $5.3 million of that amount.

He said the budget could increase by up to $50,000 if the Town of Bethany enters into a plowing and mowing agreement with the county for next year.

August 17, 2020 - 5:53pm

Unlike the process used during New York’s four phases of business reopening – where all decisions were in the governor’s hands, local governments will have a say in the way gyms can finally welcome back customers after five months of a COVID-19-generated shutdown.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced that gyms can reopen as soon as Aug. 24, but only at 33-percent capacity and with masks to be worn by everyone inside at all times.

However, “localities” will have a role, the governor said, in that local elected officials and health department leaders will be able to make some decisions. Furthermore, health departments will be required to inspect the facilities either before opening or within two weeks of reopening.

He didn’t share more details – a fact not lost upon Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein.

Speaking at today’s Public Service Committee meeting, Stein wondered aloud what code the health department should be using when doing the inspections and asked whether the gyms could hold classes.

“There may have to be a conversation in regard to gyms and with (county Public Health Director) Paul Pettit,” Stein said.

She said that it looks as though “new powers” are being given to the public health director, and hoped that a “checklist or template” would be made available by the state to assist members of the Finger Lakes Region control room.

“This is just seven days away from today,” she said.

County Manager Matt Landers said the county has the right to “delay classes indoors” and to delay the openings of gyms until Sept. 2 although he doesn’t expect to go down that road.

A state requirement to have MERV13 air filters* installed in all gyms could pose a problem for fitness centers housed in older buildings.

Landers said he is realizing there are more gyms in Genesee County than he thought, with four or five in Le Roy alone.

“There will be a lot of fun stuff over the next couple weeks,” he said, implying there is plenty of work ahead.

Movie theaters continue to be on the outside looking in as no announcement was made on their reopening.

“Maybe movie theaters should file a lawsuit and then they’ll be able to open. That seems to be how it works,” Stein said, alluding to the fact that more than 1,500 gym owners filed a class-action suit last week against the governor for not lifting his closure mandate.

*From Wikipedia: MERV is the acronym for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, a measurement scale designed in 1987 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers to report the effectiveness of air filters. 

June 15, 2020 - 8:19pm

Already reeling from three months of COVID-19 regulations, Genesee County government officials and law enforcement personnel now must deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest executive order mandating that all New York police agencies must revise their policies and procedures by next spring or risk losing state and/or federal funding.

“At this point there are no details, but all we know is that we at the county level will have to conduct public hearings and solicit public comment for, as the term was used, cadre, of local law enforcement reforms,” said County Manager Jay Gsell, speaking at today’s Genesee County Legislature Public Service Committee meeting via Zoom videoconferencing. “Everybody will be required to go through this process and adopt reforms via local law at the county level by April of 2021.”

The executive order, named the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, requires that the municipality that oversees the law enforcement agency must adopt, certify and enforce its plan by passing a local law. It also applies to the NYPD.

Cuomo, during his COVID-19 briefing on Friday, said protests taking place across the nation following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer “illustrate the loss of community confidence in our local police agencies — a reality that has been fueled by our country’s history of police-involved deaths of black and brown people.”

He said the executive order will help “rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”

Issues that must be addressed in the plan include use of force, community policing, community outreach, restorative justice programs such as Genesee Justice, crowd management, retraining for bias awareness and a procedure for citizens to lodge complaints against police officers.

The measure calls for municipalities to bring in representatives from a variety of community organizations (for example, in Genesee County, the Criminal Justice Advisory Council comprised of several law enforcement and judicial entities) and be receptive to public feedback after developing, presenting and ratifying their plans into law.

It also stipulates that if the local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible for future funding from New York State.

The executive order builds upon the governor’s signing of 10 police reform bills into law earlier Friday, with several Republicans joining the Democratic majority in voting for the legislation.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, contacted by telephone, called the reform mandate action another example of Cuomo taking a one blanket covers all approach.

“Again, he’s lumping everything into a one-size-fits-all, and I don’t think that’s appropriate with the state of the size of New York and a city the size of New York City,” he said. “We in Western New York and the Finger Lakes Region and rural counties, I believe do have strong community-minded police agencies.  And when you threaten New York State taxpayer money being withheld from those who are there to serve and protect, that’s the wrong direction to go.”

Hawley acknowledged that there are “a few bad examples in any organization,” but called it an overreaction to isolated incidents.

“I stand with the men and women in blue, unequivocally,” he said. “We need to be sure that police agencies are working in a collaborative way with the citizens they are charged with protecting. No police agency would have a problem with that.”

Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron said, by phone, that he is working with sheriffs across New York to try to get a handle on what the governor is expecting to happen.

"Our department is a New York State accredited agency, meeting all the standards, rules and regulations, and there are well over 100 of them as far as the right way to do things," he said. "All he has to do is simplify that to require that all New York State police agencies be accredited."

Sheron noted that it was the NYS Sheriff's Association that first came out with the current standards and that a few years later, those guidelines were adopted by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

He made it clear that he believes in community input -- "we do that now and that is important," he said, and rejected Cuomo's practice of "painting all agencies with one brush because of a few bad apples."

"I'm proud of our sheriff's office and it's upsetting to me that the governor doesn't stand behind our police officers," Sheron said.

In an email, Batavia City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch reserved comment until he and his leadership team learn more about the governor’s mandate.

“We are currently reviewing the executive order internally, and when I have a better understanding I’ll reach out,” he said.

Back to the Public Service Committee meeting, former Sheriff Gary Maha, now a county legislator, asked Gsell if the governor had the authority to tie police reforms to funding.

“The receipt of future state or federal funds is conditioned on the filing of the certification at the local level, and realistically, that second issue of federal funding grants for emergency management … there’s already some considerations and concerns as to whether or not he can even go to that extent,” Gsell responded.

