Local Matters

Community Sponsors

Ways & Means Committee

July 19, 2020 - 6:35pm

Whether you call it cooperation, consolidation or collaboration, the concept of municipalities engaging in shared services agreements likely will become a hot ticket item as time goes on.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said he believes New York State leaders increasingly will look favorably upon counties, cities, towns and villages that pool their resources toward a goal of more efficient government.

And in this period of COVID-19 -- the cause of game-changing reductions in revenues, Gsell agrees that sharing services are more crucial than ever.

“Realistically, yes, I think they are -- at least to have that kind of notification back to the state that here are the things we’re considering,” he said, following the submission of the county’s 2019 shared services plan to the Genesee County Legislature for possible adoption this week.

Currently, Genesee County is contemplating shared services opportunities in the areas of criminal justice/law enforcement, water systems, weights and measures, procurement and real property assessment with its partner municipalities as well as neighboring counties.

After the county held three public hearings as required by law, its Ways & Means Committee voted in favor of the plan, which, upon approval, would be forwarded to the Department of State, Genesee Association of Municipalities and eight local school districts.

The resolution is on the agenda of the full legislature's meeting this Wednesday.

Gsell said this is the county’s second shared services proposal in accordance with the state’s “soft mandate” (the first was submitted in 2018).

The new plan prioritizes two projects: county assistance with the City of Batavia’s upgraded water system and a joint Genesee/Orleans county jail to replace the current jail on West Main Street.

He said that he sees these two ventures as prime candidates for state funding under the shared services program – as long as funding continues to be made available.

“By helping the City improve its water system – which it already is addressing in the areas of lead services and new water meters -- it can revert to retail,” Gsell said. “With that in place, we can help make sure that all the rates across the county are uniform.”

As far as building a new jail, Gsell said Genesee County has a designed facility (near County Building 2 on West Main Street Road) ready to go out to bid, but is on a temporary pause due to the coronavirus.

“One of us builds it, the other one hosts their inmates and we have a longstanding funding agreement to do that,” he said.

Gsell said the state needs to get on board to make it work.

“The state, itself, needs to be engaged and involved and make the changes to state statute,” he said. “So, we’ll put that on their radar screen.”

He said officials from both counties have talked to people in the governor’s office in Albany about moving the shared services agreement forward.

“We’ve told them that we’re thinking about this (and said) are you people going to be more than just standing on the sidelines or will you be progressive with us, when and if it gets put into a state budget?” he said.

Gsell said that the jail project was in the governor’s budget at one point but was left out when the 2020-21 final state budget was adopted.

“But that doesn’t mean it is a dead issue … it’s something that our two counties think is at least something to do more than just kick the tires on,” he said.

He added that this type of a “significant first-of-its-kind in the State of New York venture might also attract some funding to actually make it happen.”

The shared services plan also includes school resource officers.

At the present time, the county supports a police presence at Alexander, Byron-Bergen, Pavilion, Pembroke, Oakfield-Alabama and Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (Board of Cooperative Educational Services -- BOCES). Le Roy and Batavia school districts have SRO (School Resource Officer) agreements outside of the scope of the county.

“With SROs, some of the schools may not have a physical presence the way it has been in the past, so where does the SRO go in the future?” he asked. “We believe that it is pretty vital in the day-to-day function of a school system, but it may not be afforded. As schools continue to utilize SROs, it could be done as part of the state’s shared services program.”

July 15, 2020 - 5:20pm

Update: 7:45 p.m. with comments from Rochelle Stein, County Legislature chair

The Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon approved $1.1 million in voluntary distributions to the county’s towns and villages.

The measure will now go to the full legislature for final approval at next Wednesday’s meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

According to the resolution, the payments are being made “in good faith” despite “the unprecedented financial constraints that Genesee County faces in determining a voluntary distribution.”

The amount of the payments, which are based upon taxable assessed valuation, are as follows:

  • Town of Alabama, $43,508.30;
  • Town of Alexander, $44,939.40;
  • Town of Batavia, $188,098.90;
  • Town of Bergen, $54,447.80;
  • Town of Bethany, $45,145.10;
  • Town of Byron, $52,228.00;
  • Town of Darien, $108,829.60;
  • Town of Elba, $40,630.70;
  • Town of Le Roy, $90,932.60;
  • Town of Oakfield, $33,621.50;
  • Town of Pavilion, $60,039.10;
  • Town of Pembroke, $110,027.50;
  • Town of Stafford, $69,514.50;
  • Village of Alexander, $8,102.60;
  • Village of Bergen, $20,825.20;
  • Village of Corfu, $14,765.30;
  • Village of Elba, $11,825.00;
  • Village of Le Roy, $79,856.70;
  • Village of Oakfield, $22,662.20.

"This proves that we are being true to our commitment that there is an intention to share when we gain information," Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said. "We said that there are four things that we have to understand before we can send out any distribution, and we learned one of them -- sales tax and other revenue that has or hasn't been adjusted by the state. That is so important."

