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Vibrant Batavia

Proposal to use funds once tabbed for Vibrant Batavia for another community development project doesn't get council backing

By Howard B. Owens

A proposal by City Councilman Adam Tabelski to spend $92,000 in funds set aside for community development on community development failed to win much support from the rest of the City Council at its Monday conference meeting.

Tabelski proposed taking the money originally intended for Vibrant Batavia, which the council scuttled two weeks ago, on a recent joint city, county, school district and Genesee County Economic Development Center initiative called Pathway to Prosperity. 

BP2, as it's known, will take a portion of fees paid in PILOT programs (payment in lieu of taxes) by property owners with economic development projects and use it to help mitigate environment issues at brownfield properties in the city. The chicken-and-egg problem is BP2 has no money until the first new PILOT is approved, and the city's brownfield area properties need to clean up as projects come on line. 

Tabelski thought $92,000 might best be used to jump start some brownfield redevelopment.

Council members had other thoughts about what to do with the money, from building a spray park on the Southside, to payment toward the new police station, to just letting it sit in the general fund.

"We need to start thinking of the kids on the south side of the city," said Councilwoman Rosemary Christian. "We need something for the child. We're always thinking of things other than the children in our community. They're our future leaders who will up her someday making these decisions."

Tabelski countered that today's children will need tomorrow's jobs.

Some council members said they thought Tabelski's timing is off, that it was only a meeting ago that Vibrant Batavia was killed off and perhaps there should be more time taken before deciding what to do with the money.

"As for timing, the reason to bring this up now is that as time goes by, the default action is that nothing happens," Tabelski said. "I'm trying to address this in a timely manner."

Molino said a spray park on the Southside would likely cost more than $92,000, with planning, engineering, possible land acquisition and the purchase of equipment. Briggs and Christian promised to push for a spray park in the 2017 budget.

Deer and Vibrant Batavia funds on City Council agenda for tonight

By Howard B. Owens

Rather than a typical Monday night meeting, the Batavia City Council is holding its conference meeting tonight, Tuesday night, and discussions are expected to include what to do about deer, what to do with funds previously earmarked for Vibrant Batavia, what happened with funding for the Business Improvement District.

The city's deer population has been a point of discussion with the council before, and after researching the issue, City Manager Jason Molino is asking the council for direction on what to do next, how much city staff time should be spent on the issue and what approach might the city take on the topic. Council members received, as part of their agenda packet, a 50-page pamphlet on community-based deer management. There are several approaches the city could take, Molino said in his memo to council, and the best approach depends on the situation in the community and what community members will accept as an appropriate response. "There is no right answer," the memo says, based on the recommendations of the pamphlet authors.

Councilman Adam Tabelski requested an item on tonight's agenda regarding the disposition of funds previously earmarked for Vibrant Batavia, which the council decided to defund at its last meeting.  That creates a pool of $97,000 in unallocated funds. Tabelski is suggesting the money be used for the as-yet unfunded Batavia Pathway to Prosperity Capital and Reinvestment Fund. New PILOT agreements with property developers is supposed to generate funds for that program, which is intended to help mitigate clean-up of brownfield sites in the city. That creates a bit of a chicken and egg problem, because funds are needed to clean up brownfields and there's no money in the fund. "Kickstarting the BP2 fund with a significant amount of seed money will help turn an innovative approach to target economic development into reality," Tabelski wrote in his memo.

The council will also discuss changes in the funding formula for the Business Improvement District. The reduction in funding for the BID prompted its board of directors to cancel Summer in the City.

The City Council meets at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

Five council members block two-year plan to continue Vibrant Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

A plan to fund Vibrant Batavia for two more years at a cost of $97,000 was narrowly rejected by the City Council on Monday night, but that doesn't mean Vibrant Batavia is dead, or that the city can't look at other neighborhood programs to replace it, said Council President Eugene Jankowski.

"Vibrant Batavia got off to a bad start," said Jankowski, who voted against moving the two-year plan to the council's next business meeting. "It got a stigma, labeled, if you will, as coffee parties and ice cream socials when really it wasn't that, but unfortunately, you only have one chance to make a first impression."

Paul Viele, Kathy Briggs, Al McGinnis and Rose Mary Christian joined Jankowski in voting against the plan.

The plan would have committed $48,500 for 2016-17 and another $48,500 for the following year.

The funds would have come from money already committed in the budget for Vibrant Batavia ($25,000), another $24,000 from last year's unused appropriation, $33,000 from the sale of a foreclosed home on Walnut Street and $15,000 from a community development block grant.

Christian argued that the city has a lot of other needs and the funds would be better spent on parks, sidewalks or police gear.

Both Christian and McGinnis questioned whether Vibrant Batavia really accomplished anything its first three years of existence. 

McGinnis said that recent community action to oppose the closure of Park Road and stop a fast food restaurant on West Main Street were citizen, grassroots initiatives and didn't need Vibrant Batavia to get going. That's the American way, he said, not government-funded programs for neighborhood improvement.

"As long as we allow Vibrant Batavia to exist, it becomes a fixture and continues to grow," McGinnis said. "It becomes a mandate and it needs to stop now."

One of the accomplishments placed by some on Vibrant Batavia's resume is improvements to the Summit Street neighborhood over the past year to 18 months.

Christian said there is no way Vibrant Batavia deserves credit for that change. That was the result, she said, of citizens working with the police and code enforcement officer.

"You can't tell me that Vibrant Batavia did this," Christian said.

A short time later, Councilwoman Patti Pacino said exactly that. She said she was at the neighborhood meetings with Summit Street residents right from the beginning, and so was LeAnna DiRisio, then director of Vibrant Batavia. Pacino said Vibrant Batavia was involved every step of the way.

"The residents called LeAnna and said, 'can you help?' " Pacino said. "A couple got together and said, 'we don't have any experience and power.' She was at all of those meetings."

Pacino also rejected the notion that all Vibrant Batavia did was spend money on pizza parties.

"All this money supposedly spent on pizza and ice cream, it didn't come from the city," Pacino said. "Most of it was donated and not taken out of this money."

Pat Burk and Marty Macdonald, both Vibrant Batavia volunteers from the beginning, spoke in support of continued funding.

"People need to know that they can depend on their elected officials and their city officers to ensure that there is pride throughout the community," Burk said.

Macdonald said Vibrant Batavia existed primarily because it was backed by people willing to support it with donations and thousands of hours of volunteer work, but it still needs city backing to continue.

"There are people who believe in our community and the movement taking place," Macdonald said. "They see a vibrant Batavia rising up and they need City Council leaders who are not taking people where they want to go, but where they need to go."