Gsell said that although Cuomo “means business,” more legislation is likely to follow at the state level and there will be plenty of debate over the next several months.

“There will be a lot of back and forth before anyone goes diving in with both feet and potentially finds themselves, can we say, in quicksand,” he said.

May 19, 2020 - 1:23pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county legislature, public service committee.

The Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee on Monday authorized the legislature chair and county treasurer to act quickly toward securing a $69,000 aviation grant being funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens told the committee that news of the award was received earlier in the day and has to be approved and returned to the Federal Aviation Administration by June 18.

“This is a $69,000 grant that is being provided to all of the general aviation facilities across the nation,” Hens said. “It is being funded under the CARES Act and is intended to be used as stimulus for airports because obviously air traffic has dropped off of the face of the earth.”

Hens said the grant will replace funds that were set to be taken from the county’s 1 percent sales tax fund and will come in handy since he expects fuel sales revenue at the airport to decline this summer.

He said that he and County Treasurer Scott German believe that the best way to proceed is to use the $69,000 toward “the existing debt service that we pay on the terminal and main hangar when it was constructed.”

The measure will be forwarded to the legislature’s Ways & Means Committee for consideration at its meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

In other action, the PSC approved the following:

-- A resolution to sign a construction contract with Occhino Corp. of West Seneca in the amount of $496,526.70 and a consultant agreement with Lu Engineers of Rochester in the amount of $112,000 to work on the replacement of the Whitney Creek bridge on Judge Road in the Town of Alabama.

Hens said Occhino’s bid came in at nearly $180,000 less than engineers’ estimate for the construction portion of the project.

“The two contracts together ($608,000) are lower than what we figured to spend on just the construction contract,” Hens said, adding that the capital project will be funded by federal aid (80 percent) with a 15 percent state match and a 5 percent match from local sales tax. “So, we’ll end up using quite a bit less in sales tax than we thought.”

He said the county has received a “solid green light” from both the federal and state level to continue forward on this funding and expects work to start soon.

-- A resolution to renew a contract with the NOCO Company for unleaded and diesel fuel for use at the fuel farms at the highway garage on Cedar Street and at the Town of Batavia highway department on West Main Street Road.

Hens said the county will be paying uncommonly low prices this year – 64 cents per gallon for unleaded and $1.09 per gallon for diesel. That’s a drop from $2.09 and $2.35, respectively, from the prices at this time last year.

He said he anticipates spending around $600,000 to $700,000 for fuel in 2020 -- a significant savings from the $1 million the county spent in 2019.

Committee members then asked Hens to look into a bulk purchase in advance – sort of a “futures contract” – to see if he could lock in the low rates for an extended period of time.

-- Resolutions reappointing Thomas Schubmehl of Pembroke to serve another term on the Genesee County Planning Board through May 31, 2023, and Janette Veazey-Post of Oakfield and LuAnne McKenzie of Pavilion to serve another term on the Genesee County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board through June 1, 2023.

May 18, 2020 - 9:01pm

The powers-that-be in Albany have made it clear to municipalities that they are in charge when it comes to reopening the state’s 10 regions.

-- Four phases, with each listing the types of businesses than can reopen – subject to rigid requirements.

-- Progression through the phases dictated by seven metrics tied to the coronavirus.

-- A fully regional approach, with communities prohibited from doing their own thing.

But when it comes to the enforcement of possible violations of quarantine orders, social distancing mandates or the wearing of face coverings, Genesee County leaders say they are being left in the dark.

Speaking during today’s Public Service Committee videoconferencing meeting, Legislator Andrew Young asked pointed questions about how to handle potentially confrontational situations as people lose patience with an economic shutdown that is into its ninth week.

“Let’s say it got down to the police force,” Young said. “Exclude code enforcement and zoning for a minute. Let’s assume that it’s someone’s home or something. That would have to be a police officer. What’s the threat like? What’s the crime? Is it an executive order and what’s the consequence? That’s a really gray area.”

County Manager Jay Gsell quickly responded, “Absolutely.”

Gsell, providing an update on the Finger Lakes Region “control room," reported that law enforcement and the county Health Department have dealt with issues, such as gatherings, that “might impose potential risk in regard to positive contact tracing and what the state will then look at in regard to the (metrics) dashboard that they have set up.”

He also mentioned that although the county has little input in the reopening process, it bears the burden of enforcement against acts of defiance.

“Whether it be the health department, zoning, code enforcement, basically, the bottom line, is really more and more likely to come to some part of law enforcement,” Gsell said, adding that Monroe County officials said that the State Police should be involved.

“… they would like the state patrol to be really part of this – really the bolstering of and the backup even to our own law enforcement -- if the kind and considerate request for people to stop doing something that seems to be violating or is violating the guidances, that state patrol would be there to help,” he said. “We don’t understand that that’s necessarily going to happen, but that’s what we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis with the way this entire process is rolling out, starting with Phase One.”

Gsell said the extent to which Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders come with a “certain degree of legal enforceability” is superseded by the county’s right to know what it can and can’t do in touchy situations.

Young said the county needs to look to the Sheriff’s Office for answers.

“It’s really about our sheriff (William Sheron Jr.),” Young said, calling for a discussion with the full legislature on this issue. “Does he feel he’s comfortable with this? Is he willing to do this? Does he want to? Do we want him to is another question, right?”

Gsell explained that the state response to handling civil or criminal disobedience has been sketchy.

“The state is advising us to not engage in, I guess we’ll call it the ‘heaviest hand’ but recognize, and haven’t really dealt with the idea, that there’s going to be some people,” he said. “And we’ve already run into them in a couple cases, when they are approached and asked by either health department or even law enforcement people, and the response is not what I would call positive or compliant, and then the question is, ‘Now what are we going to do?’ and to what extent is this going to become … a potential incident.”

