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September 22, 2022 - 8:10am

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There’s no concealing their opposition to the newly enacted Concealed Carry Improvement Act as Genesee County legislators unanimously agreed Wednesday to sign a resolution stating the Act is unconstitutional.

Public Services Committee Chairman Gary Maha believes the act was put together quickly in the aftermath of mass shootings, and it penalizes the wrong people.

“I think it really hurts law-abiding citizens,” he said. “If (criminals) want a gun, they’re going to get a gun.”

Fellow legislators Marianne Clattenburg and John Deleo agreed.

“I think it hurts the honest guy,” Deleo said.

The revisions seem to be “putting up barriers,” Clattenburg said, pointing to the new requirements of training, an interview and having to provide many personal details of one's household. 

“It’s a barrier to your rights,” she said.

They underscored the prominence of the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and how the Concealed Carry is no improvement act. The Second Amendment states that “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The legislators’ resolution states that the act “presents procedural roadblocks in the form of privacy violation, subjective standards, financial burdens, and overt restrictions on individuals seeking to exercise a fundamental right.”

A subdivision of the law was added to state that no license shall be issued or renewed pursuant to this section except by the licensing officer, and then only after investigation and finding that all statements in a proper application for a license are true. No license shall be issued or renewed except for an applicant 21 years or older (military veterans honorably discharged are exempt from the age requirement), and be of good moral character, which means having the essential character, temperament and judgment necessary to be entrusted with a weapon and to use it only in a manner that does not endanger oneself or others.

Those with a license shall be required to complete training prior to recertification and must submit to an interview with the licensing officer and provide the following:

  • Names and contact information for the applicant’s current spouse, or domestic partner and any other adults residing in the home, including any adult children of the applicant and status of them residing there full- or part-time;
  • Names and contact information of no less than four character references who can attest to the applicant’s good moral character and that such applicant has not engaged in any acts, or made any statements, that suggest they are likely to engage in conduct to result in harm to themselves or others;
  • Proof of certification of training;
  • A list of former and current social media accounts of the applicant from the past three years to confirm the information regarding the applicant’s character and conduct.

Not only will the Legislature “vehemently, adamantly and with full resolve” oppose what members believe are “ill-advised provisions,” of the act, but they will also work with other counties to demand its full repeal based on being “unjust, ineffective, vague and unconstitutional.”

As a longstanding defender of citizen rights and the Constitution, the Legislature calls on all other municipalities in the state — and any advocates for freedom and liberty — to challenge this law “by any means possible as unconstitutional,” legislators agreed.

Copies of the county’s resolution will be sent to several state representatives, including Governor Kathy Hochul, New York State Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and state Senators George Borrello and Edward Rath III.

Hochul signed this law on July 1 after what the county Legislature believes was “surreptitiously rushed bills and through to passage under a message of necessity and during an extraordinary session bypassing the traditional rules and procedures of the state legislature. The law then went into effect on Sept. 1, placing “unprecedented and overtly restrictive conditions on applying for, obtaining, utilizing, maintaining and recertifying a conceal carry permit for personal protection and other legal uses as clearly provided for in the Constitution of the United States,” the county’s resolution states.

To read the full law, go to Concealed Carry.

Photo: Members of the county's Public Service Committee, led by Chairman Gary Maha, head of the table, discuss and vote on a resolution opposing the newly adopted Concealed Carry Improvement Act. Photo by Joanne Beck.

April 18, 2022 - 8:08pm

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The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office will be reassigning its courthouse deputy positions in light of news that the New York State Office of Court Administration will be providing its own security team this summer.

County Sheriff William Sheron shared this during an update of his department today at a meeting of the County Legislature’s Public Service Committee at the Old Courthouse.

“The Office of Court Administration that oversees the (Genesee County) Court Facility … did put us on notice that they're going to have their own private security take over,” Sheron said. “The court security (change) originally was going to be April 1st, but that did not give us enough time for transition so they did agree to July 1st. That means the five court officers -- deputies and sergeant -- will be returning to the sheriff's office and assigned to various duties.”

Sheron said the court positions will be eliminated through attrition.

“Right now, we have two vacancies and we anticipate a third officer will be retiring in July,” he said. “Another officer (will retire) at the end of the year and a third officer, the first part of 2023.”

He said the court sergeant will return to road patrol and be assigned as an administrative sergeant.

“I do need some type of position … to take up some of these administrative duties that just got overwhelming over the last few years with discovery and body cam footage and so forth,” Sheron advised.

