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Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Council member makes impassioned plea for his colleagues to oppose expanding gaming in WNY

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs

John Deleo made an impassioned plea to his fellow City Council members Monday night to support a resolution calling for a ban on further expansion of gambling facilities in Western New York.

But he couldn't convince Rose Mary Christian.

Christian was the lone council member voting against the resolution because she didn't see it as necessary.

"It's important we share in this opposition," Deleo said. "We need to be opposed to any more casinos because we're already at a point of over saturation, so this is very important."

According to the resolution, the Seneca Nation is planning to buy land in Henrietta in order to build a Vegas-style casino near Rochester.

Batavia Downs draws a lot of customers from Monroe County, Deleo said.

“The Seneca Nation is looking at building a casino in Henrietta,” Deleo said. “It would definitely hurt us. The barbarians are at the gate.”

Batavia Downs generates income for local governments in 11 WNY counties, including $3.5 million for Genesee County, on gross annual revenue of $215 million. It employs 460 people in Batavia with an annual payroll of $5 million.

Members of the New York Legislature and the governor's office will receive copies of the resolution passed on a 8-1 vote by the council.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm

New city firefighter contract eliminates two positions in 2018, cuts healthcare in retirement for new hires

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, IAFF Local 896

The city and the union representing city firefighters have come to an agreement on a new contract that won't have much near-term impact on city spending, but should mean cost savings in the future.

The contract will allow the city to eventually eliminate two firefighter positions and will save the city the expense of providing health insurance in retirement to firefighters hired after the contract was implemented.

"We've been getting every union to agree to that moving forward," Molino said.

Firefighters will get a 2.75-percent pay increase for the current year.

The contract also calls for: an increase in qualifications in order to serve as acting lieutenant; new hires' participation in the wellness program provided for other city employees; random drug testing; and changes to paid leave.

The fire department currently has four vacancies. Instead of being required to fill all four vacancies this year, the city will be able to fill one vacancy a year for the next four years.

Currently, there are 36 union positions in the department -- 28 firefighters and eight supervisors. Under terms of the new contract, which runs for five years, the city will be able to eliminate two firefighter positions in 2018.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Council cuts some from proposed budget, but sticks with plan to hire new assistant city manager

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget

The City Council found $54,000 to trim from the proposed 2014-15 city budget Monday night, reducing the proposed tax rate to $9.17.

There will be no free Wi-Fi Downtown and no electric car charging station.

There will be a new assistant city manager, and Jason Molino said that may be the most strategically critical component of the budget.

"For the first five or six years I was here, we focused on creating a good financial foundation and establishing good financial practices," Molino said. "That doesn't go by the wayside, but now we're broadening our horizon and saying what are the issues we want to focus on and that comes down to quality of life, economic development and community development. I think having another executive in the manager's office to help contribute to bring some of those goals to fruition will be a benefit."

The council rejected a proposal to remove the new position from the budget by a 4-5 vote.

Voting to remove the position were John Deleo, Brooks Hawley, Gene Jankowski and Kathy Briggs.

Voting to keep the position in the budget were Kris Doeringer, Patti Pacino, John Canale, Pierluigi Cipollone and Rose Mary Christian.

Deleo said he didn't think the position was necessary, that any additional duties falling into the city manager's lap could be outsourced or handled by part-timers. Hawley and Jankowski said they favored waiting at least a year to see if the position was really needed.

Jankowski also argued that the list of duties for the new manager will take somebody of super human knowledge and training.

The new duties of the new job will include:

  • Assist with the police facility needs assessment;
  • Prepare for negotiations with Genesee County regarding the water and sewer maintenance agreement and sales tax agreement;
  • Negotiate a new CSEA contract;
  • Work with Vibrant Batavia and Batavia PD on community and neighborhood engagement efforts;
  • Assist in infrastructure planning;
  • Support HR in reviewing and analyzing healthcare and workers compensation programs;
  • Act as the city's network administrator;
  • Monitor the city's insurance program and act as a risk manager;
  • Assist in preparing for the bond rating review; and,
  • Assist in coordinating the neighborhood engagement effort (the project formerly known as neighborhood sweeps), including overseeing the collection of data, interpretation of date from multiple city departments and outside agencies, establish priorities, milestones and performance metrics for determining the success of the program.