County Attorney Kevin Earl brought up a real incident – a recent news report that police officers in New York City wrestled a woman to the ground in front of her kids when she didn’t have her mask on properly. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s response was that he wasn’t prepared to press charges over masks at this point.

“The (NYS) Sheriffs' Association attorneys wrote a very long memo, saying basically kind of the same thing,” Earl said. “Possibly, if they didn’t disperse or something of that nature, could be disorderly conduct or failing to obey a lawful order of the sheriffs, but even the Sheriffs' Association, when they talked about this last week, is not really gung-ho on that course of action.”

Earl also said that lawyers noted that the governor has pointed to a section of the public health law that could be used, but “again, not many people are keen on that.”

He said bail reform means that people receive a ticket and don’t have to disperse.

While that could lead to escalation, Earl said that a violation of quarantine orders carries more weight.

“Basically, between (District Attorney) Larry (Friedman) and the sheriff and I, we came to the opinion that the best way to do it was to get an order from Judge (Charles) Zambito, with the order saying if they did not do this, they could be arrested and taken to that facility in Monroe County that opened up for that purpose and we, of course, got an inter-municipal agreement," he said. "So, Larry was pretty much on the side of civil action in that regard."

Earl encouraged all parties involved to seek “voluntary compliance,” adding “I don’t think we want an incident of where our sheriff’s (deputy) is taking down a lady because she didn’t have her mask or face covering.” He finished by saying he would try to provide more direction for the legislature.

Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg proposed further debate while expressing confidence that the public “will make an effort to do the right thing and to remember that these precautions are not about taking away your civil liberties but they’re about the health and safety of the most vulnerable among us.”

Gsell said the emphasis must be on positive messaging.

Alluding to the “control room” meeting, he said, “that the community has to keep rallying around the idea (that) we have to get past this together and not as a bunch of individuals or as (Health Director) Paul (Pettit) would call them, the ‘COVID-iots’ running around deciding that today is May 18th and all bets are off.”

April 13, 2020 - 7:57pm

While a number of capital projects have been chopped or pushed off to another day by Genesee County leaders, resulting in the deferral of more than $1 million in expenses, a plan to erect a new building to store fuel trucks and other equipment at the County Airport remains intact.

By a 3-1 vote this afternoon, the Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee approved a resolution to forward a $109,000 project to its Ways & Means Committee for consideration before going before the full board.

After debating the project for about 30 minutes, John Hilchey, Christian Yunker and Marianne Clattenburg voted “yes” while Gordon Dibble voted “no.”

In reporting to the committee, Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said the new pole barn structure will replace an old farm building that has a dirt floor “and doesn’t have a big enough door for us to fit any of our modern equipment in.”

“The highway department force would be tearing the building down and we have put together a bid package for a new pole barn to be constructed on its site,” Hens said. “Basically, just the frame and the skin of the building (would be contracted out). County Highway would pour the concrete floor and we’d do the wiring for the building.”

Hens said Thompson Builds of Churchville came in with a bid of $109,000 – about $30,000 less than the next lowest bid. Funding will come from the county’s 1 percent sales tax.

“It’s a super-competitive price,” Hens said, adding that he understands the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on sales tax revenues but has set this project as a priority.

“This is one of those buildings that I’d still like to move forward. It does provide us a place to store our fuel equipment inside, which is really the driving factor for me,” he said.

The county has been storing the fuel trucks in old blue “T-hangars” that are located close to the runway and not capable of storing airplanes.

Hens said the problem with these hangars lies with the fact that they are unable to keep the cold wind from freezing the trucks’ fuel lines.

“We did have an outside area where we stored these pieces of equipment and put some plugs in … some block heaters for that equipment, but the block heater will only heat the engine end of the truck and it doesn’t deal with the fuel delivery end of the truck,” he said.

The highway superintendent also said heavy winds put the Jet A fuel truck out of commission for several days each winter, costing up to $5,000 in fuel sales profits – with a big impact on fuel sales to Mercy Flight.

Furthermore, the blue hangars are scheduled to be torn down this summer as part of a project fully funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“That project needs to move ahead. We just opened bids on it on Friday, and the FAA wants the project to move forward this summer,” he said.

Hens also noted that the new building would be able to store the large equipment used for mowing at the airport and the grader that currently is housed at the Highway Department on Cedar Street and driven through the City to the airport when needed.

Legislator Gary Maha, sitting in on the meeting, said he thought county crews could find a way to rig the heating blocks to keep the lines from freezing,

“I don’t think this is essential at this time,” he said. “I’d like to put this on pause for a year … and reevaluate it later.”

Dibble said he wasn’t against the project but disagreed with the timing.

“I would like to see us somehow make it through this winter to give us another year to see where we’re going on this whole thing,” he said. “It’s the same process we’re applying to a lot of projects across the county. I would like to see us drive the grader one more year and do what we can do to keep the fuel lines from freezing up.”

Yunker mentioned that Hens saved the county more than $700,000 in delaying projects and “made some very good arguments that it is going to be a problem with delivering fuel.”

“Between all the other dollars he’s cut out, we’ve got a very competitive bid and he’s going to do a lot of work on his own,” Yunker said. “It’s one of the more necessary projects that he had in mind, so I’m am going to support the project.”

County Manager Jay Gsell reported that for 2020 and 2021, Hens has put off $1.4 million in capital projects in response to the coronavirus’ impact upon county revenues.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said she supports the project for various reasons.

“The potential that we would lose the sale of jet fuel along with a greater use of our workforce’s time and be able to shelter our equipment is extremely important because it extends its life,” she said. “And I would hate to lose the opportunity of grabbing this bid because it so competitive. I know it’s $109,000 … but the return on this is going to be sooner rather than later.”