Stein said the total of $1.1 million is "a step in the right direction," especially in light of the fact that state aid for the county's mental health services, highway improvement fund and video lottery terminal revenue each were cut by 20 percent.

"We've asked the town and village leaders every Saturday to stick with us and have patience," she said. "We can make a better decision when we have facts. We are holding up to our word and we are doing what we can, when we can."

Stein, in late March, advised town and village leaders that the county couldn't abide by the current distributuion schedule due to COVID-19 and the state being "on pause," stating at the time that "the county would not be able to write checks that we could not cash.”

Action by the legislature to cancel distribution agreements from 2018 and 2019 caused quite a stir among leaders of the municipalities that also were facing serious budget problems.

Assistant County Manager L. Matthew Landers said the distribution is "an amount that the legislature feels is safe for the county to make and prudent for the county to make at this point in time, considering there are still a lot of unknowns."

Landers mentioned the uncertainty surrounding the four measurement points that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put in place to possibly cut state aid, although two of them – April 30 and June 30 – have come and gone.

He said the board has continues to wait and see if another federal stimulus package will be passed, which would factor in concerning the amount and/or frequency of future distributions. 

Landers to Replace Gsell as County Manager

In other action, the committee recommended the appointment of Landers to replace Jay Gsell as the county manager, effective Aug. 15 – the day after Gsell’s scheduled retirement date following 27 years of service.

Landers, an Elba Central School graduate, has been employed by the county for 16 years, serving as Deputy Treasurer for 10 years before taking his current position.

He has a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and master’s degree in Public Administration from Brockport State College.

A longtime Kiwanis Club member, Landers, 43, and his wife, Melissa, reside in Batavia with their two children, Kaitlyn, 14, and Benjamin, 10. He is active as a girls' softball coach and league official.

His base salary is set at $120,000, plus longevity.

The full legislature also will vote on this resolution next Wednesday.

June 17, 2020 - 9:20pm

Genesee Community College President James Sunser couldn’t have used a more appropriate word than “retrenchment” while sharing the financial plight of the two-year institution with the County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon.

Sunser and his staff were forced to implement large-scale retrenchment – the reduction of costs or spending in response to economic difficulty – to formulate a 2020-21 operating budget that takes into account an anticipated 30-percent reduction in aid from New York State.

And drafting a spending plan that compensates professors, teachers and staff while providing necessary student services will be a daunting task for quite some time, he said.

“Indications from the state are that these reductions should be planned for 2021-22 as well, so we’ll continue to work with bringing our budget into line,” Sunser said. “It is going to be, not surprisingly like it is for the county and all other groups, painful.”

Sunser emphasized that the dilemma isn’t due to “deficiencies on the part of the staff or the faculty … but, unfortunately, it is going to require some substantial changes in what is going on at the college.”

The college’s Board of Trustees approved a $38.1 million budget for the next fiscal year that starts on Sept. 1, and that’s about 8 percent less than the target of $41.6 million (the amount of the 2019-20 budget).

Furthermore, around $2 million from the college’s reserves was used to balance this year’s budget, which may take another state aid hit in the fourth quarter.

County's share is $2,636,374

Genesee County has budgeted $2,636,374 for the second straight year for its sponsorship of the college, action that is subject to a public hearing scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 22 at the Old Courthouse. The Ways & Means Committee approved the date of the public hearing as well as the contribution.

Sunser said the county’s decision to not reduce its sponsorship is key to preventing further financial implications.

“We have had a number of conversations with the county about maintenance of effort,” he said. “Without maintenance of effort, it puts into play a number of additional considerations that SUNY (State University of New York) would impose on the college.”

Sunser said a multistep plan was put into place in order to “deal with the deficits coming from the state” and achieve the $38.1 million mark.

“Currently, the state is suggesting that next year’s budget for the college will include a 30-percent reduction in state aid. Obviously, when your operation is labor-intensive – we teach and we support students to get through their academic programs – you’re not going to be able to go through that without having some type of adjustments made,” he explained.

He outlined some of the cost-cutting measures:

-- Freezes of travel and training;
-- Deferral of capital projects, other than critical maintenance issues;
-- Deferrals of a printer purchase replacement, office supplies, contractual services, facility improvements;
-- Freeze on hiring of adjunct professors.

Salaries to be Frozen in 2020-21

He also indicated that to close an additional $2 million budget gap during the course of the 2020-21 fiscal year, significant cuts in salaries and positions have to be realized.

“We have looked at instituting management confidential pay freezes. We have two collective bargaining units on the campus – one is our combined faculty/administrative group and the other is our CSEA group,” he said. “We negotiated with both of those groups to take pay freezes so everybody will be on a pay freeze for the 2020-21 year – and that was approved by both unions.”

Beyond that, management negotiated with the faculty/administration union to give notice to employees who are going to be retrenched (or laid off). Sunser said the union approved a period of Oct. 31-Dec. 31 for retrenchments, and that will result in savings of eight months’ worth of potential salaries.

He also said a process of involuntary retrenchments to close the rest of the gap has begun, with notifications going out to the Civil Service group by July 1 with a July 31 retrenchment, and by Oct. 31 with a Dec. 31 retrenchment for the unionized faculty/administration group.