When Vibrant Batavia was first conceived more than three years ago, it was the result of a study of a group of consultants who said the city needed to do more to address deteriorating neighborhoods, because decreasing home values can spiral out of control if neighborhood issues are not addressed. 

The original plan was for Vibrant Batavia to be established as a five-year project, but every year since, some council members have forced it to fight for its existence, annually calling into question whether the city should be involved in backing the initiative.

City Manager Jason Molino's plan was intended to get it through the final two years of that five-year plan and then see where to take it from there.

Last year, the council reached a compromise for one more year of funding but made it contingent on Vibrant Batavia finding another $15,000 in funding not from a city source.

Molino argued that the auction of the house on Walnut for $33,000 met the criteria. That is money being reinvested back into neighborhoods, he said.  Originally, the city wanted to donate the house to RochesterWorks!, and much like Habitat for Humanity, allow RochesterWorks! to finish the rehabilitation on it and then sell it to fund Vibrant Batavia. This clearly would have met the funding goal,  Molino said, but legal barriers prevented that plan from moving forward, so the city auctioned off the house itself.

McGinnis argued that Vibrant Batavia had failed to meet its financial obligation.

"Using the home sale money is not going to fly," McGinnis said. "It's short and simple: you failed to meet your goal and you're finished. You don't have the money, game over."

After the meeting, picking up on prior statements by Molino that Vibrant Batavia is really a committee of the city appointed by the council, just like any other committee, and other city committees aren't expected to raise their own funding, Jankowski said perhaps Vibrant Batavia should have raised an objection a year ago to the self-funding requirement.

"They should have addressed it much sooner," Jankowski said. "People kind of felt like it was a scam."

Jankowski said he's favored all along a one-year plan for Vibrant Batavia, that such a request might have a better chance of getting through the council. A one-year plan, he said, he would be more likely to support than a $96,000 two-year plan.

But he also questioned both some of the specifics of the plan rejected by the council and even whether there is that great of a need for a group like Vibrant Batavia.

One of the specific tasks of the two-year plan was to select two neighborhoods for a "curbside appeal" program where a consultant would produce artist renderings for more than 200 homes showing residents how with a little work they could improve the appearance of their houses.

"Do we really need artists renditions of people's homes?" Jankowski said. "Will people really spend money to get a nice picture of 'this is what your house could look like,' and you're like, 'I don't have $10,000 to do that kind of landscaping.' "

On the other hand, there's no reason for the city not to go back to the drawing board on neighborhood improvement efforts, whether that's called Vibrant Batavia or something else, Jankowski said.

He favors what he's seen work during his own 35-year police career. Years ago, Pat Corona (now retired) started a neighborhood policing program that had police officers knocking on residents' doors when local crimes were reported, not just to seek witnesses and warn of break-ins, but to make connections.

That evolved, he said, into the local drug task force, and instead of instant feedback, months-long investigations fell behind a necessary cloak of secrecy and people no longer had direct knowledge that problems in neighborhoods were actually being addressed.

Maybe the $33,000 from the sale of Walnut Street should be spent on sending a couple of police officers to community policing school, Jankowski said.

On the other hand, things in Batavia really aren't as bad as some people sometimes make it out to be. He remembers a floating crap game on Ellicott Street, and parking lots filled with beer-swilling men and kids drag racing on Main Street. 

"I'm not seeing that kind of activity that I saw in the beginning of my career," Jankowski said. "I mean, things were really bad. There were shootings. There were murders. Now they are fewer and farther between."

Council looking for clarification on last year's resolution on funding Vibrant Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

Whether Vibrant Batavia gets funded in 2016-17 depends on how a resolution passed a year ago by the City Council is interpreted by the City Council this year, and that decision will wait for another meeting, this year's City Council decided last night.

A year ago, the council made 2016-17 funding contingent on Vibrant Batavia securing $15,000 from another funding source, but the available language of the resolution seems unclear whether Vibrant Batavia must already have that funding in place or if the group of volunteers must have a plan in place for raising the money before the end of the fiscal year.

City Manager Jason Molino wasn't at the meeting last night and council members would like to hear from him and to review the minutes from a year ago to help with the interpretation of the resolution.

That said, it's a resolution, so it isn't binding. If there are five votes against Vibrant Batavia, the meaning of the resolution could be moot.

When Council President Eugene Jankowski asked council members to vote on a motion to request more information from Molino, four members -- Rosemary Christian, Kathy Briggs, Al McGinnis and Paul Viele -- all voted against even getting more information before making a decision.

Councilman Brooks Hawley was not at Monday's meeting, but it's not clear that other council members would support Vibrant Batavia if came down to a binding vote.

McGinnis likened Vibrant Batavia to socialism. He thinks the government shouldn't take the initiative on what private citizens should do.

Rosemary Christian said she was promised years ago that a spray park would be built on the Southside and she wonders whatever happened to that idea, and there are sidewalks that need repaired and police cameras that should be purchased.

"We need other things more than we need Vibrant Batavia, no ifs, ands and buts about it," she said.

Jankowski said everybody agrees that Vibrant Batavia has done good work over the past three years.

"There's no debate about it," Jankowski said. "The debate is on how to fund it. That's where the split is."

While the motion failed on the 4-4 vote, it really only takes one council member to request an item be placed on a conference agenda (it takes majority approval to place an item on a business agenda), so the council will be able to take up the issue again at the next conference meeting that Molino is able to attend.

Vibrant Batavia on tonight's City Council agenda

By Howard B. Owens

The Batavia City Council will be asked tonight to reaffirm its five-year commitment to community improvement during a discussion about continued funding of Vibrant Batavia.

Vibrant Batavia grew out of the City's Community Improvement Plan, approved by the council in 2012.

The plan was to undertake a series of initiatives aimed at creating stronger neighborhoods, "reenergizing the sense of pride that defined Batavia for so many years, yet which has, to a certain extent, become dormant," City Manager Jason Molino wrote in a memo to council in advance of tonight's meeting.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The proposed funding for the next two years of activities:

  • $25,000 committed by council for current fiscal year
  • $24,000 remaining from prior year appropriations
  • $33,000 received from the auction of house at 109 Walnut St.
  • $15,000 Community Development Block Grant funds from the Healthy Blocks initiative for low- and moderate-income areas.

The remaining two years of the Vibrant Batavia plan would include hiring a new coordinator, neighborhood initiatives for Summit Street, an open house with an architect on best practices for home improvements, more neighborhood initiatives in the second year, coffee talks, publication of positive stories about Batavia, a community-wide yard sale, support for neighborhood groups, and landlord and homeowner workshops.