Clattenburg agreed, noting that the blue hangars will be coming down soon.

“We’re not going to have those hangars to store them in because they have to be torn down, and we’re going to get 100 percent funding to do that,” she said. “I’m going to support this knowing that it’s a competitive bid, our workforce will have time to do this and contribute a lot of work toward this construction.”

Beyond the financial aspect, Hens said he does not want to tarnish the airport’s fine standing with aviators.

“The impact on our reputation of the ability to sell fuel in the winter months would probably be more of an issue for me than the actual dollar value loss,” he said. “We do get some big jets that rely on us (and) we do have a good runway to land on in the winter time. I would just hate to hurt our reputation we have build up in the last 20 years.”

In other action, the committee approved the following resolutions, which will now head to the Ways & Means Committee:

-- A contract renewal with Seneca Pavement Markings of Horseheads (Chemung County) for an amount not to exceed $165,000 for pavement markings – both center line and edge line. This is a 5 percent increase over the previous pact, the first increase since 2018, Hens said.

Hens said the estimated cost for this service is $300 per mile for center line markings and $170 per mile for edge line markings, which constitute the majority of road markings. He said markings last anywhere from six months to two years depending upon traffic volume.

The contract does not cover the cost of markings for roads in towns, but 11 of the 13 towns in Genesee County (except Darien and Pembroke) use the county’s bid prices, Hens said.

-- Renewal of a contract with H2H Facility Service Inc. of Rochester for office cleaning services at the Justice for Children Advocacy Center’s sties in Batavia, Albion and Warsaw. The two-year contract calls for a monthly rate of $505.82.

The cost of these services is covered by grants from the NYS Office of Children and Family Services and the NYS Office of Victim Services and are included in the 2020 Justice for Children Advocacy Center Budget.

-- Permission to apply for a State Homeland Security Program grant for $109,000 which is divided between the Sheriff’s Department (25 percent) and Emergency Management office to work together toward terrorism prevention, and Homeland Security and cybersecurity initiatives.

The county has received this type of funding for the past eight to 10 years, Gsell said.

-- The rejection of all bids for a five-year lease purchase of a new hydraulic excavator that came in at $375,000.

“I think we can probably milk another two to three years out of this piece of equipment,” Hens said. “Having the extra $75,000 (the 2020 expense), that will remain in the surplus in the road machinery fund and hopefully allow us, when we start doing 2020-21 budgeting, to not have to rely on so much revenue coming from either general fund or county road fund sources.”

-- Establishment of two capital projects – a highway fire alarm system for $97,161 and a 5130 Main St. alarm control panel for $15,000 – to be funded by the 1 percent sales tax.

This resolution, however, stipulates that six other capital projects will be put on hold, preserving $442,636 of sales tax revenue.

A similar resolution halted two more projects – an all-season pavilion and a park & forest boardwalk – returning another $180,000 to the 1 percent sales tax coffers.

July 16, 2019 - 4:48pm

Members of the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office say they need the county’s help to hire more employees due to recent changes to discovery demand rules in criminal cases.

Lawrence Friedman, district attorney, and Melissa Cianfrini, first assistant district attorney, gave a department review to the Public Service Committee on Monday. They say they hope to hire another assistant district attorney and a paralegal.

These new positions stem from recent New York State reform that increases defense counsel’s access to information about the state’s case. Prosecutors will be required to turn over evidence much earlier, which means a greater workload for district attorneys and more strain on county resources to prosecute criminals. 

“We weren’t having to do trial-ready work for every single case,” Cianfrini said. “That’s really putting the cart before the horse in terms of how much this is changing how we’re practicing law in the criminal law sector.”

Cianfrini said the rules shorten the timeline to file a discovery demand from 30–90 days after arraignment down to 15 days. Now, a defendant cannot enter a plea until the discovery information is provided, so they can understand all of the evidence being brought against them.

The proposed assistant district attorney and paralegal positions would take on the 38-percent increase in the number of cases handled by the DA Office. Caseload is expected to jump from 354 cases to 407 cases annually for each assistant district attorney. 

The role of the prospective paralegal is to review documents and enter information into a database called the Digital Evidence Management System, an electronic service for information storage and sharing. The paralegal would further reduce preparation time for attorneys.

“With these new requirements, our feeling is we have to spend a lot more time on a case than the other side does,” Friedman said.

DA Office staff members are concerned about the strict deadlines and punishments for not complying with the new rules. They face the risk of having criminal cases dismissed if they are not ready for trial in time.  

Legislators Gordon Dibble and Marianne Clattenburg were in favor of hiring more DA Office staff before Jan. 1, when the rules go into effect. Committee members sought more information about how much funding the county would need to offer for these new employees.

“For a county our size, is there a trend analysis that says ‘this is how many cases an ADA should handle’ so that we could have a benchmark to help educate us?” Shelly Stein asked. “I think that’s probably the biggest step here.”

June 18, 2019 - 3:50pm

County officials can expect a state rebate for their energy-saving efforts that began last spring.

How much of a rebate remains to be seen, Deputy Highway Superintendent Paul Osborn told the Public Service Committee on Monday.

In the update, Osborn said his department is waiting to receive summary reports from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to show where savings have been made and where more savings can occur later on.

“NYSERDA still has to review all of it to make sure that the realization of the energy savings that they say that they were going to do initially is realized again as well,” Osborn said. “And then, if there is more realization in the savings, then they give us a rebate for that.

“We are not anticipating a significant rebate, but we are anticipating some rebate from them. So, we can take that rebate and put it into some of those facilities that they reviewed that may need some work.”

Some cost savings will be realized with the completion of smaller projects like switching lighting in county buildings to more energy-efficient systems. More extensive projects include electrical panels, boilers, HVAC systems and breakers or air handlers.