The sheriff reported that four deputies will be completing field training next month.

Additionally, two deputies came to the department as lateral transfers from Syracuse and the State Park Police, which will save the office “a little money … as they came to us fully trained,” he said.

Two other deputies are in law enforcement academies, with one in Erie County to be available for duty in December and the other in Niagara County to be available for duty in February 2023.

At least a half-dozen officers are in other types of training, Sheron said.

“We do have a young staff so we have a lot of in-service training for investigators -- anywhere from basic criminal investigations training to evidence collection and interview interrogation,” he said.

Included in that group are the office’s K9 patrol, Sheron said, noting that “both of our canines are doing very well – healthy at this time and are on patrol.”

The Sheriff’s Office school resource officer program is running smoothly, he said, adding that Pavilion Central School District recently voted to go from a 12-month contract to a 10-month contract that will take effect in September.

Sheron said he is having to deal with the excessive amount of time that it takes to deal with certain crimes, especially fraud cases.

“Everything’s requiring a subpoena or search warrant,” he said. “Banks just want more records. It's really taxing on our investigators. I just want to bring that to light because we are seeing more and more and more of this.”

Statistically, deputies are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of warrants served.

“Usually, we have 170 to 190 active warrants at a time. Right now, we’re running 325 to 350,” the sheriff said.

Some more statistics, as of April 1:

  • Felony investigations, 71.
  • Juvenile investigations, 8.
  • Drug task force investigation cases, 10.
  • Other investigations (misdemeanors, pistol permit, fatal traffic accidents), 167.
  • Items of evidence processed, 312.
  • Incidents, 7,799.
  • Background investigations, 11.
  • Motor vehicle accident reports, 324.
  • Motor vehicle accidents, 474.

The Sheriff’s Office oversees seven areas: jail, civil/records, criminal investigations, communications, road patrol (including animal control), Genesee Justice and Justice for Children Advocacy Center.

Department heads reported to the Public Service Committee in the following areas today:

COMMUNICATIONS

Emergency Communications Director Steven Sharpe said his department is having difficulty filling four part-time dispatcher positions, citing qualifications, the “plug-in” nature of the shifts involved and the hourly wage being offered.

“We’ve got people who are on the Civil Service list but they don’t want to take a part-time job,” Sharpe said. “So, they also tie up the list. Part-timers that we do get – who are on the list – we can’t reach them when a full-time position opens. There are other people ahead of them on the list that won’t take the part-time job.”

In an effort to attract young people into emergency dispatch, Sharpe is trying to develop a curriculum at Genesee Community College, but acknowledged that it has yet to take hold.

Sheron also noted that starting pay for a dispatcher is $20.37, less than the $20.50 being offered to overnight stockers at Walmart.

“And it’s not just law enforcement, it’s everywhere,” he said. “We’re going to have to start looking at wages.”

Other communications highlights:

  • 2021 calls for service: 76,751 (consisting of 81,107 dispatch events for police, fire and EMS).
  • Molasses Hill Tower is complete and was funded by four different NYS Statewide Interoperable Communications Grants. The final acceptance occurred in February.
  • The Cedar Street Tower at County Highway department is significantly overloaded and will require replacement due to changing engineering standards. Ice loading requirements have been increased from a half-inch under previous standards to 1-3 inches. Sharpe is seeking budgetary quotes to submit a capital improvement project for 2024 at the latest.

COUNTY JAIL

Jail Superintendent William Zipfel said openings include a senior correction officer, part-time correction officer, registered professional nurse and, as of this month, six correction officers (four to replace the officers assigned to the new jail transition team).

He also said he has been unable to find someone to fill the part-time cook job (paying $17.32 per hour) for quite some time.

Expenses are going up significantly, specifically in the Medicated Assistance Treatment program, food, supplies and energy, Zipfel said.

The MAT program is straining the jail budget due to the fact that prescribed controlled substances, such as suboxone, cannot be returned for refunds and cannot be given to another inmate. They must be destroyed.

People come in and they get prescribed suboxone and methadone and all kinds of controls, and next thing you know, they're released. We can't send those back. We can't use them for anyone else,” he said. “We turn it over to an investigator and they get destroyed. And until somebody decides to do something about this program that says, ‘If I want it, I get it,’ I don’t know what we’re going to do. It just keeps increasing and increasing and increasing.”

Zipfel said the jail’s overtime budget is on the rise, as well, due to the “huge number of hours just for constant watches in the first quarter of this year.”