Employee retrenchment is a cost-cutting tool for businesses or organization to use in times of economic hardship – a form of dismissal due to no fault of workers. Retrenched employees are eligible for compensation along the lines of severance pay, money equal to annual leave or time off, and notice pay, and also may file for unemployment insurance.

There’s more, Sunser said, as the Board of Trustees approved a voluntary retirement incentive beyond stipulations in existing contracts with the unions.

“Through that retirement incentive we have realized 23 voluntary retirements,” he said. “Those are going to be occurring as of July 31, so that will help close that gap (in state aid) that we’re anticipating in the last month of the current year."

Programs of study are under review as well, and some may be discontinued.

“We’re talking about a 41 and a half million dollar budget that’s going to be about five million dollars less by the end of next year,” he said, “and there’s no way of doing that without involuntary retrenchments, which is unfortunate, but that where we find ourselves.”

College Tuition is Increasing

Donna Ferry, a member of the Board of Trustees, reported that tuition has been increased (to $4,550 for New York State residents) for 2020-21, but “GCC still is the second lowest in the state across the board as far as tuition (for two-year colleges).”

She also said that the present uncertainty could result in lower enrollment next year, but “the team is working really hard to get those numbers up.” Enrollment (full- and part-time) as of the Fall 2019 semester was 5,324.

Legislators Gary Maha and Rochelle Stein commended Sunser and his staff for going through the unpleasant process, with the former placing the blame squarely on Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It is nobody’s fault but Albany’s fault, in my opinion,” Maha said. “It’s the governor’s indiscriminate spending. He’s something like $13 million in debt and we all have to suffer.”

Stein said the college’s budget process was “thoughtful, transparent and clear,” and pointed out that the “communications piece of this is very critical to our community, to your staff, to your teachers, to your professors, to the support staff and to our partners in our other counties.”

Sunser thanked the collective bargaining groups for their concessions, attributing that to a “level of trust” during negotiations.

“We had very candid conversations about … how many more people that might not be able to be at the college and they stepped up, I believe, as responsible leaders and advocated with the bargaining unit groups to go ahead and approve these things -- especially the notification claims,” he said.

June 3, 2020 - 9:29pm

chad_klotzbach_.jpgChad Klotzbach of Basom has been selected to replace John Hilchey as the District No. 1 representative (Alabama and Oakfield) on the Genesee County Legislature.

The legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon unanimously approved the appointment pursuant to the county’s Local Law No. 1, 1967. The term takes effect on June 10 – when Klotzbach is expected to be sworn in at a meeting of the full legislature – and runs through Dec. 31.

Klotzbach was endorsed by both the Town of Alabama and Oakfield Republican committees at meetings last month.

 “I’ve been interested in this type of service for a while after learning about the inner workings (of government) through my involvement with the (Town of Alabama) planning board and STAMP (Western New York Science & Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park) in the Town of Alabama,” Klotzbach said.

A 2006 Oakfield-Alabama Central School graduate, Klotzbach is managing partner of Alleghany Farm Services in Basom, a family business started by his father, Drew, in the early 1980s. The company specializes in commercial construction site work and agricultural drainage across New York State.

Klotzbach earned his civil engineering degree from Clarkson University in Potsdam, where he was a competitive swimmer, before obtaining a master in business administration degree from Canisius College in Buffalo.

Currently, he is a member of the Town of Alabama Planning Board that is in the middle of a zoning update.

Asked to introduce himself at the Zoom meeting, Klotzbach, 31, said he interacts with residents of the district on a regular basis through his business and the planning board.

“I’ve done a lot of surveys and chatting with people in the town, so I have a pretty good status of what is going on in the town at the moment, what the forward thoughts are and where people want to see it going,” he said.

Klotzbach also said he enjoys working with and encouraging young entrepreneurs in the area.

“Just as it’s super important to bring in new businesses to the county, I also think it’s a better idea to foster and kind of encourage the students that we have – the younger people – to build their businesses and mentor them.”

The vacancy on the board was created when Hilchey resigned from the position on May 14, citing “risks of possible negative impact upon his employer.”

The District No. 1 seat will be up for election in November, which gives Klotzbach and any others interested in serving on the legislature, an opportunity to get on the ballot.

November's victor would serve in 2021 and then -- provided that he or she wishes to continue -- would run again in November 2021 when that seat goes for a four-year term.

In other action, the committee:

-- Approved an agreement between the county and Prospect Hill Consulting LLC of Buffalo to coordinate a Comprehensive Planning Process and create a County Recreation plan.

The project is designed to foster interagency cooperation and a smooth flow of information, starting with the vision of community residents about land use and developing into a policy that can be monitored by the legislature, County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari said.

Oltramari said the $100,000 project will be funded by a $40,000 award the county received in 2019, along with a $45,000 cash match from a previously established county project to create the County Recreation Plan and a $15,000 in-kind contribution.