Over the first three years of Vibrant Batavia, it received local resident and business support and more than $135,000 in donations, mostly for the Centennial celebration, and more than $50,000 in revenue from the publication "Vibrant Times."

Molino lists 15 accomplishments for Vibrant Batavia, including bringing community groups together, five coffee talks in which 50 residents attended, more than a dozen neighborhood activities, the Centennial celebration, a bike rack project, a community-wide yard sale and publication of "Vibrant Times."

City Council debate over funding Vibrant Batavia continues

By Billie Owens

"Which came first, Vibrant Batavia? Or the Summit Street Neighborhood Group?" asked Batavia City Councilman John Canale following a presentation about Vibrant Batavia at Monday night's meeting.

There was no action taken on anything concerning Vibrant Batavia. But the issue of whether to continue funding for the 2017-18 fiscal year will need to be addressed at some point. The next city council meeting is April 18. 

Canale was asking Don and Pam Hiron, who have lived for 35 years at 137 Summit St. Don spoke in praise of the community-building initiative, heretofore coordinated by Leanne DiRisio, prior to the council meeting. DiRisio is leaving her part-time job to start a new business in the Masonic Temple Downtown next the Charles Men's Shop.

"The drug problem came first," replied Pam from the audience.

Plagued by shady goings-on and concerned about an upswing in crime in their neighborhood, the Hirons and other residents formed a concerned citizens group. Then in April 2014, they reached out to City Hall to find solutions. They were put in contact with Batavia PD and DiRisio and they worked in tandem to improve conditions.

"Leanne helped us formulate our goals and helped behind the scenes," Don said.

There were meet-and-greets, which were well attended, and included the presence of firefighters and police officers. Newcomers get gift baskets and those who live on the street get their very own specially designed keychain.

"We succeeded in shutting down several drug houses and improving the quality of life, restoring a sense of pride, regardless of age, nationality, race, religion," Don Hiron said, "and made new friends, rekindled old friendships. Was it worth the investment? Yes."

City Manager Jason Molino said Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) funds have paid for the 30-hour-per-week Community Coordinator position.

The total funding for Vibrant Batavia is about $45,000 annually, and in addition to the coordinator's salary, it covers the costs of community events and communications.

For the upcoming fiscal year, 2016-17, there's still $25,000 intact from the 2016 allocation, and Molino proposes bridging the gap by auctioning a city-owned foreclosed house at 109 Walnut St.

"It's not like a lot of foreclosed homes; it has value, it's not in bad shape," Molino said, of the three-bedroom, 1.5-bath abode, which he estimates might fetch $25,000 to $35,000.

The auction is in three weeks. If it sells for much less -- say $20,000 -- then plans for Vibrant Batavia would have to be scaled back accordingly.

But funding Vibrant Batavia in this fashion is not something to be done "year after year," Molino told the council.

"An auction is not going to produce revenue to fund this project every year," Molino said, adding that you also "can't grant fund your way through."

The job is a contractual one with Rochester-based NeighborWorks; it is not local municipal employment, but Batavia stills pays part of the contract.

Some residents have been vocal in their oppostion to public funding for Vibrant Batavia, launched in 2012 with the aim of eventually becoming self-funding.

"There was a very emotional discussion last year," Council President Eugene Jankowski said. "We need to remember the other 50 percent who aren't in favor of funding it."

He said groups like the Lions Club or Kiwanis Club do good works in the community with volunteers and private donations, without taxpayers' money.

Molino said Vibrant Batavia is not correctly characterized as "a service club initiative."

"It's a policy choice," Molino said, that some people would make because they believe over the course of time it strengthens neighborhoods and adds market value to properties.

"However you see fit to proceed as a group is up to you," Molino said, noting that the previous resolution authorizing funding is not binding to the current council.

"We will take ownership of whatever we decide to do," Jankowski assured Molino.

Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian questioned why, if Vibrant Batavia made $135,000 during 2015 as noted during DiRisio's presentation, that money can't be used to fund the coordinator's job.

Molino replied that it can't because the funds were specifically raised to pay for Centennial-related expenses -- the Time Capsule, the Sun Dial at City Hall, the Parade, commemorative coffee mugs, sweatshirts, Centennial party food and refreshments, etc.

Councilman Brooks Hawley praised DiRisio and called for a round of applause for her efforts. Likewise, Councilwoman Patti Pacino said she is so proud of what has been achieved to date, and just looking around on Bank Street, Tracy Avenue, Ross Street and State Street, for example, shows that changes for the better are being made.

"It is sparking out," Pacino said, people are painting, clipping bushes, growing flowers. "It is a growing thing that started in a small place."

Canale said he is a proponent of Vibrant Batavia and that the Summit Street model, known as a "targeted investment," is one that needs to be followed and more such groups need to be created.

Christian said she and others in the Sixth Ward tried three or four times, without success, in getting people together for events.

"This model won't work in every neighborhood," Molino said. "It's more likely to work in transitional neighborhoods that could go either way."

DiRisio said the point to remember about Summit Street is "The residents here have proven there's skin in the game. There's momentum. Why put up a wall?"

Jankowski asked staff to include the previous resolution for funding Vibrant Batavia in the next agenda packet so the council can refamiliarize themselves with it.

He said he wants constiuents to call or otherwise contact their representatives to let their wishes be known.

Booklets now available for self-guided walking tour of Downtown Batavia

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Booklets for a Self-Guided Walking Tour of Downtown Batavia are now available. The tour identifies 16 sites of historic interest between the Holland Land Office Museum on the west and the site of the former Cary Mansion on the east.

The tour was developed by City Historian Larry Barnes in conjunction with the Centennial Committee of Vibrant Batavia. Rob Dumo provided caricatures, and most of the photographs were obtained from the Genesee County History Department.

The booklets include pictures of the 16 sites and text providing historic background of each location. For individuals with smartphones, QR codes provide access to additional audio descriptions and pictures that complement the information in the printed copies of the booklets. Most people will be able to complete the tour in an hour to 90 minutes or less.

Booklets are available free of charge at the following locations: the tourist information booth on West Main Street, the Holland Land Office Museum, City Hall, the Office for the Aging, Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, and the Richmond Memorial Library.

The Centennial Committee is a part of Vibrant Batavia, a community network organized to celebrate the past, build on the present and to create a more vibrant future. The volunteers work side-by-side with the City of Batavia, NeighborWorks® Rochester, and the business community to strategically improve the City's neighborhoods and to promote a livable community of choice.