So far, heating at County Building #1, ventilation and insulation work at the animal shelter and HVAC improvements to the highway garage have been underway.

Osborn said that once the NYSERDA report is released in late July, it will paint a clearer picture of where the funding can be allocated.

“Our biggest thing is we want to see the report — see where our idealized savings can be furthered,” Osborn said.

County Manager Jay Gsell added, “The Highway Department has one of our older buildings. [It] is also one that had probably the least internal changes made to it as with anything with HVAC and lighting and other things. So, this is one of those times, finally, let’s really make some significant improvements.”

The energy-savings projects are being conducted by Johnson Controls, which entered into a $4 million contract with the county last spring after the company conducted an energy consumption audit of county facilities in 2017.

The projected energy savings are expected to be nearly $4.3 million, for a potential net savings to the county of about $300,000.

There was debate about whether to hire Johnson Controls, but a key selling point was the claim that energy-saving projects will pay for themselves in 20 years.

Initially, legislators Gary Maha and Andrew Young approached the agreement with skepticism, while legislators Shelly Stein, Marianne Clattenburg and John Hilchey expressed their approval.

The Johnson Controls contract allows the county to undertake projects that are already part of the county's capital investment plans and save money on existing utilities. The money saved from lower energy costs will flow back into the capital project budget to cover additional upgrades.

Legislators seemed satisfied with the information contained in the energy-saving projects update and raised no objections.

Stein requested that Osborn return to the Public Service Committee in September to present the next update on Johnson Controls.

August 4, 2016 - 5:46pm
posted by Billie Owens in news, public service committee, csx, railroad disaster.

Crude oil makes up the lion's share of commodities rumbling over railways traversing Genesee County. Ethanol is number two. And if a railcar carrying one of these highly volatile products derailed, it would not be good.

"Neither one of those things are really good products for us to see 100-car trains going through with 30,000 gallons on each one," said Tim Yaeger, county Emergency Services manager, who gave a review of his department Tuesday at the Public Service Committee.

"That's a lot of product going through. Bakken is down to one to two shipments a day; it was up to three, to four, even five at one time, but petroleum prices drive that."

(Bakken oil comes from a massive shale formation primarily in North Dakota, but it is also found in Montana and two Canadian provinces.)

And yet any rail disaster here now would likely be more ably dealt with than in the past.

There's a couple of reasons for that.

Firstly, the railroad operator, CSX, is more concentrated these days on public safety that in moving products swiftly. That's the sense Yaeger said he got from attending a CSX hazardous material outreach training program, which he lauded as "excellent."

"I can tell you that CSX really impressed me -- their commitment to safety, their commitment to communities," Yaeger said. "It used to be their number-one goal was to get the train moving again. Now it's really safety and making sure that the community is safe before they worry about moving trains again."

The emphasis on beneficial PR is probably, at least partially, rooted in the call for industry-wide reform that followed the company's disastrous derailment accident in Lynchburg, Va., in May 2014 in which tankers carrying crude oil caught fire along with the James River.

At the time, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said it was a "wake-up call" for a slow, ineffectual federal rule-making process that failed to protect Amercians in a time when the amount of crude oil being moved by rail in the United States quadrupled in less that a decade.

"They've showed their weaknesses over the years," Yaeger acknowleged. "They show their ability now to respond better and integrate with the local communities as well. I was pleased."

Secondly, in conjunction with CSX training, representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation traveled throughout the state in the spring developing emergency response plans for the entire rail system in the State of New York, working with local officials in each county.

"Basically, they come in and look at hazards within that area -- with about a five-mile buffer on either side of the tracks -- and find out what type of infrastructure is in the area -- schools, hospitals, things like that in the community -- and then identify the resources that we need to respond to that area," Yaeger explained to the committee.

In his CSX disaster training, Yaeger said he learned that "the entire heat signature goes up, not outward. So our concern, the fire service concern, is that we can't get near it because the amount of BTUs that come off the material is difficult. We have to basically wait for it to burn down.

"Luckily, 'the whip' -- its path -- is not that long. If we have a spill or a movement downhill or into a waterway ... it's a bad event, (but) it's really impressive to see what happens when that catches fire and we have multiple products. The actual damage is about 500 to 1,000 feet, so although it looks terrible, it's not that bad and that heat is going straight up."

Today, first responders in the fire service have full masks to wear to protect themselves from the fumes in fighting this type of conflagration. But they also have a different view about the appropriate response, as compared to, say, the state.

"The state has a different philosophy," Yaeger said, "that we're going in and save the day. And talking to the experts, you're going to be fried before you get close enough to try and do any of those things."

Rather, firefighters are going to use water to cool the exposures first, cool the tanks, and keep them from exploding. (This is known as a B.L.E.V.E -- pronounced "blevy" -- or Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, which is an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing pressurized liquid above its boiling point.) 

Foam is not going to be employed initially.

"When the fire's out, we try and suppress the vapors, and then we'll be applying the foam."

Useful, too, is a new software program in the Emergency Services office to track "any shipment of cargo through this county," Yaeger said. 

Genesee County training for reaction to volatile commodity spills on highways or railways is continuing with sessions in Baltimore, and Pueblo, Colo.

Overall, emergency response education is strong and productive, with 344 students having participated this year in state programs at the local fire training center, and 22 students completed advanced EMT classes.

On the communications side, Emergency Services is testing pagers with new technology that allows them to switch between 800 megahertz (emergency dispatch radio) and VHF (paging) frequencies. They can be purchased, in conjunction with the Sheriff's Office, with government grant money.

After the county switched to the new emergency dispatch system, procedures changed; certain channels were no longer available and this created issues with first responders who were out of radio range.

The new pagers being tested are not radios. Those paged to respond to a call can't speak on them, but they can hear emergency dispatches and the directives of the incident commander on scene.