Legislator Chair Rochelle Stein said she is excited about the prospects of working with Prospect Hill Consulting, which she said will “provide a youthful look at the county and our natural resources.”

“I can not wait for them to meet with our leadership partners – the towns, villages and city – to bring us into 2050,” she said. “It’s going to be a tremendous task, but the plan will make a big difference in Genesee County.”

-- Approved a retail lease agreement between the Town of Bergen and the Monroe County Water Authority for the operation and maintenance of the town’s Water Improvement Benefit Area No. 1.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said authorization by the legislature is required in agreements such as this one, adding that this will enable the town to have the “paperwork to get their district going.”

Residents using water in the new benefit area are subject to the full surcharge to the County Water Fund per a water supply agreement with the Town of Bergen dated June 13, 2018, Hens said.

-- Approved a 2.3 percent raise for Jay Lazarony, the GLOW Workforce Development Board manager, retroactive to April 1. The $1,508 increase bumps his salary to $66,271 and is covered by the GLOW WDB. County Manager Jay Gsell said that no county funds have ever been allocated to the organization.

-- Commended Legislative Clerk Pamela LaGrou following a review of the administrative office.

“We’re extremely pleased to have you sitting in that seat (at the Old Courthouse) and minding the fort for us,” Stein said.

May 20, 2020 - 7:31pm

Assistant County Manager Matt Landers provided a snapshot of the current financial status of Genesee County government tonight and, although the complete picture has yet to develop, it does present a clear view that steps being taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic are resulting in significant cost savings.

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means videoconference meeting, Landers projected that the county will be $1.4 million on the plus side before any potential state aid and sales tax losses are considered.

“When you take into consideration about $800,000 on the departmental level and an additional $600,000 through various measures and means, we’re looking at possibly about $1.4 million to the good,” Landers said. “These are all pre-state cuts and pre-sales tax implications as well, and doesn’t have mortgage tax figured in – and that could be another $100,000 or so.”

Landers reported information received from department heads and County Treasurer Scott German as the basis for his forecast.

“In general, what got reported back to us … in essence, the savings on a departmental level are about $800,000 on their budgets through the course of the year and going forward, projecting out,” he said.

He said departmental revenues would decline by $1.5 to $1.6 million for the year, but expenses will be down about $2.4 million for the year – resulting in the $800,000 savings.

“A large chunk of that is the jail, which has significant savings,” he offered. “They’re looking at roughly a net savings of $370,000, primarily from not boarding out, medical savings, food savings. They budgeted boarding out males and females and, obviously, they’re not boarding anybody out.”

Beyond that, Landers said the county health department’s preschool (ages) 3-5 program will see a savings of $308,000 as schools have been closed. This program primarily consists of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and other programming.

Moreover, the county’s hiring freeze and furlough strategies are on track to produce savings of $236,000 and $160,000, respectively, he said.

Landers said that additional revenue is expected in tax foreclosure properties ($131,000), contingency costs not utilized ($35,000), forfeited bail ($25,000) and delaying of projects ($100,000), which more than offset losses in interest earnings ($100,000) and Western Regional Off-Track Betting revenue ($35,000).

“At this point in time, I’m happy to see that we’re a million-four to the good versus a million-four to the bad … but we’re really at a wait-and-see situation right now until we can really see what is going to happen with the state reimbursement on state aid, the sales tax money and (federal) stimulus four,” he said.

Landers also said that a fourth federal stimulus package to help states and local governments would make paint a much brighter picture for the county.

“If we receive a windfall of money to help offset our sales tax losses, the ripple effect is huge because that would also mean that the state is receiving something else,” he said. “And it would not need to give a pass-down, devastating state aid cut that could be from a couple million to seven or eight million dollars they could hit us with.”

County Manager Jay Gsell advised the committee that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has three state budget “measurement periods” at his disposal.

The first (the month of April) has already passed but an announcement is “imminent,” Gsell said, and the others are May 1 through June 30, and July 1 through the end of the year.

He said that negotiations are taking place at the federal level in regard to another stimulus package, expressing the opinion that the bill recently passed by the House of Representatives will not pass as presented.

“That does not look like that (HEROES Act) is going anywhere,” he said. “Our NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties) people last night were telling us that looks like it is strictly a negotiating standpoint, and not a viable piece of federal legislation.”

Gsell said if a bill that is acceptable to both the House and Senate does materialize it likely won’t happen until June.

In a related financial development, the committee forwarded a resolution authorizing County Treasurer Scott German to distribute mortgage tax money to the City of Batavia, towns and villages – an amount totaling $388,967.72 – as follows:

-- City of Batavia, $103,929.86;
-- Town of Alabama, $7,911.34;
-- Town of Alexander, $15,902.45;
-- Town of Batavia, $46,467.74;
-- Town of Bergen, $14,956.42;
-- Town of Bethany, $7,929.85;
-- Town of Byron, $18,118.73;
-- Town of Darien, $31,923.49;
-- Town of Elba, $9,388.03;
-- Town of Le Roy, $33,675.72;
-- Town of Oakfield, $13,118.74;
-- Town of Pavilion, $16,232.73;
-- Town of Pembroke, $31,468.05;
-- Town of Stafford, $18,986.41;
-- Village of Alexander, $1,649.66;
-- Village of Attica, $565.80;
-- Village of Bergen, $1,998.11;
-- Village of Elba, $1,154.38;
-- Village of Le Roy, $9,670.41;
-- Village of Oakfield, $2,021.87;
-- Village of Corfu, $1,897.