City of Batavia to bury time capsule

By Traci Turner

Press release:

The City of Batavia is celebrating its 100th anniversary! The Centennial Committee is planning to bury a time capsule in September; and we need the community’s help! 

Take part in the fun by writing a note to your family’s descendants or write a poem for people to read 100 years from now! Centennial notecards with envelopes will be available beginning July 1 at the Genesee Valley PennySaver, 222 E. Main St., Batavia. We encourage you to take part and contribute to the time capsule that will be opened in 2115.  

In addition to the above items, The Batavian will be conducting polls on Tuesdays beginning June 30 into the month of July, on which items will be placed in the Time Capsule. Be sure to visit The Batavian to vote on Time Capsule Tuesday!


Photos: Flowers for the roundabout

By Howard B. Owens

Mary Valle and Paula Miller were at the Oak Street roundabout this morning planting flowers. The project is sponsored by Vibrant Batavia.

Council backs growth initiatives for Batavia over opposition from Deleo and Briggs

By Howard B. Owens

John Deleo and Kathy Briggs had one word for those who think the City of Batavia should invest in its future: No.

On a pair of resolutions aimed at improving the quality of life and business climate in Batavia, Deleo and Briggs steadfast stalwarts in opposition, decried the expenditure of public money on the projects.

Each resolution passed by votes of 7-2.

The resolutions passed by the council extend the economic development services agreement for two years with Batavia Development Corp. and provide Vibrant Batavia with two years to become self-sustaining.

There was one growth-related measure that garnered yes votes from Deleo and Briggs. Deleo made a motion, seconded by Briggs, to eliminate the assistant city manager position.

The motion failed 2-7.

Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian, outspoken as always, extolled the virtues of economic development and the work of Vibrant Batavia.

"We need all the development we can get," Christian said. "We need all the revenue, we need the sales base, we need everything we can get. We need everything working this year at this time because if we don't go forward, we're going to go backwards. We're going to be in a hole and we're never going to get out."

Prior to the meeting, council members received a memo from City Manager Jason Molino called "Budget Sustainability," which made the case for the city investing in economic development and neighborhoods.

For the past several weeks, budget discussions have been dominated by voices advocating for slashing in the three areas of city spending intended to help the city grow: The assistant city manager position, the BDC and Vibrant Batavia.

Molino's memo argued that without investment in growth, Batavia will be doomed to decline.

"Public revenue needs an employed community, so the right question is not necessarily where should we be trimming the City workforce budget, but rather, the right question is: Are City resources optimally structured to reposition Batavia as a great place to raise a family, start and operate a profitable business, and in general, appeal to families," wrote Molino.

Pierluigi Cipollone, a small businessman, argued in favor of investment over retrenchment. 

"We've got to make an investment," Cipollone said. "Mr. Molino sent out a memo talking to the revenue side of the profit and loss of the balance sheet. We need to invest to get what we want for Batavia. In the old days, we had civic groups that did a lot of what we want, but those civic groups have gone away for the most part. We need to get some of that back. When the pride returns, businesses will return."

Deleo said that he was both being responsive to his constituents and standing by the cost-cutting promises of his campaign by opposing the growth initiatives. 

It's not the job of government, he said, to invest in economic development.

"We're going to be leaner," Deleo said. "We're not going to reach into the pockets of our poor senior residents."

Briggs said she attended last week's annual luncheon for Genesee County Economic Development Center and came away impressed by the economic development efforts of the local agency.

"They're bringing business into the county, and Batavia is part of Genesee County," Briggs said. "I'm like, OK, GCEDC seems to be on track. That's what I gathered from that meeting. We do have somebody who is going to do the job of economic development, GCEDC."

Other council members pointed out that the focus of GCEDC is something that is completely different from the BDC. The BDC is focused on the city, which includes mostly brownfield development demands. GCEDC handles the entire county and most of its developments are greenfields outside of city limits.

Briggs also mentioned that the city is served by the Business Improvement District, but Councilman John Canale pointed out that BID works strictly Downtown, whereas the BDC serves the entire city.

The funding approved for Vibrant Batavia -- $45,000 for one year and a smaller amount in year two -- also comes from a different pot of money than originally proposed. Rather than being drawn from reserve funding, a portion of the city's revenue share from Batavia Downs will be used to back the nascent community booster group.

The group will also be asked to pay for a new $10,000 slide in Austin Park by donating $5,000 back to the city and raising the remaining $5,000.

While the resolutions for the BDC and Vibrant Batavia assume two-year commitments for the city, Molino, upon questioning by council members, said the council will have the option to reduce or eliminate funding next year by passing another resolution.

Molino makes case for funding tax base growth in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

It takes money to run a city, and economic growth is what allows a city to provide services for its resident, City Manager Jason Molino believes.

As the City Council wraps up its 2015-16 spending review, Molino is hoping council members will take some time for a serious and in-depth discussion of the revenue side of the budget picture.

"The revenue side of the budget needs focus and we need to understand how to grow that so we enhance and sustain the local economy so that we can provide quality services to residents," Molino said in an interview today. "To sustain a budget we need to ensure a consistent and steady revenue stream. This means the tax base is growing and people have more disposable income."

Molino has written a memo for council members titled "Budget Sustainability (pdf)." It lays out the case for ensuring the city takes steps to improve the economic health of Batavia.

The budget discussion so far has focused mainly on cost containment. The council has taken little time to focus on revenue, Molino says in the memo, but the reason the budget reflects a $250,000 reduction in spending isn't because of cost containment goals. It's because of anticipated declines in revenue.  The city is being forced by local economics to cut spending.

That should give council pause as it considers how to handle programs meant to improve the economic vitality of Batavia, such as the Batavia Development Corp. and Vibrant Batavia.

"Public revenue needs an employed community, so the right question is not necessarily where should we be trimming the City workforce budget, but rather, the right question is: Are City resources optimally structured to reposition Batavia as a great place to raise a family, start and operate a profitable business, and in general, appeal to families," Molino writes in the memo.

There are troubling signs in Batavia's economic outlook, Molino notes.

  • The city's taxable assessed value of property is not growing;
  • Median family income is below average and poverty is high, according to Moody's Investor Services;
  • Three of the city's six census blocks are classified "highly distressed areas";
  • Five of the city's six census blocks are deemed "low-income."

"A balanced approach to the city budget needs to include strong initiatives that will provide cost containment, but also strategic direction that will improve the quality of life," Molino writes. "Growth in the tax base and resident income are the lifeblood to supporting municipal services, as well as improved quality of life for City residents. All of our focus must be on retaining our households and repositioning Batavia in the coming years to attract more households and businesses."