Before, responders would be paged on their pager, but then have to get within range of an 800 megahertz radio frequency to hear the emergency dispatch conversations. The new pagers are like "little scanners" that can switch between the two banks "to hear both sides of the conversation." They cost a couple of hundred dollars more than the old pagers and would only be provided to key individuals who "are always responding."

In terms his investigation team, Yaeger said workers are continuing their certifications and they are looking to retool how they do business in light of "the cancer issues that were coming out of the fire service."

Example: there are now more detailed processes in place for handling contaminated gear -- evaluating what gets bagged, what gets disposed of, what gets sent out and cleaned and brought back into service.

As regards fire records management, Yaeger said that 18 fire departments and first responders are now using the same records management system. Le Roy Ambulance Service is expected to join soon. 

Public Service Committee Member Rochelle Stein asked how that was going, if it's serving the communities' needs and if everybody likes it.

" 'Like' is a subjective term," Yaeger quipped, and that got a laugh. He offered the word "tolerate" in lieu of "like" and credited Bill Schutt, West Battalion coordinator for the Genesee County Emergency Management Office, for deftly handling the customer-service aspect of things.

"We're 100-percent reporting," Yaeger noted. "That's very important to New York State. Everybody's reporting their incidents. We're breaking some records. We had some issues, but it's working well."

June 15, 2016 - 4:20pm

Whatever differences of opinion may exist about how to address the problems faced by small, rural volunteer fire companies, one thing pretty much all the stakeholders agree on is this: they are struggling and need help.

So said Emergency Services Manager Tim Yaeger at Monday afternoon's Public Service Committee meeting.

He asked for permission to apply for a state Management Performance Grant offered as part of the 2015-16 Municipal Restructuring Fund Program. Permission was unanimously granted.

The aim is to secure funds to contract with a consultant to assess the county's firefighting needs.

Yaeger said he and Bill Schutt, the West Battalion coordinator for the Genesee County Emergency Management Office, have talked with County Manager Jay Gsell about bringing a consultant on board. Schutt, a volunteer for more than 25 years with Alabama fire, also works full time as general manager of Mercy EMS, where he manages a staff of more than 60 and its fleet of vehicles.

"We want to look at fire services in Genesee County -- how do we provide that service in the future in a very efficient and professional manner," Yaeger said. "As you know, we've had conversations before, we're struggling, in some places more than others."

The amount of funding available to conduct such a study is "kind of open-ended."

Schutt said the grant is designed for consolidation-of-services projects, but fire service was listed as eligible and after confering with state officials, it was deemed that assessment and evaluation of Genesee County fire services would fit within that scope.

"The 10,000-foot view of what we'd like to look at, is what this grant is asking us to apply for, and it kind of goes down from there," Schutt said. "A lot of it is based on what you'd save for money. I don't think this project is going to be looking at saving money directly, but in the long term it will, so there's a way of working it in there in terms of the long term."

Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg asked how long the process will take.

A timeline is not known. It would be a process of stages, perhaps two or three studies or consultations. 

"It's not going to be 'here's your information' and we're going to walk away," Yaeger said, "because it's such a vast program. There's so many moving parts to this."

If, say an initial study is done and that takes six or seven months just to identify what they true issues are, that may constitute the first step.

"This is not going to be done in a year or two and find a solution," Yaeger said. "I think it's going to take a few years to get to a position to where we can make some decisions."

It was asked, when looking at the big picture, if there is consenus amongst those in the firefighting community about what the future is and what changes may be forthcoming.

"I think today more than ever, there's a level of agreement that a level of government beyond the local fire company has to find some solutions for them," Yaeger replied. "I think they'll all agree to that -- that they are not able to find those long-term solutions for themselves and they need assistance.

"And the next step up would be to the county, because obviously we're going to be able to benefit everybody here. The issue with the volunteer fire service is you may have consensus today, and then two or three elections from now, the consensus changes."

To that, Clattenburg deadpanned: "Exactly."

"So it's a moving target," Yaeger reiterated, adding that no one should expect sweeping changes anytime soon and noting that Oswego is looking at this issue, but the problems in volunteer firefighting companies are statewide.

Thus he's meeting with fire associations of NYS this week to get the them moving toward a solution. He's already met with WNY fire personnel and emergency coordinators, "all agree...we have to start addressing these things."

"So some may go screaming, but some don't really have much to defend. In many cases, they should be the first to tell you they need assistance," Yaeger said. "They need to be doing something different than what we've been doing right now because it's not working. Right now it's primarily daytime, but we're seeing nighttime problems as well."

Gsell said, actually this is a national issue: "Volunteer fire companies are the backbone, particularly in rural jurisdictions, like ours to some extent, versus urban areas, where they have not just a full-time department but a number of them surrounding in a ring of suburbs.

"In talking with others, they have been able to find solutions that in New York State are not yet on the table, because the state has certain issues and preclusions built into statutes that say 'you just don't do it that way here.' So this (study) might be part of what the future might hold as far as prospective legislation that might need to change."

Any consultant up to the task, Yaeger said would "have to work with us and realize this is going to take some time. The more grant money that becomes available, the more services can be done. The preliminary numbers we were talking about on the phone were good numbers. I think we're trying to keep those numbers small, but understanding that if we expand it to $150,000 that may complete the entire project. ....But it's hard to say exactly what the total will come to."

Committee Member John Deleo asked about the scope of a grant-funded study.

"We're not talking about just two outfits combining together," Deleo said. "Is there a chance we could look at a whole big umbrella? I'm not advocating anything. I'm just asking."

No, this is not about just looking at how to combine or consolidate services.

"There's so many moving parts -- locations of fire stations, response times, and combining -- in some cases there's an opportunity but in our county, not many, because we're fairly spread out already," Yaeger said.