The total is more than $126,000 that was distributed as the first payment of 2019 and the most for the same time period in the last eight years.

May 6, 2020 - 8:13pm

Genesee County legislators are making it clear to their constituents that there is “no joy in Mudville” after having to strike out previously approved revenue distribution payments to towns and villages due to the financial devastation caused by COVID-19.

The Ways & Means Committee today, via Zoom videoconferencing, supported a new resolution that immediately rescinds measures passed in 2018 and 2019 that authorized the county treasurer to make annual payments – in quarterly amounts – to the towns and villages.

It will now be forwarded to the full legislature for voting, likely at its May 13th meeting.

“The members of the legislature do not take this move lightly,” Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg said. “These circumstances are really something that nobody could have foreseen. Hopefully, they’ll be limited in scope and we’ll get through this and we won’t have a go-around again, but we don’t even know if that’s the case right now.”

Clattenburg emphasized that legislators will stay in contact with town and village officials, adding that “when we are able to get back to them with some more revenue sharing, we will certainly have those conversations.”

The resolution refers to the sacrifices the county has had to make through this crisis, including: the elimination of multiple capital projects and asset acquisitions; instituting a hiring freeze; furloughing many (currently 48) employees; and cutting contracts and agreements with outside agencies.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said they have no choice but to stop the payments until further notice in light of the uncertainty surrounding any aid from the federal or state government.

“Our responsibility is to stay abreast of the situation of where the revenue is coming from,” she said. “The county treasurer has been authorized to make these payments without any further action from the county legislature, and that is the purpose for rescinding these – to remove that authority from the treasurer. We understand that the COVID impact could be with us until 2024 and I think that we’re being generous with that timeframe right now.”

County Manager Jay Gsell cited a report released today by the New York State Association of Counties that, he says, points to “very severe and drastic prospects in the loss of sales tax and state aid.”

The report, Gsell said, predicts that Genesee County could lose from $4.2 million to $9.9 million in sales tax and from $3.3 million to $8.4 million in state aid depending upon the gravity of the economic condition at the state level.

“This is truly not a good 'new normal' but it is something we’re going to have to deal with,” Gsell said. “One of the small glimmers may or may not be federal stimulus 4.0. The U.S. Congress and the President effectuating what we know at the moment does include resources for state, counties, cities, towns and villages -- and that our state senators are solidly behind -- (would help to alleviate the local situation).”

Legislators John Hilchey and John Deleo agreed with the latest action.

“In light of the pandemic now, we can’t fulfill our obligations to those two resolutions of 2018 and 2019 and this gives us a chance to reset with us rescinding until further notice,” Hilchey said. “It’s something we have to do to get out from the obligations of those prior resolutions.”

Deleo said dealing with the potential cuts along with state mandates is discouraging.

“The thing is, we’ve always been very thrifty and frugal, and this is definitely unforeseen and this is going to hurt,” he said. “Now to have this thrusted upon us. With all the mandates that New York State kept throwing on us and now they’re going to cut even more, this is going to be one hell of a ride.”

Clattenburg said that municipalities have entered an “age of austerity … that needs to be across every level of government.”

“I think it needs to be in school districts, our towns and villages and in city budget. The recognition (must be realized) that for a lot of people life has changed dramatically. People are losing jobs and they might not get back those same jobs.”

For Stein, it’s a matter of the legislature living up to its obligations in the most effective fashion.

“We are sharing everything we that we know and being honest and transparent,” she said. “Our responsibility in the county is to provide public health and public safety and emergency operations here, and we are taking care of those responsibilities on behalf of the entire population and communities of Genesee County.”

April 15, 2020 - 8:46pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county, covid-19, Ways & Means Committee.

 Update: April 16, 10:30 a.m.

County Manager Jay Gsell said that of the nine cases that are being evaluated, none of them are due to a county employee being infected with the coronavirus.

"We have to have these policies in place because the federal and state legislation require us to be able to notify employees that deal with a circumstance that either somebody can't come to work or is caring for an individual or is in the protocol due to isolation or quarantine because they came in contact with a person who might be positive or they themselves might be positive," he said. "But the people that we're presently dealing with -- none of them at this point had a positive test as far as being a county employee and therefore being in the much more heightened County Health Department C-19 protocol."

---------------------

Genesee County management, taking its cue from recent state and federal laws that protect workers stricken by the coronavirus, has developed a COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Policy to cover its employees.

The policy is effective retroactively to March 18, the date that both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Trump signed into law measures that provide emergency paid leave benefits.

“I think we have nine cases right now that we’re evaluating …,” Human Resources Director Anita Cleveland reported on Wednesday to the County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee.