There are those who believe it's not the role of government to "create jobs" or focus on economic growth. Molino disagrees.

"If you look at the past 10 years, the amount of economic growth, the big job growth, has been the result of public-private partnerships," Molino said. "The ag park, seven years in the making, is the first industrial development in Genesee County in the last 50 years. That came about because of cooperation between the city, county and town, all of us working together."

A local government that is focused on streamlining the process and marketing a community's assets is going to have more success than one that doesn't, Molino said.

"I think the attitude needs to be what are the reasons we should be doing this and not what are the reasons we shouldn't be doing it," Molino said. "It's the responsibility of a municipal government to reposition the community. If you're completely absent from funding economic growth, the community is going to be absent from opportunities for economic growth."

The city's budget is roughly $16 million and that spending, which provides all of the municipal services residents have come to expect from their local government, is entirely dependent on how well the local economy does. Without investment, not only is growth difficult, but a precipitous decline is a real possibility.

While there's no portion of the property tax levy going into funding Vibrant Batavia or the Batavia Development Corp., the amount of money needed to keep those growth projects going is less than 2 percent of the city's planned spending.

"Sure, we can reduce spending by another 10 percent, but if you don't have a vibrant community and a vibrant business base, all you're going to have is a more depressed Batavia with less capacity to provide services to residents," Molino said.

If you've downloaded the Reacht App for your smart phone, at some point within the next day, we'll ask you this poll question: Should the city fund economic growth initiatives? To download the app, click here. Those who download it will be eiligible for a chance to win a $5 gift card from Southside Deli.

Proposed 2015-16 budget presents key policy questions for City Council to address

By Howard B. Owens
File photo

A municipal budget is more than the tally of ledger entries. It is a policy statement. It is the tool elected officials use to set the agenda for what kind of community a city is or might become.

As the Batavia City Council nears its deadline for setting the 2015-16 budget, the spending decisions it makes could impact the quality of life for residents and the potential for economic growth and job creation for years to come.

The big decisions facing the council are whether to fund Vibrant Batavia for one more year, whether to retain the assistant city manager position, and whether to continue to invest in economic development.

There are those in the community who advocate for cuts in all these areas and some on council seem inclined to follow those suggestions.

In his latest budget memo, which is on the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting, City Manager Jason Molino doesn't respond to the call for cuts to these initiatives, which he sees as key to Batavia continuing on the strategic plan path it started in 2010.

He does offer proposed spending cuts that would halve the proposed tax increase.

"The budget is about understanding the different issues at hand, and the different liabilities the city faces and recognizing you have different projects and balancing your priorities," Molino said. "It comes down to how committed are you to the strategic plan, to community empowerment and economic growth. These are all policy questions."

When the council convenes at 7 p.m., they'll hold a memo that calls for:

  • Removing $10,500 for replacement of a slide at Austin Park;
  • Shifting a one-time upgrade to the City Clerk's file system from the 2015-16 budget to reserve funds, thereby cutting $4,920 from the spending plan;
  • Adding a $1,950 expenditure to assist the BID in purchasing flowers for Downtown;
  • Slashing management raises from 2.5 percent to 2 percent. This cuts $5,000 from the budget;
  • An alternative to funding the two open police officer positions. Instead of showing those positions as fully funded for 2015-16, fund only one of them for the full year (leaving open the possibility of a transfer into the department), and fund the other position for only eight months, saving $34,490.

This brings the property tax rate down to $9.21 per thousand, a cut of 9 cents off the original proposal. The average assessed home would see an annual tax increase of $6.30 cents.

In an interview Sunday, Molino discussed the need for funding Vibrant Batavia to help improve local neighborhoods, sticking by the strategic plan for economic growth; and the benefits of the assistant city manager position.

The policy issues involving Vibrant Batavia go beyond just the policy commitment the City Council made two years ago to neighborhood revitalization. It also touches on sound budgeting practices and not falling into the poor habits that dug Batavia into a deep financial hole nearly a decade ago.

Stripping out the recommended $45,000 to fund Vibrant Batavia wouldn't necessarily lead to a reduction in taxes, not unless the council wanted to finance the tax cut with reserve funds.

The $45,000 earmarked for Vibrant Batavia doesn't come out of the 2015-16 budget. It is money left over from the 2014-15 contingency fund.

The contingency fund is set aside for unexpected expenses and emergencies. Since there were no big draws on the fund in 2014-15, there is money available to help finance the city pursuing its strategic initiatives.

"If you go back eight years, the city used its fund balance each year to the point that it actually had a negative fund balance," Molino said. "That was the downfall of the city's financial position. It got to where they didn't have a fund balance to balance the budget. The fund balance is not something you can rely on to balance your budget."

Contingency funds, fund balance, reserve funds, are all intended for one-time or short-term expenses, just like a family saving for a vacation or a new car, not for operational expenses, Molino said.

So the first policy question the council needs to answer this budget session is whether it wants to use uncommitted funds to finance a reduction in the proposed tax rate, essentially using one-time funds to finance operational expenses.

If it doesn't, the next policy question to answer is whether the council wants to stick to its own strategic plan.

The strategic priorities of the plan:

  • Financial health
  • Governmental efficiency
  • Economic development and job creation
  • Neighborhood revitalization
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Public safety
  • Healthy and involved community members

"I view it as investing in the community, taking $45,000 a year and putting it toward a project that is intended to increase civic engagement in your community, and civic engagement is what makes your neighborhood a neighborhood," Molino said.

An example of such a neighborhood locally is Redfield Parkway, Molino said. Redfield, with its flags and Christmas trees and its own events and obvious neighborhood pride, might serve as an inspiration for other neighborhoods

"That's not the model that needs to happen on every street in Batavia, but what it does is allow residents to talk with each other on an individual level. That's sounds soft and fluffy, but that's what makes safer streets and it's what makes neighborhoods."

Molino said he understands some of the negative feedback generated by Vibrant Batavia, but it's important to grasp the larger vision.

"It's not like building a street or building a building," Molino said. "It's not tangible in that sense, but there is value to it and it needs to develop over time. It took decades and decades for Batavia to become a vital community. That didn't happen over one or two years. You can't expect to reverse decades of downward spiral in just a year or two."

Molino agrees with Council President Brooks Hawley, who fears all of the money and effort that has gone into getting Vibrant Batavia to only its second year of existence will be wasted if the council fails to fund it in 2015-16.