"But we're looking at the entire fire service. What does the city provide? What do the remaining volunteer fire companies provide? And they're all in different categories of capabilities, based on their manpower and their budgetary constraints. We're going to look at this whole thing, absolutely."

The thing that won't be done is approaching the issue with any preconceived notions about a solution.

"The first thing is, everybody understand," Gsell said, "and maybe start developing some consensus around all the constraints there are, and then, how do you address those going into the future."

May 17, 2016 - 4:16pm

The system that helps poor New Yorkers with their legal troubles is in flux. Genesee County, like the majority of others statewide, is awaiting new caseload/workload standards for indigent defense to be brought forward and there is uncertainty about how the state will fund, or even IF it will fund, any resulting cost increases.

Randy Zickl, the attorney who handles the county's assigned attorney program, made a presentation Monday at the Public Service Committee meeting, which was held in the new terminal at the County Airport. After 12 years on the job, Zickl is retiring and a new administrator is being sought.

GC Public Defender Jerry Ader provided a review of his office. 

While the Public Defender’s Office normally provides legal services to the indigent, occasions arise in which two or more such people are accused of involvement in the same crime. This can result in a conflict of interest for the Public Defender’s Office. To avoid that, courts assign private counsel who receive compensation as set by the state and that is the program that Zickl oversees.

For the past four or five years, the county has contracted with Buffalo Legal Aid for indigent defense, and it was roundly praised, but it will not be the contract provider in the near term because of a bidding issue.

The number of court cases handled by the Public Defenders Office in Genesee County has remained relatively flat from year to year, in the annual range of 500 to 550. Annual assigned attorney expenses are down, however: $20,000 in Family Court; $10,000 in Criminal Court.

The question was raised about whether it would be worthwhile to establish a Conflict Defender Office, like the one in Monroe County, to help reduce further costs. Private attorneys represent clients in all felony matters and in the local criminal courts where the Public Defenders Office has a conflict of interest and cannot represent the client. (In Monroe County, CD attorneys also represent clients in Rochester City Court misdemeanor cases, Monroe County Family Court cases and appellate cases in all courts where the Monroe County Public Defender's Office has a conflict of interest and cannot represent the client.)

"The longer you have it, the Conflict Office will (eventually) be conflicted out," said Committee Member and Legislature Chairman Ray Cianfrini. "It can really create a problem in a small town."

Why? Because inevitably Party A knows Party B, who is related to Party C, who is married to Party D, who operates a business with Party E. 

And initial cost-savings, expenses actually increase over time, said County Manager Jay Gsell.

New regulations could change everything anyway, noted Public Service Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg.

But Ader said the state will undoubtedly want more than assigned counsel in some cases, along with new standards, more training and a change in allowable caseload numbers, but it's not sure what those benchmarks will be.

"They are very good at creating standards and then saying 'handle them,' " Clattenburg said, "...and 'pay for them.' "

Among the changes proposed are more streamlined arraignments with fewer justices in fewer towns and villages, but that will require legislation to enact.

Another proposed change is in the standard for mimimum face-to-face client/attorney contact, Ader said. There must be at least one visit by the assigned attorney to the place where a felony defendant is in custody. Attorneys who handle such cases will "voucher" the expenses for that. Unlike a defendant's physician, who can teleconference/videoconference a meeting and have it meet legal protocols, the attorney cannot do so.

"I have a client in Westchester and I go down and visit her and the equipment is all set up for a teleconference with her doctor, but I can't do that," Ader said.

Several agreed that "It absolutely makes no sense."

The impetus for a slow and systematic overhaul of New York's indigent defense was prompted by NY Civil Liberties Union litigation in 2010 on behalf of indigent criminal defendants against five counties -- Ontario, Onondaga, Washington, Schuyler and Suffolk. (Hurrell-Harring et al v State of New York, 15 NY 3d 8 (May 6, 2010) It alleged New York’s indigent defense system was inadequate in ensuring the constitutional right to counsel.

Subsequently, the NYS Office of Indigent Legal Services was created and its representatives began analyzing and monitoring the standards, practices, caseloads and shortcomings of the system with a goal of increasing efficiency, eliminating deficiencies, and better meeting the obligation of counsel to those who cannot afford to pay for it themselves. Excessive caseloads, lack of adequate support services and training, an inability to hire full-time defenders, and too-minimal client contact were among the biggest concerns brought to light.

Ader noted that a female in the Public Defenders Office gave notice on Monday and that will mean an increase in cases for others in the office until a replacement is hired.

March 15, 2016 - 6:26pm
posted by Billie Owens in public service committee, events, genesee county.

The donation of an "old school" ice rink, the status of flooded County Building #2, construction at the airport, Albany's inflexibility regarding bid procedures, and indigent defense were all topics of discussion at Monday afternoon's Public Service Committee meeting. 

Oh yes, and no filbert trees were available for sale this year from the Soil & Water Conservation District. But more on that later.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens recommended that the committee accept the donation of an old-fashioned ice rink -- a veritable "duck pond" with "dasher boards" -- from Oakfield-Alabama Central School District (OACSD) for use at DeWitt Recreation Area off Cedar Street in the City of Batavia.

There is an area long designated for an ice rink in the master plan for DeWitt -- which is overseen by county Parks, Recreation and Forestry -- and if approved by the county Legislature, this is where the rink would be installed.

After a brief discussion, the committee unanimously approved recommending that the "as is" donation be accepted. It was originally paid for by OACSD with a $1,000 state grant.

"This is great for the county and the city," Hens said.

The Oakfield-Alabama district used the ice rink for two years, then it became problematic to maintain. A corps of volunteers will be needed to set it up, flood it with water, and keep it maintained during the winter.

"There's no Zamboni that comes with it," Hens quipped.