Committee members approved a resolution establishing the policy and sent it to the full legislature for a final vote at its April 22 meeting.

The NYS COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Law guarantees job protection and pay for New Yorkers who have been quarantined as a result of COVID-19, while the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act creates two new emergency paid leave requirements -- the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.

The new federal statutes allow certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of expanded family medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19 (effective April 1).

Cleveland said the local policy combines provisions of both the state and federal statutes, with her department charged with evaluation on a “case-by-case basis.”

“When we know of somebody being out, we’re sending them a letter and asking them to return the application along with documentation and then we’re reviewing that across each law to see what they qualify for,” she said. “We’re having them use their sick time at this point and if they qualify, we will go in and adjust them to the appropriate law that they fall under.”

When asked whether any of the affected employees are new and have no sick time, Cleveland said that was not the case.

“Most have had leave credits so they can use some kind of a leave credit, whatever the contract allows, and then we will be reimbursing them if they qualify,” she said.

County Manager Jay Gsell said he sees the policy as additional support to an already substantial benefit package.

“What this is, really for a lot of employers unlike county governments and local governments that don’t have a lot of leave benefit credits and things of that nature, this is a floor underneath a lot of people who because of the illness and the protocols that are established for determining a direct relationship, guarantees the employees something that they normally wouldn’t get,” he said.

“We have a fairly adroit and rich benefit package that includes paid sick leave already, but we have to adapt into this just in case – such as somebody who just started with us and came down with it.”

Cleveland noted that in most cases, employees would get up to a maximum of 80 hours depending upon the number of hours they work in a week.

“And depending on what the issue is – if it’s a child care issue – they actually would get two-thirds pay and they can supplement that with leave credits,” she said.

The county policy was crafted by its labor and relations attorneys, using guidance from the state Department of Labor, Cleveland said.

“Once the Department of Labor releases their forms, we will use their forms. But in the meantime, we’ve created our own by using their guidance – which changes daily,” she said, adding that the law will be in effect through the end of this year.

On another front, Gsell said he is waiting to hear from New York State leaders concerning the distribution of $1.6 billion in federal money “that is literally in Albany, part of which has our name on it, and I mean all 57 counties.”

“We have heard little or nothing as far as the State of New York is concerned as to what they’re going to do with what I believe is a required benefit to the counties to the tune of $1.6 billion, including the City of New York,” he said. “It’s not some kind of (money to be used at the) governor’s discretion.”

Gsell said the state is receiving $5.26 billion in Medicaid aid from the first and second federal stimulus bills and $1.6 billion of that is earmarked for county governments who are paying Medicaid weekly shares (such as Genesee).

“We need to see what the plan looks like as we make all these contingency plans for our county government to survive going into the next two quarters and what we will see likely as changes in our sales tax proceeds,” Gsell continued. “It is disappointing that the counties are not getting that kind of clarity and understanding what the plan is for that benefit to be derived into our budget.”

On another resolution, Ways & Means voted in favor of a measure establishing a pair of capital projects -- a highway department 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.

April 15, 2020 - 5:57pm

Genesee/Orleans Public Health Director Paul Pettit reported a bit of welcome good news related to local COVID-19 trends at this afternoon’s Genesee County Legislature Ways & Means Committee videoconferencing meeting.

“If you look at the (tracking system) mapping around you can see that although our cases climbed collectively, our active cases are actually trending downward,” Pettit said. “That is a great sign as you’ve probably seen that in the numbers that we’ve had, where last week we were pushing eight to 10 to 11 (active cases) a day and this week it’s 1, 2, 3.”

Pettit said he is “very proud” of the department’s tracking system. (See daily update story below.)

“I’ve compared it to some of our neighboring counties and around the state, and we’re able to provide great data for folks in both our counties. We have the confirmed case layer and the active case layer,” he said.

The director was in attendance to advance a resolution showing that the NYS Department of Health has awarded the Genesee County Health Department funding in the amount of $27,883 for COVID-19 investigations, data management, overtime, quarantine support and supplies.

The resolution was passed unanimously by Ways & Means and will go to the full legislature for a final vote.

This money comes on the heels of $67,490 in state funding that was received a couple weeks ago.

While grateful for state assistance, Pettit said his department has been unable to acquire the amount of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that it needs.

“We’re still terribly short, unfortunately. We’re working with emergency management closely; there is a little bit of flow coming through there (with) some reports of levels of PPE coming in for this Friday.”

He said it is a percentage of what the department has been ordering but “it still pales in comparison to what we have asked for and what we really need.”

County Manager Jay Gsell concurred, adding that finding PPE is a statewide problem.

“Our county EMO (Emergency Management Office) people have been constantly, constantly making inquiries, and asking and asking repeatedly,” Gsell said. “The state controls all this. Where is it? When is it coming here? They’ll just tell us that they’ve got tons of hand sanitizer. That’s about what it is.”

Gsell said that the county has been working with United Memorial Medical Center and other sources to get testing kits, but is getting no answers from the state Office of Emergency Management when it comes to PPE.