"If the decision comes to completely discontinue Vibrant Batavia, then we're out all that energy and effort," Molino said. "We haven't given it enough time to blossom and succeed. Ironically, all of the negative attention around Vibrant Batavia is that same negative culture it was intended to address.

"If we could harness all of that negative energy and turn it into positive energy, we would reach our goal twice as fast," Molino added.

The same policy and strategic planning questions apply to economic development (which we didn't discuss specifically) and the assistant city manager position.

The council agreed to create the position a year ago and in June Gretchen DiFante beat out a field of 60 applicants to win the job.

She's been a great choice so far, Molino said, and the work she's done in less than eights on the job has already more than paid for her $75,950 annual salary.

"She's accomplished a lot of work," Molino said. "What Gretchen has done on just one item, flood insurance, is something that has never been done in this city before. We're talking about moving more properties out of the floodplain in six months than had happened in Batavia all the years before."

So far, 12 properties are no longer considered part of the floodplain, Molino said.

"Combine that with the possible accelerated program on flood insurance so that residents can see real reductions in their flood insurance in the next year, that's impacting thousands of property owners predominately on the Southside," Molino said.

A reduction in flood insurance costs will have a real, tangible, economic impact on the city, Molino said.

"We have a great team of people working on that and a great leader working on that, and that's just one item," Molino said.

DiFante has also played a critical role, Molino said, in addressing the police and fire radio communication issue -- which DiFante had said was the biggest liability issue facing the city at one point.

Her overall responsibilities, besides flood insurance, include overseeing administrative services, including finance, the clerk-treasure, personnel, information technology, the youth bureau and assessment, with additional projects such as how to handle a burgeoning population of feral cats, the Redfield gateway and strategic planning.

An assistant city manager also frees up Molino to work on other projects. Not only would he never have had time to handle the flood insurance issue himself, even the attempt would take him away from other projects.

With DiFante on staff, Molino is free, with the help of staff, to pursue another complex, difficult problem facing the city: Abandoned and vacant properties, something he hopes to focus on this year.

"We need to climb some serious mountains and drive some serious growth, not just in the city but in the community as well," Molino said. "Of course, there's a limited amount of resources. If you keep cutting resources, you can't expect the same output."

Council president fears city's $170K investment in improving Batavia at risk

By Howard B. Owens

In a sometimes testy discussion, Councilman Kris Doeringer wasn't the only official in Vibrant Batavia's corner during a budget workshop Monday night, but he was the most passionate.

He's not arguing, he said, for a bottomless well of money to fund the upstart community improvement group, just another year or two of seed money to ensure it can survive on its own.

"Two years ago, I said I wanted Vibrant Batavia to be self-funded, and I still believe that," said Doeringer (top photo).

The fact that the Centennial Committee, a subcommittee of Vibrant Batavia, was able to raise $125,000 for the city's 100th anniversary celebration is a sign Vibrant Batavia can flourish, but being only 18 months into the venture, and 12 of those months spent on Centennial fundraising, simply hasn't given the group enough time to establish itself, Doeringer said.

"You have to give us time for these things to happen," he said.

That doesn't seem likely to happen. At least five council members sound like they're ready to cut all funding.

John Deleo, Eugene Jankowski (bottom photo), Patti Pacino, Kathy Briggs and Rose Mary Christian all expressed outright opposition to continued funding or indicated they were leaning against further funding.

Vibrant Batavia is asking for $50,000 for 2015 and City Manager Jason Molino recommend an expenditure of $45,000.

The funds are channeled through RochesterWorks, a community organization group, which takes a 5-percent cut and pays for Leanna DiRisio to run Vibrant Batavia.

After the meeting, Council President Brooks Hawley said he feared, without funding, Vibrant Batavia would wither on the vine.

"I believe once that leadership is gone it disappears and there no more vibrant at all," Brooks said.

Adding up the $90,000 paid to consultants at czb to do a needs assessment for Batavia, and $80,000 already committed to Vibrant Batavia to help get it started, if it dies, Hawley acknowledged, that $170,000 investment to try and build a more vibrant future for Batavia goes down the drain.

"From that report that we did, the council spent a lot of money doing that, and they gave us recommendations on how we can improve our city," Hawley said. "That's where BDC came from, that's where Vibrant came from, that's why I don't want to cut the legs from underneath them, but I would like to see, Vibrant, like I said, not do a three-year contract, but do a year-by-year, look at it, gauge it and see. I would like to reduce the funds eventually so they're self-sufficient."

Leading the opposition to continued funding are Deleo, Briggs and Christian, with Jankowski and Pacino professing a degree of neutrality but asking skeptical and doubtful questions.

"The thing I get from my people when they come in is they all think it was great, but they say don't take the money out of my pocket to pay for it," Deleo said.

Briggs said, "They've done a wonderful job, but the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for it. They don't have to want to pay for it. They want these people to be able to go on their own."

Christian said she's also hearing from constituents on the issue.

"I like Vibrant Batavia, but I've had too many calls and too many complaints," Christian said. "I don't want to give $50K for it and have it go to Rochester, too."

Jankowski said people are concerned about keeping up with the cost of living and therefore want to cut out government expenses.

"It's tough when raising kids," Jankowski said. "The cost of living increases, bills go up and they cut out something, whether it be cable TV or newspaper delivery. They cut what they can possibly cut. This is where people are coming from, those affected by this tax increase, proposed, are getting here and they're reacting emotionally to it and they're saying, 'Do we really need this $50,000 going here? Can't we offset my taxes and save me some money?' I think it's a legitimate question."

Pacino said she was just asking questions to help clarify how the money going to Vibrant Batavia was being spent.

"What are they doing with that money?" Pacino asked. "(Taxpayers) are not going to accept, 'well, it's all coming back to the community.' I believe that. I love this group, but I can't just say it's going back to the community."

Pierluigi Cipollone expressed support for Vibrant Batavia.

"This is an investment," Cipollone said. "It's an investment in our community. It's an investment in our people. Like Kris said, we're not going to see a dollar-for-dollar return on our investment. We're going to see a return in the form of more pride in the city. People cleaning up their streets a little better, helping out their neighbors. That's where the benefit comes from this. To look at this as a mere expense is missing the picture. You have to look at it as an investment in the community."

John Canale said he's heard from one constituent on this issue -- the only time, he said, a constituent has ever come forward on his or her own to express an opinion about anything. That constituent loves Vibrant Batavia, wants to see it continue, but believes funding should eventually be cut off and the group should make it on its own, he said.

In his defense of Vibrant Batavia, Doeringer didn't back down from the debate.