“I don't see that stopping or going down a lot. We're dealing with sicker population as far as physical and mental issues, and we have to put them on constant watch,” he said, adding that intervention by mental health professionals has helped.

Some jail statistics through the first quarter of 2022:

  • Overtime Budget, $112,369.
  • Constant Watch and Hospital Hours, 2,118.
  • Food Costs/Meal Services, 15,799 meals served; $21,677.06 total cost; $1.3720 cost per meal.
  • Average Daily Population, males, 55.6.
  • Inmates Boarded Out, females, 30 inmates, $64,300 (not including Wyoming County).
  • Inmates Boarded Out, males, 10 inmates, $25,140 (not including Wyoming County).
  • Parole and State Readies as a portion of the Average Daily Population, 15.

GENESEE JUSTICE

Program Coordinator Diana Prinzi reported three part-time community service/victim assistants are needed, but the possibility of combining two of the part-time jobs into a full-time position is being considered.

Funding for the department through the Office of Victim Services decreased this year by nearly $14,000, dropping the total to $130,104 – the original funding amount released in 2019.

She said the office is requesting $181,917 per year for the new contract period that runs from Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2025. Department of Criminal Justice Services’ grant funding: has remained the same since 2019.

The agency’s program numbers in the area of Release Under Supervision, Community Service and Victim Assistance are increasing and expected to hit or exceed pre-COVID statistics.

JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN ADVOCACY CENTER

Program Coordinator Theresa Roth said her department is actively recruiting for a supervising clinical social worker, a position that has been vacant since it was created last November.

Last year was the busiest in the history of the JFCAC, she said, with 262 new cases opened, and this year is expected to meet or exceed that number.

A contract with the state Office of Children and Family Services for funding of the agency’s satellite offices in Albion and Warsaw has been renewed through September 2027, she said, noting that having these locations results in signficant savings for Orleans and Wyoming counties.

Roth also reported a “small cut in funding” from the state Office of Victim Services.

That drew the ire of Legislator Marianne Clattenburg, who called it “reprehensible” that the state would not prioritize services for abused children.

Photo at top: Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron reporting to the Public Services Committee this afternoon. Emergency Communications Director Steven Sharpe is in the background. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

January 18, 2022 - 5:25pm

The Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee this afternoon approved two measures connected to the to design and right-of-way aspects of the mostly federally-funded South Lyon Street Bridge replacement project in the City of Batavia.

The first resolution amends the capital project by $23,000 ($4,500 in local funding) to pay for a supplemental agreement with Fisher Associates of Rochester for additional ROW consultant services, and the second resolution is for the county to purchase two parcels needed to complete the project.

If approved by the GCL’s Ways & Means Committee and, ultimately, the full legislature, the county will pay $4,000 to Aaron Howland and $1,900 to BGW Properties LLC for the land.

The amended project total is $659,933, and is to be funded with 80% federal aid and a 20% match from local 1% sales tax revenue.

In other action, the PSC recommended approval of the following resolutions:

  • Intermunicipal agreements with the Town of Alexander Water District No. 6 and Town of Bergen for improvements that will advance Phase 3 and Phase 2, respectively, of the Countywide Water Project.

The county will reimburse the Town of Alexander an estimated $231,863 per year for 38 years for the town’s installation of a water main and construction of a water storage tank that benefits the countywide system.

Genesee will reimburse the Town of Bergen for $38,000 in cost increases related to a previous agreement for the upgrades of certain water mains constructed by the town in Water Improvement Benefit Area No. 1. The increase brings the total eligible for reimbursement by the county to $85,000.

  • Acceptance of a $50,000 grant secured by Assemblyman Stephen Hawley from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to assist in the restoration of stonework at the Genesee Justice (County Jail) building at 14 West Main St.

County Engineer Tim Hens said the extensive project could cost as much as $1 million. Necessary work includes repairs to the damaged front porch, repointing/resetting of stones on the historic front part and repairs to the built-in gutters, fascia and soffit.

“The last time we tried to bid the project it was nearly $500,000, but I'm guessing it might be closer to a million,” Hens said. “We are having a construction estimate being generated by third-party consultant before trying to bid.  We are also trying to secure additional grants.”

  • Amendment of the Genesee County Airport apron reconstruction project upon receiving word that the Federal Aviation Administration would be increasing its funding and no longer would require state or local aid.

As a result, $75,866 will be returned to the county, with the FAA picking up the entire $1.5 million cost of the project due to an increase in COVID funds dispersed to localities.