Pettit said the health department is fully staffed at this point (the legislature authorized additional employees through the crisis), and acknowledged a “lot of overtime, especially on the weekends with our nursing level and epidemiologists.”

He credited other Genesee County departments for assisting his agency, including county employees who are helping to drive health officials to the daily mandatory checks on those in quarantine and isolation.

“There are some tired eyes and a lot of yawning, and we’ve been going through a lot of coffee here at the health department, but beyond that we’re holding together,” Pettit said. “It’s a group effort and people are doing a great job in tracing down these contacts and containing them, which is the ultimate goal.”

In a related development, Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said she signed an extension to Genesee County’s State of Emergency declaration to be in effect until May 12, as per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order.

April 1, 2020 - 9:06pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county legislature, Ways & Means Committee.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc at all levels of government, producing a degree of uncertainty that has municipal leaders frozen in their tracks.

If that’s not enough, tack on a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to shift funding of hospitals and nursing homes to the counties – a potential move that, according to Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell, would devastate the county budget.

“If the state gets to go down this road, we could be in a world of hurt that we haven’t seen from the days when we owned the (Genesee County) nursing home and were financing deficits,” Gsell said during this afternoon’s County Legislature Ways & Means Committee meeting, which was live-streamed by Zoom on YouTube.

Calling it a “switcheroo that the governor has pulled,” Gsell reported to the committee that mandating county funding of “distressed hospitals and nursing homes” could be a way New York State generates more revenue – by taking more of counties’ sales tax – without having to increase the burden on counties already obligated to fund Medicaid.

“I’m not really sure where this came from,” said Gsell, adding that Genesee County is on board with the New York State Association of Counties’ plea to state lawmakers to reject proposals that would undo local Medicaid caps and result in higher property taxes for struggling homeowners or cuts to vital local services.

Gsell said it is essential that state legislators accept the $6.7 billion in new federal healthcare funding included in the first stimulus package – action intended to help states and local governments through this public health crisis.

He said the governor's proposal is a “backdoor way” of putting New York counties in a $250 million hole while attempting to plug a state budget gap that could reach $15 billion due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“To involve us in two fiscal entities and, obviously, vital services that we have no control over, no veto or anything else – and we haven’t seen any of the details – is both scary as well as quite off the beaten path,” Gsell said.

The county manager acknowledged that things will be much clearer after the 2020-21 state budget is passed (it could happen at midnight tonight), but he and the county legislature still are taking an ultra-conservative approach when it comes to spending.

He said the county’s current budget calls for approximately $864,000 in outside agency funding, (not including Genesee Community College) for tourism promotion, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Genesee County Economic Development Center, public libraries, Holland Land Office Museum, GO ART! and Finger Lakes Regional Planning.

County Treasurer Scott German reported that the sales tax reserve stands at $1.1 million, and that money from the infrastructure reserve that was earmarked for the new county jail now has been put on hold.

Gsell confirmed that the county will revisit the jail project in the spring of 2021, noting that – due to the effect that the state’s bail reform law has had on jail population -- the plan to build a four-pod jail could be reduced to three pods. He also said they will be looking at the possibility of a shared-services arrangement with Orleans County.

The Ways & Means Committee also put the brakes on, at least temporarily, a $125,000 project to construct a building to house fuel trucks, mowing and facilities equipment and a grader at the Genesee County Airport.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said that the new building – which would replace a 70-year-old pole barn that is in “rough shape” – is necessary because wind and cold weather were causing the trucks’ fuel lines to freeze.

The project had been previously approved by the Public Service Committee and went out to bid, Hens said, adding that Thompson Builds came in as the low bidder at $109,000. That price was to build the frame and shell; county employees will be used to put down the concrete floor and do the electrical work.

Hens said he hoped the project would continue, but in light of the county’s fiscal situation, offered a second option: storing the fuel vehicles in a bay or two of new hangars that are set to be built this summer with money from a state grant.

In an effort to rein in expenses, Hens said he already has cut $600,000 from the 2020 budget by pulling back on capital projects and has deferred another $800,000 in projects scheduled for 2021.

Legislator Gary Maha said he thinks the building is needed, “but I don’t think it’s the right time to spend that kind of money.”

“We don’t know where we’re going to be when this whole thing is said and done,” he said. “We put a stop on the jail. The jail is needed, but we put a stop on that. And I think we need to put a stop on all capital projects until we know where we are budget-wise.”

Legislators Andrew Young and Rochelle Stein agreed, prompting Ways & Means Chair Marianne Clattenburg to request more information about construction costs and referring the project back to the Public Service Committee.

June 20, 2019 - 5:49pm

A new proposal was brought before the Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday for an I Love New York selfie sign on the lawn outside the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center at 8276 Park Road, Batavia.

It's one of the most recognizable logos of New York State. The iconic “I Love New York” letters and bright red heart are frequently seen on tourist souvenirs and apparel.

But its $47,000 price tag raised eyebrows at the meeting.