In response to questions by Jankowski and Pacino that seemed to indicate the only money coming back to the community was the money spent on block parties, Doeringer tried to make the case that 100 percent of the city's investment in Vibrant Batavia comes back to the community.

The salary for DiRiseo, though an administrative cost, is money that is being invested in the community, just as the administrative cost of paying council salaries is money invested in the community.

That led to the following exchange between Deleo and Doeringer, with the two council members talking over each other at times.

"Doesn't 5 percent go to RochesterWorks?" Deleo asked.

"Right, we're hiring them to send one of their employees to us."

"So we're down to 95 percent."

"We are paying for their expertise," Doeringer said over Deleo's comment. "We are paying for their training of their employee to benefit our community, so it's 100 percent of the money that comes back to the community."

Christian said she was making her plea to cut funding on behalf the middle class (which apparently includes people who make minimum wage).

"Basically, what you're forgetting is the middle class, and the middle class is really strapped and they really can't afford much more of anything," Christian said. "That's my concern. I mean these things are just out of control. I mean, the minimum wage around here is, what, $8.50 an hour or whatever. You're lucky if they make $30,000. We have all these increases and everything else and nobody has the concern it seems like for the middle class. I'm middle class. Don't you have any concern for me?"

Doeringer said he also was middle class, which prompted the start of a retort Doeringer didn't let Christian finish.

"I hardly think living on Naramore versus living --" with Doeringer cutting her off with a tart, "I don't live on Naramore."

Hawley would like to find a way to continue funding Vibrant Batavia so that the group can continue its work on behalf of the residents and business owners of the community, but he doesn't see funding as something that continues indefinately.

"I don't want to put a timetable on it," Hawley said. "At the most, this year and next year and then that would be it for me. I wouldn't vote in favor after that, but they've only been around for two years. I think City Council needs to invest in them for four years to make sure they have solid footing and go from there. I don't want to see them disappear at all because they do great things in our community."

Before the Vibrant Batavia discussion, Fire Chief Jim Maxwell and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch both discussed their budget requests.

The fire department proposed budget is $3.9 million, with: $2 million in base salaries; $125,000 in overtime; $139,390 in holiday hours; a $35,000 one-ton utility vehicle; $21,000 in professional development and training; a $549,190 contribution to the state retirement fund; and $188,430 for Social Security taxes.

The police budget is $4 million: $2.1 million for base salaries; $220,000 for overtime; $12,000 for the emergency response team overtime; $85,000 for holiday pay; $63,360 for two patrol vehicles; $61,000 for gas; $44,870 for uniforms and body armor; $19,000 for travel and training; $38,000 for new officer training; $539,980 for the state retirement fund; $194,340 for Social Security tax; and $434,610 for medical insurance.

Christian said she would rather see more money go to police.

"I myself would like to see more policemen," Christian said. "I really wanted to have more body cameras for our officers. It's really crazy out there. I don't know if you're familiar with the streets, but I am. I want you to know anything can happen at any time, but I really want them protected and the ability for us to know what's really going on out there."

UPDATE: Here's a breakdown of how the czb report was funded: $25,000 from a state grant for sustainable neighborhoods; $30,000 from a federal CDBG for community planning; $25,000 that came out of a housing loan program in the 1990s (income from that program); $7,000 from the city's 2010-11 budget, for a total of $87,000 -- plus $8,000 of staff time support of the consultants.

Vibrant Batavia supporters point to successes, make pitch for third year of funding

By Howard B. Owens

Between the public comments section at the top of the agenda and a presentation by folks with Vibrant Batavia, the City Council heard more than an hour of reasons to keep the city-created community promotion group.

Some on council sounded a skeptical tone about continued funding.

Vibrant Batavia is seeking $50,000 for 2015. City Manager Jason Molino is recommending $45,000, which is in line with the commitment the council made to Vibrant Batavia two years ago.

"I would be very disappointed and embarrassed if you were pulling back on your financial commitment to Vibrant Batavia, putting your reputations on the line," said Mary Valle, a local business owner and active member of the Vibrant Batavia Board.

The community's business owners donated their money for Batavia's centennial, committed to our community. How could things continue without a leader for Vibrant Batavia? If you do pull back, our business leaders, I believe, every one of them, would be very hesitant to donate and support projects in the future."

Councilman John Deleo said he's having a hard time justifying to himself and his constituents the expenditure of $45,000 or $50,000 on Vibrant Batavia when the city is talking about a tax increase.

"I did run as a fiscal conservative," Deleo said. "In fact, I may be downright stingy with taxpayer money and this is what I'm obliged to."

Last year, Vibrant Batavia was funded to the tune of $45,000 through unspent contingency funds from the previous budget year. Whether it's funded -- if it's funded -- through the same process this year, or from reserves, or through the general fund, or perhaps with video lottery money from Batavia Downs, is something for the City Council to discuss.

Funding or no, Vibrant Batavia won't necessarily have any impact on the tax rate.

Vibrant Batavia Director Leanna DiRisio (pictured) provided the council with an overview of what Vibrant Batavia has accomplished in its first two years.

  • Hosted coffee talks
  • Conducted neighborhood surveys
  • Hosted a fall frolic
  • Hosted home tours
  • Published the Vibrant Times
  • Organized neighborhood meetings
  • Sponsored beautification projects
  • Set up a community art project
  • Organized the city's ongoing centennial celebration.

One of the big accomplishments for Vibrant Batavia in 2014 was raising $124,000 to fund this year's Batavia centennial celebrations -- an ongoing series of events that started with New Year's Eve fireworks and parties in City Hall and on Evans Street.

Valle noted that Vibrant Batavia, by raising so much money, exceeded council expectations, and that Deleo in particular expressed skepticism that the group could meet its fundraising goals

Those funds can only be used for the centennial and can't be used for Vibrant Batavia operations. 

In year three, Vibrant Batavia, if funded, will focus on neighborhoods, particularly along the lines of forming three block clubs, DiRisio said. One on the Southside, one on the East End and one in the Central Park District.

Vibrant Batavia would also look pursue leadership development for community leaders and deliver programs that engage residents and build pride in the community.

All Vibrant Batavia is trying accomplish comes right out of a plan developed for the city three years ago by consultants with czb.

The consultants found that with greater civic engagement, Batavia could improve itself both economical and socially, spurring revenue growth and decreasing crime.

It all begins, the report said, in fostering a greater sense of community pride and more community engagement.

Those who spoke during public comments, such as Lisa Barrett and Paula Miller, said Vibrant Batavia has certainly hit that target.

After one neighborhood event, children who live near Barrett were asking her when they could have another block party. Next week, maybe? Not that soon, said Barrett, but soon.