"When I read over the list, it paints a picture of so many talents and duties that will take so much time that the person won't have time to do much of anything," Jankowski said.

He then read through several of the times of the list and added, "I think this person is going to be so overworked with just the duties in the first year that next year he's going to need an assistant to help him."

The long list of duties that Jankowski read off, countered Cipollone, is exactly why the position is needed. The hard working city staff has been stretched thin by seven years of budget restraints, but for the city to move forward the staff -- and particularly Molino -- is going to need some help pursuing some of these initiatives.

"The city has come out of a dark place where we were in a hole and we were able to fight our way back," Cipollone said. "We want to make this place a city where people want to live and want to do business and to do that we need to focus on the things we want to get done to provide the quality of life we want here."

Jankowski argued that some of the duties slated for the new position are best handled by existing staff. The project formerly known as "neighborhood sweeps," Jankowski said, is the police chief's job, not some staffer in City Hall.

"As a former police officer I can say nothing aggravated me more than somebody coming in who doesn't know anything about police work and trying to tell me how to do my job," Jankowski said.

In an interview after the meeting, Molino used the neighborhood program as an example of an initiative that needs high-level supervision. It's not just a single-function job, but moves across departments and disciplines to coordinate the effort.

The project will require somebody who can crunch data, marshal resources, communicate with all department heads and help guide a team of city staff to effective decisions.

"That doesn't happen from just a police chief's perspective," Molino said. "It doesn't happen from a fire chief's perspective. It doesn't happen from a director of public works perspective. It happens with a team of people working together, critical thinkers who have the ability to understand these issues from a complex perspective and say 'how do we work together as a group, as a team?' "

From a community development stance, one of the most strategically important jobs of the new assistant city manager will be working on a FEMA program that should lower the cost of flood insurance for homeowners in designated floodplains.

That was the issue Christian zeroed in on and said that's why the residents of her district support creating the position.

"I really need somebody to come in and help with the flood insurance issue," Christian said. "Flood insurance is already so high and now they say it could go 25 percent higher. We have people who aren't able to sell their homes, they won't invest in their homes because the cost of flood insurance is so high. If they have to pay 25 percent more, who is going to buy a home there?"

Reversing the trend on the Southside of declining home values, Molino said, is critical to community development. It's not good for anybody in Batavia when homes go into disrepair and become hard to sell. That brings down everybody's property values.

"I think it has a real negative impact on real estate values on the Southside," Molino said. "I think any realtor would probably agree that it's a hindrance to selling a home in the floodplain because people see that they've got this other bill, really it's like another tax bill, and at times it's a larger-than-your-tax-bill payment on a home that's assessed at less than others averaged out through the rest of the city, and when you look at the census tracks, these are the lowest moderate income houses. That's a recipe I think we want to change."

The city's $16.6 million spending plan was originally proposed with a 3-cent property tax cut from the current $9.30. With the items removed from the budget proposal last night, another 10 cents will come off the tax rate.

A public hearing will be held on the budget proposal at 7 p.m., Feb. 24. The council will vote on the budget at its following business meeting.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Photo: The purpose of pink snow

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown

If you've been Downtown in the past day or so, you may have noticed pink markings spray painted on the snow.

A city official explained that the Department of Public Works has a few new employees and a new supervisor. They may not know what's buried under the snow, such as plants and streetscape. Rather than have them plow in a way that might damage the streetscape, workers will see the markings and know what snow to remove.

The Downtown snow removal will likely take place today.

So if you wondered, now you know.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 1:44 am

Vibrant Batavia reviews 2013 with City Council, asks for second year of city's share of funding

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Vibrant Batavia

They call it "The Big Ask."

The Big Ask is the third leg of a fund-raising effort developed by Vibrant Batavia to support it's community improvement efforts and putting together a centennial celebration for the city in 2015.

Fundraising efforts so far involve selling advertising to local businesses for a quarterly magazine and a discount card program to residents, but Vibrant Batavia also needs to raise big money from big donors.

Corporate sponsors are being sought to contribute as much as $5,000 or $10,000 each.

Monday night, members had another kind of Big Ask for City Council members: $45,000 for a second year of funding.