It would be paid for with bed tax reserves -- not by local taxpayers, according to Chamber President Tom Turnbull, who presented the preliminary design of the selfie sign to the Ways & Means Committee.

He sought the initial reactions of committee members as he spoke about the proposed I Love New York sign, which would showcase the logo with a semi-transparent background and backlighting.

The goal of the selfie sign is to attract visitors to Genesee County and draw tourists to the Visitor Center once they stop for a photo opportunity next to the sign. Similar selfie signs are currently featured at popular destinations like the Finger Lakes and the Adirondacks.

“We think this will be a big hit for people … People are into taking pictures at places like that. We hope it will attract people to come inside our visitor center,” Turnbull said.

The chamber worked with Batavia-based companies like smartDESIGN Architecture and John’s Studio in the engineering and design processes.

The price includes design, construction and installation costs.

The bed tax revenue that would pay for it comes from a 5-percent administrative fee that is added to the price of a hotel room in Genesee County and collected annually by the county Treasurer’s Office.

Each year, bed tax revenue is capped at $420,000, and surplus funds are placed in a reserve.

The expected surplus total for 2019 is approximately $100,000, and $47,000 for the proposed sign would come from this surplus.

“The money is there," Turnbull said. "It’s dedicated for tourism, and we think this is a good use of some of that money. We can spruce up our property a little bit more and attract even more tourism to Genesee County.”

Legislators Andrew Young and Shelly Stein opined that $47,000 is a high price for this potential investment. Stein questioned the life expectancy of both the selfie-sign trend and the durability of the design in winter weather.

Turnbull said he is confident that the sign and its popularity will last well into the future.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said that the sign would most likely see a good amount of traffic in that area due to hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and Batavia Downs casino.

“I think we’ve got the funds," Clattenburg said to Turnbull. "And if your board is saying that this is something that is advantageous and you’ll see results from it, then I would support it."

The Chamber of Commerce received tentative permission from NYS Empire State Development to use its trademark logo. Approval of the project can occur once a finalized design has been agreed upon by the chamber and the legislature.

Now the chamber has a better sense of the legislators' thoughts on the project before it drafts a resolution asking for a portion of bed tax money to pay for it.

June 6, 2019 - 1:49pm

The Ways & Means Committee was briefed on plans for the Healthy Living Campus and determined the next steps for financing the project at its meeting Wednesday.

The proposed Healthy Living wellness collaborative project will house the United Memorial Medical Center, YMCA fitness areas, Office for the Aging Senior Center and communal gathering spaces.

UMMC provides affordable primary care, local medical specialists and illness prevention. The Batavia YMCA offers family recreation, fitness coaching and adult aging services. The Office for the Aging assists with health care insurance programs, caregiver services and nutrition.

Dan Ireland, president of Rochester Regional Health/United Memorial, believes these organizations form a strong, unified effort.

Ireland, addressing the committee, said, “What you heard from us really paints a nice picture that there isn’t a better synergy than the three areas working together to provide for our community.”

YMCA CEO Rob Walker spoke of the positives of the proposed campus. The collaborative project hopes to promote investment from health care providers. In turn, Healthy Living membership holders can reap the benefits of affordable care and year-round access to wellness facilities.

Walker said, “The whole idea here is that we’re not just under one roof, but we’re going to be actually working on programs together. Groups from the Senior Center, groups from the hospital, groups from the Y will have to get a committee together on what programs we want to run jointly.”

Ireland and Walker posed various building configuration options to the committee. In response to concerns about accessible parking due to traffic flows, they presented different designs that could offer 400–500 parking spaces on the campus. They said that the finished project could attract more families and members of the aging population to this community.

Committee members are seeking more information about development financing, accessibility and potential joint programming. The wellness collaborative will finalize its financial model prior to asking for funding approval from the county legislature in 2020.

Office for the Aging Director Ruth Spink suggested it would be beneficial to present the Healthy Living Campus to the community in order to gather more feedback. The presentation is tentatively scheduled to occur during a public hearing in October.

Later, County Clerk Mike Cianfrini brought forward a resolution to the committee opposing the state's proposed “driver’s license access and privacy act.” The county Clerk's Office opposes it because it obligates the county clerk to accept all identification from undocumented individuals when they apply for driver’s licenses.

If the assembly bill is enacted, the clerk must approve identification documents written in any language as long as they have been authenticated by a foreign government. Therefore, the clerk may grant standard driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals even if the documentation cannot be translated.

Cianfrini added, “In the event that we hypothetically do recognize a fraudulent document or if we witness somebody … illegally register to vote, the [privacy portion] of the law prohibits us from contacting the state, local or federal law enforcement.”

Committee members discussed how these licenses could be used to access other government services. However, Cianfrini said a standard driver’s license does not guarantee Federal REAL ID to undocumented individuals. Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, the government will require REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses to board flights and enter federal facilities.

The resolution was unanimously carried by the Ways & Means Committee. According to the New York State Senate website, the bill is currently in assembly committee. It will travel to the state assembly and senate floors for passage thereafter.

The next Ways & Means Committee meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19 at the Old Courthouse.

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