The committee also voted in favor of the following capital projects for 2022, to be paid for through the 1 percent sales tax fund: Holland Land Office Museum Restoration Study, $45,000; Courts Facility Boiler, $39,000; Highway Fuel Farm Upgrade, $35,264; Countywide HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) Controls Upgrade, $225,000.

  • Adoption of the Genesee 2050 project that includes updates of the county’s Comprehensive and Recreation plans, a venture that has been partially funded by a $40,000 grant from New York State Empire Development.

The remainder of the $100,000 expense will be covered by a $45,000 cash match from a previously established capital project and a $15,000 in-kind contribution.

County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari said both plans have to be approved in order for the grant to kick in. He said that plans call for continued use of focus groups and input from the general public in the process.

In a related move, the committee authorized the county’s continued support of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council at the $10,967 annual level.

  • Reappointments of Tim Hens, Timothy Yaeger and Donna Hackett to the Genesee County Traffic Safety Board for three-year terms; Danielle Cummins and Diane Fowler to the Water Resource Agency for two-year terms; Donn Branton to the Agricultural Farmland Protection Board for a three-year term; Richard Richmond II to the Genesee County Planning Board for a two-year term; Michael Ciociola to the Fish & Wildlife Management Board for a two-year term, and Edward DeJaneiro Jr. as an alternate member to the GLOW Region Solid Waste Management Committee.
  • Applications from ACORNS, the Genesee County Park and Forest volunteer organization, for a music in the park event on Aug. 6 and a 5K/10K trail run and walk fundraiser on Oct. 2.

All PSC approvals are subject to passage by the Ways & Means Committee and, ultimately, by the entire Genesee County Legislature.

October 19, 2021 - 3:24pm

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As a Genesee County legislator representing the rural towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen, Christian Yunker said people are constantly coming up to him to ask when they will be getting broadband internet service in their area.

“What do I tell them?” Yunker asked on Monday, pointing his question to Paul Gavin, the just-hired executive director of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council.

Gavin was at the legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse to introduce himself and inform the committee of some of the agency’s priorities heading into 2022.

He was joined by Jay Gsell, the former longtime county manager who was employed as G/FLRPC’s interim executive director over the past year, and Richard Sutherland, a planner with the organization that serves the nine Finger Lakes Region counties, including Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming.

Gavin’s reply focused on initiating a broadband internet gaps analysis, which could take up to six months to complete, and then lining up financing, addressing any issues that invariably will pop up, and contracting with an Internet Service Provider.

“I would tell them that we’re at least a year away,” Gavin said, adding that the process would be shortened with the use of local and/or state funds. “(By having to obtain) federal funding, it takes longer.”

Gsell, who was charged with streamlining the agency’s operations in the temporary role, said that Genesee and Wyoming counties have yet to reach a level where they can take a broadband internet plan to a third party (such as Spectrum or Empire Access).

County Manager Matt Landers said Genesee has “already informally set aside a portion of our ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act money) to go toward this.”

“I know that some of our towns are better positioned – and have some funds set aside – to implement it,” he said.

Sutherland said that New York has authorized a broadband gap study for every county, looking for citizen participation to determine internet speed, availability in certain areas and what people would be willing to pay for the service.

He said the state’s Public Service Commission is hoping to complete the study by May 2022.

Landers said Genesee can’t enact a plan without countywide data of where the gaps are with all of its providers – noting that most information is proprietary.

It’s important to know the financial means of the towns and “critical to have that data first,” he said.

Gavin suggested that counties pressure the PSC by emphasizing the urgency in getting something done and to work with the G/FLPLC to implement a strategy that works best.

A Dunkirk native, Gavin is joining the regional planning council after holding a similar position with the Gulf Regional Planning Commission in Biloxi, Miss. Previous to that, he worked for the Port of Pascagoula (Miss.) and Department of Transportation in New York and Nebraska.

He is a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy and St. Bonaventure University. He and his wife and daughter will be residing in the Rochester area, he said.

Gavin credited Gsell for his role in the G/FLRPC’s designation as an Economic Development District.

“That’s important … as it allows you to spend economic development administration funds and, as you know, they’re really flowing from the federal government right now,” he advised.

He said the G/FLRPC is available to assist counties with grant writing, strategic planning, land planning.

“We want you to turn to us and look for us to help you. Yes, you can go to consulting firms and yes, they will do a fabulous job, and yes, you will pay much, much more for that service that we can provide for you,” he said.