"I think when youth see adults caring about their neighborhood, then as adults they will care about their neighborhood," said Barrett, not in person but on a video screened for the council, as was a video from City Church Pastor Marty McDonald, who is very active in Vibrant Batavia.

Miller said before their neighborhood gathering, she and some of her neighbors were concerned about one house on their block that seemed to be a source of ongoing issues with the tenants.

The opportunity to come together as neighbors with city officials, including police and code enforcement, helped lead to an eventual resolution of that issue, she said.

"We felt it was a unique opportunity to bring our concerns to them and through that developed a request with City PD and city administration to come around and hear our complaints," Miller said. "It wouldn't have happened if we each felt we were the only ones hanging out there. We came together as a united effort to resolve our issue."

Deleo said there has been a lot of good work by Vibrant Batavia that he supports, but his constituents aren't seeing the value, not when faced with a 1.7-percent property tax increase.

"If we had a flat tax rate, I think it would be great," Deleo said. "Voters are pounding on me. They understand the water rates, but they can't understand the 1.7."

Councilman Eugene Jankowski, who used a post on Facebook yesterday to generate feedback from local residents, said everybody seems to believe Vibrant Batavia does good work. Where opinions diverge is on whether it should receive city funding.

"If we fund it completely, then we're not listening to half the people who don't want it funded by the city," Jankowski said. "If we don't fund it, then we're not listening to the other half. I don't know if we could fund it to a different degree to please both sides."

Vibrant Batavia hosts Pizza Party & Park Clean-up at Pringle Park

By Billie Owens

Vibrant Batavia and Lisa Barrett, a resident of Pringle Avenue, will be hosting a Pizza Party & Park Clean-up at Pringle Park on Friday, Oct. 10th from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

If we need to cancel due to bad weather, please check out our Web site for updates at <>

Residents of Pringle Avenue, Highland Park, Cherry Street, Wood Street and Central Avenue are especially welcome.

Event Date and Time

Vibrant Batavia hosts Pizza Party & Park Clean-up at Pringle Park

By Billie Owens

Vibrant Batavia and Lisa Barrett, a resident of Pringle Avenue, will be hosting a Pizza Party & Park Clean-up at Pringle Park on Friday, Oct. 3rd from 5:30-7:30 p.m.. The forecast is not looking promising, so we have scheduled a rain date as well for Oct. 10th from 5:30-7:30. If we need to cancel due to bad weather, please check out our Web site for updates at <>

Event Date and Time

Committee lays out plans for city's 100th anniversary celebration

By Howard B. Owens

Batavia's Centennial Committee plans to start 2015 off with a bang, but the celebration won't stop there.

The 100th Anniversary of Batavia's incorporation will be marked by events all year long, members of the committee told the City Council on Monday night.

"This event, I believe, is going to spawn something already taking place in our community" said Marty McDonald, a committee member. "It's going to spawn excitement in our community."

A project of Vibrant Batavia, the committee is in the process of raising $100,000 to fund the celebration. So far, sponsors have pledged $63,000, including $20,000 from FreedMaxick and $10,000 from Tompkins Bank of Castile. Other sponsors include Lawley Genesee, Turnbull Heating and Air, Merrill Lynch, Valle Jewelers and Trifthauser & Salmon Orthodonitics.

The opening of the Centennial Celebration is just five months away, New Year's Eve.

The community is planning a "Centennial Plaza" centered on Court Street and stretching down Evans to Falleti Ice Arena. There will be live music (on a train bed car sitting on the tracks at Evans and Mill), vendors, and fun and games.

At midnight, there will be -- just as there was 100 years ago to mark the incorporation of the city -- a fireworks display. 

The committee promises a big one.

The display will be launched behind the fire hall on Evans.

The committee is also offering 200 "Century Club" memberships for $100 per couple, which will include tickets to a "Dress the Decades" party inside City Hall on New Year's Eve. Memberships are available to all residents and are being sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The committee is also planning the installation of 40 centennial banners throughout the city, a 100-tree planting project, installation of a time capsule in front of City Hall, a historic walking trail and a birthday celebration tied to the July 4 Picnic in the Park.

The committee is planning to apply for a National Grid Community Foundation grant to pay for the 100 trees, which would be planted in the spring, during United Way's Day of Caring, at locations throughout the city, including parks, city right-of-ways and Centennial Park.  

The committee is also planning what it's calling a "Legacy Gift" -- a sculpture or multipurpose remembrance to be installed somewhere in the city and paid for by sponsors. The installation would take place some time in the fall.

The committee is asking for City Council support in the form of attending all events, use of City Hall for the New Year's Eve party, approving street closures for events, and the use of city resources such as the youth bureau, police, fire and maintenance to support Centennial events.

Neighbors forge friendships on Lewis Avenue

By Julia Ferrini

Sunlight danced on the leaves while music stirred a sighing breeze, time seemed to stop for awhile as neighbors eased into languid conversation and lilting laughter. Lewis Avenue was the gathering place Saturday evening in what was the first block party for this tight-knit community.

As part of the event, a proclamation on behalf of Brooks Hawley and the City of Batavia was presented to both Stephen and Mike Rosenbeck of Lewis Avenue for their ongoing efforts of keeping the neighborhood together.

“Stephen and Mike have provided outstanding public service, selfless acts of charity, compassion and genuine concern for their fellow Batavians,” Hawley said upon presentation of the Good Neighbor Recognition Certificate.

Leanna DiRisio, community organizer with Vibrant Batavia, partnered with Paul and Bridget Ohlson of Care-a-Van Ministries to make the block party a community event.

“Our mission is to bring communities together and open lines of communication,” DiRisio said. 

“We’re building friendships,” Ohlson said. “Some residents may not know each other so this is a way to bridge people together.”

“When we first moved in,” James Bellamy said. “The Ohlsons came over with a cake and introduced themselves. That’s the kind of welcome that brings people together.”

Bellamy moved to Lewis Avenue in May 2009 from Kent County, England. He and his wife, Kathryn (Katie), moved stateside to be closer to Katie’s family, who live in the Batavia area.

“This is the first street party that I’ve been to since I was a kid,” Bellamy said. “My first ever street party was for the (50th anniversary of the) coronation of the Queen.”

There are many services a city has to offer and DiRisio’s job is to inform people of those services to help make the connection for better relations.

While melodies of the band The Old Hippies played in the background, children played in the street and drew pictures with sidewalk chalk as their adult counterparts reacquainted themselves with their neighbors.

“This is our ministry. This is our city,” Ohlson said.

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