County Manager Jay Gsell agreed.

"It's skating in the park," Gsell said. "It's not Rockefeller Center. There won't be a Christmas tree."

Committee Member John Deleo asked about power and lighting for the ice rink.

Hens said all the possibilities are being looked at, but they are leaning toward LED with a solar-powered "hot box."

Water and sewer lines at DeWitt will be extended for a new restroom facility under construction, and lighting will be added at that time, Hens said. 

Deleo asked about parking to access the rink and Hens said if the rink is installed, the south parking lot would be opened in winter. Currently, only the north parking lot is kept open year-round.

The committee also voted to recommend approval of two candidates for the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Advisory Committee: Tom Clark and Jerome Gentry.

And Hens asked the committee to recommend awarding a bid to buy one cargo van with a sliding door for $25,000 or less for motor-pooling, and members agreed to this.

As for the recently flooded County Building #2 on West Main Street Road in the Town of Batavia, it has been fully remediated, Hens reported.

The contractor thoroughly dried the place out after a busted pipe caused extensive water damage during the winter. Mold and mildew were eradicated, even the floorboards in the information/technology area were raised and the space vacuumed.

Drying the facility cost $30,000. Repairs/plumbing/painting/tile work on top of that are estimated at $88,000, according to Hens. When allowable depreciation is factored into the mix, the total cost drops from $118,000 to $113,000 -- below the insurer's cap of $115,000 for this incident. The county's deductible is $10,000.

The contractor detailed 44 pages of work needed as a result of the mishap, which by all accounts would've been a lot worse if an employee hadn't stopped in on his day off, over the weekend, and found the broken pipe.

Hens said a private contractor will be employed to do the repairs, such as replacing tile, drywall, appyling a vinyl basecoat and other painting. This will enable county workers to stay on task with outdoor jobs that need to be done during the warmer months.

The new offices at the county airport will be completed by March 24, with the exception of "punch list items" like giving epoxy time to dry, then the big move -- read "big hassle" -- will ensue. The committee may hold its May meeting there, and get a tour. (The April 18 meeting of the Public Service Committee is already promised to the Sheriff's Office on Park Road.)

Lastly in terms of Hens' report, was the inscrutable logic of the state Comptroller's Office as regards the award of bids for highway contruction materials.

For example, take the weighty materials used for road bulding during the summer like asphalt -- whose price has dropped 15 to 20 percent due to the lower cost of crude oil and the price of gasoline -- or quarry stone. The price of these heavy cargo items is modified to account for hauling. So, take the low bidder then factor in another 50-cents-per-mile as the cost to get the materials to the job site.

They call it awarding a "catalog of options for vendors."

"This is the way counties in the Rochester region do business," Hens said. "Otherwise, I couldn't do my job."

But it's not the way the Comptroller's Office in Albany recommends doing business.

In fact, the mathematics appeared to stupefy the representative from the Comptroller's Office, despite an hour-long phone conversation with Hens articulating current procedures and the logic for them.

"That's frightening that someone can't understand that," Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg said.

Gsell said it's actually not that they don't get it, it's that they lack flexibility and can't think outside the confines of their specific framework, making the gesture of a big square box with his hands. He cited New York's lack of national buying cooperatives and its dearth of "piggy-backing" to boost purchasing power as examples of New York government failures.

To avoid being scapegoated with an audit for not following the Comptroller's Office's recommendations to cease using a "catalog of options" approach, resolutions are being proposed for the Genesee County Legislature to sign. They are intended to underscore and articulate the local preference for doing business the way it has long been done by counties in the region.

And speaking of Albany, Public Defender Jerry Ader told the committee on Monday that he's asking for more money to defend the poor, something which is constitutionally the state's responsibility, but which has been palmed off onto counties for the past 45 years.

A grant for $344,200 is available, at no cost to the county, to help pay for indigents' legal bills, and he asked the committee to recommend accepting the grant. They unanimously agreed.

Ader also asked committee members to pass a resolution calling on the state to increase funding for indigent defense for all New York counties, not just the five counties (unspecified) which are now being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for their allegedly poor defense of the poor.

The five counties are to be demo sites for a proposal to gradually allow the state, through the Office of Indigent Legal Services, to: oversee reimbursement of costs; ensure standards are met; and that caseloads are properly managed. Each county would simply administer the program.

"How do you justify not doing this for all counties?" Clattenburg asked.

Exactly, Ader said, "you can't unring the bell," noting that it's Governor Cuomo's task to find a way to fund the upgrade of indigent defense across the board. Until then, Genesee County, too, is at risk for getting sued by the ACLU, Gsell said.

Even so, local representatives seem a bit blase about the issue. Ader noted that neither Senator Mike Ranzenhofer nor Assemblyman Steve Hawley have boarded the bandwagon, which to date consists of a less-than-whopping two lawmakers. State lawmakers will select bills to vote on within the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, the annual Tree & Shrub Sale of the county Soil & Water Conservation District just wrapped up. At least officially, the deadline was March 11. 

Member Robert Bausch told district Director Pamela Whitmore he usually buys something every year. We do not recall whether he specifically mentioned having bought a hazelnut tree, but Whitmore replied flatly: "We don't have any filbert trees this year."

Whitmore also reported that the district is not seeking an increase in appropriations, nor are there staff changes afoot, although there is one position open.

At present, Water & Soil is focusing on stream water quality and water bank fortification, said District Manager Greg Tessmann.

He said they are in a partnership with SUNY Brockport to monitor water quality in streams and that the results of testing samples will be available this fall.

Committee Member Shelley Stein said she has been told about the exceptional staff at Soil & Water -- how they are "aggressive, motivated, interested and committed."

Lastly, county Weights & Measures Director Don Luxon told the committee he is considering retirement, but said he would provide a few months notice once the decision is made.

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