Gavin and Gsell said the agency is seeking a 10 percent increase in annual county contributions, from $9,600 to $10,600. The last increase came in 2002.

“The preliminary 2022 budget draft includes many operating expense reductions and continues our long-term history of strategic yet frugal budgeting and cost containment,” Gsell reported.

Photo: Jay Gsell, left; Paul Gavin and Richard Sutherland. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

June 16, 2021 - 12:04pm

Noting that it was “bound to happen sooner or later,” Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman is overseeing a relatively inexperienced staff as he moves toward retirement after more than 24 years on the job.

Friedman provided a review of his department at Monday’s Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting, reporting that all five of his line assistant district attorneys were hired during the past 27 months, and when he retires at the end of this year, the office will have another new attorney.

He said he hopes that these attorneys – Kaitlynn Schmit, Joseph Robinson, Robert Shoemaker, Andrew DiPasquale and Aaron Moore – will continue to serve the county after his departure.

“I’d like to think that most of them will stay,” he said. “Eleven years ago, every attorney had more than 20 years’ experience. When I retire, nobody will have more than two and a half years. It’s a major change, and I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell, who has been an assistant DA for 30 years, is running unopposed in November to succeed Friedman.

Friedman was an assistant district attorney for six years and first assistant DA for nine years prior to becoming the DA.

He said it has yet to be determined if Finnell’s position will be filled internally or not.

In his report, Friedman said that operations have not returned to pre-pandemic conditions, stating that town and village courts have reopened but on a limited basis. County Court recently returned to full staffing but many matters are being handled virtually.

The county’s first post-COVID-19 felony jury trial is taking place this month.

“We have, not surprisingly, built up a substantial backlog of cases and it will take quite some time to get caught up,” he reported, adding that it is a cause for concern with many new employees on board.

He said he is requesting the creation of a temporary assistant DA position and also hopes to find an experienced prosecutor to fill in for another assistant DA who will be on parental leave.

Friedman reported that a Discovery Reform grant for $228,720 has been obtained, with $3,791 going to the Village of Le Roy, $48,898 to the City of Batavia and the remaining $176,031 to Genesee County. The latter amount fully covers the Discovery Reform expenses incurred for the one-year grant period by the DA’s office and Sheriff’s Office, he said.

PROBATION DEPARTMENT UPDATE

County Probation Director Timothy Michalak presented his department review as well, reporting that about 500 adults currently are on probation and that he expects that number to go up.

“(With bail reform,) you can’t put anybody in jail so, yes, I believe it will increase,” he said.

Michalak reported that the department’s probation officers are handling an average of 70 cases each, calling that number “not terrible – a bit over the 50 that is recommended,” but thinks that amount is bound to increase as the court system returns to normal.

He informed the committee of the department’s “Ce Check-In” software that enhanced its supervision during the pandemic with time, date and location stamps and, on smart phones, photo capability.

“Going forward, we’re going to continue using it to a smaller extent,” he said.

Concerning the department’s budget, Michalak said he saw no major issues, and anticipates receiving full reimbursement from New York State – not the 20 percent less than he had budgeted.

He also said Probation received $30,000 more in Department of Social Services shared services funding, and that covers a large percentage of two juvenile probation officers and one juvenile supervisor.

SHERIFF’S OFFICE RENEWS SRO PACTS

On another law enforcement front, the PSC recommended approval of renewals of memorandum of understanding with Alexander, Pembroke, Oakfield-Alabama school districts and Genesee Valley BOCES for school resource officers for the 2021-22 school year.

The Alexander contract covers a full year – July 1-June 30 – while the Pembroke and O-A pacts run from Sept. 1-June 30. Genesee Valley BOCES increased its coverage from 10 to 12 months.

The full year costs to each district and BOCES are in the $98,000 to $99,000 range.

Sheriff William Sheron submitted another resolution to accept $41,876 from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to continue the Community Service Sentencing Program and Pretrial Services Program for one year, starting July 1.

The sheriff also reported that the Village of Bergen wishes to renew a contract for additional road patrols for another year, effective June 1, at a cost not to exceed $13,500.

The PSC recommended for approval both the grant and increased road patrol resolutions.

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
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, County Legislature, public service committee.

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
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, County Legislature, public service committee, COVID-19.

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, 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
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, County Legislature, public service committee, COVID-19.

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
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, County Legislature, public service committee, COVID-19.

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."

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