It's part of the plan -- Vibrant Batavia's plan has always included at least $45,000 in funding annually for three years -- but the request needs to be put before the City Council each year.

Council President Brooks Hawley said he's inclined to support the request.

"They've been doing a great job, being put together as many volunteers," Hawley said. "It's been a great effort."

Since the Spring of 2013, Vibrant Batavia has:

  • Developed a logo and marketing plan;
  • Entered into an agreement with Rochester-based nonprofit Neighborhood Works and hired a coordinator for Vibrant Batavia through Neighborhood Works;
  • Conducted neighborhood surveys;
  • Introduced Coffee Talks, a Fall Frolic, an advertiser-supported quarterly publication and discount program;
  • Started planning the community's centennial celebration.

The second year of city funding is needed, City Manager Jason Molino said, to help continue and expand Vibrant Batavia's neighborhood organization efforts and planning for the centennial celebration.

"It's an energized group," Molino said after the meeting. "They want to do with good things in the community. I think they want to continue that momentum."

For 2013, Vibrant projected $67,000 in revenue, with $45,000 coming from the city. The actual fundraising effort garnered $60,790.

Expenses were $10,000 lower than projected.

Vibrant Batavia spent $31,000 with Neighborhood Works, $500 on logo design, $7,500 on developing a sponsorship plan with Buffalo Block Club, $10,902 on printing expenses and $7,500 on the centennial celebration.

For 2014, Vibrant Batavia's revenue plan projects another $45,000 from the city and $42,000 in revenue from local businesses, with expenses of $31,500 on Neighborhood Works, $35,500 on programming and $20,000 on centennial planning.

"All of us have come together, community members and volunteers, because we believe in our community," said Vibrant Batavia Board Member Marty McDonald.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 12:48 am

Photos: City Council honors homeowners and business of the year

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia

Kathy and Jim Owen were honored by the City Council on Monday night homeowners of the year.

Karen Reisdorf, owner of Blue Pearl Yoga, received the City Council's Business of the Year award.

Monday, February 10, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Batavia Ramparts win silver medals at Empire State games

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Ramparts, hockey, sports, youth sports

The T.F. Brown's Squirt III Batavia Ramparts Hockey Team garnered silver medals at the Empire State Winter Games held Olympic Center in Lake Placid this weekend.

Batavia was the #1 seed going into the final rounds after winning their first three games. They lost the gold medal round to the Rye Rangers.

Pictured are Head Coach Jeff Bower, Assistant Coach Brian Frieday and players Drew Bower, Vincent DiRizio, Matthew Frieday, Levi Grimm, Zachary Howard, Austin Hunt, Collin Kratz, Chase Pangrazio, Dominic Peracciny, Connor Peterson, Eric Pfalzer, Sean Pies, Jace Rademacker, and Max Tenney.

Photo and information submitted by Robert Grimm.

Monday, February 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Jury returns not guilty verdict on three felony counts against Batavia teen

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

Following a week-long trial that ended Friday, a Batavia resident was found not guilty on three felony counts stemming from an allegation he forced a victim to engage in sexual acts.

Kyle H. Morse, 17 at the time of his arrest a year ago, was, however, found guilty on a single misdemeanor count of sexual misconduct.

The grand jury indictment on that count accused Morse of engaging in oral sexual conduct with another person without that person's consent, and the person was deemed incapable of consent by virtue of being less than 17 years old.

The jury returned not guilty verdicts on counts of criminal sexual act in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree and criminal sexual act in the third degree.

Morse is scheduled to appear for sentencing on the misdemeanor conviction April 10.

Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Executive for Muller says yogurt maker on pace for $100 million in sales in U.S.

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Muller Quaker Dairy

An executive of Batavia-based Muller Quaker Dairy tells an food industry news Web site that the yogurt maker is on pace to reach $100 million in annual sales in the U.S.

"Promotions are playing a role," Barb Yehling, chief marketing officer at Muller Quaker Dairy, told Foodnavigator-USA.com. "However, at the end of the day it’s product quality and taste that matter to consumers. Again, this is where Müller yogurt excels."

Yehling said the company is focused on innovation and meeting unmet needs to bring to the American public a Greek-style yogurt that is fun and flavorful.

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