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Downtown events could land on the budget chopping block—or not...

Earlier this morning, one of our readers, John Roach, left the following comment:

It’s a shame that after all the hard work by BID, the 5 Republicans on City Council have submitted a budget proposal that will take enough money away from city celebrations and events that it might kill the Summer/Christmas in the City.

That caught our attention, and we set out to find exactly what the City Council had planned for budget cuts that might affect future events downtown. We asked for comment from Council President Charlie Mallow and Don Burkel, director of the downtown Business Improvement District. Burkel has not yet commented. Burkel responded via e-mail at noon today:

"There should be no budget cuts for Christmas in the City, Summer in the City or any other BID activities, as this would definitely have a negative impact on the downtown businesses.  In this time of economic hardship the merchants need these events to generate activity to attract shoppers and visitors to the Batavia Business Improvement District."

Mallow responded in an e-mail:

"I was sent a proposed amendment to lower the city's contribution from a few of the council members. Council will be talking about this proposed amendment as well as the rest that were submitted on Saturday.

"From my point of view a consensus was come to on the amount of this line item in the last budget. I do not support the cut, I think its unfair and hurts the businesses downtown and I think doing anything to jeopardize either event would lower our quality of life in the city.

"The members that proposed the amendment alluded to the idea that they had a majority in favor of the cut. I find that hard to believe."

While we were waiting to hear back from Mallow and Burkel, we also spoke with a few other members of Council: Rose Mary Christian, Kathy Briggs and Bob Bialkowski.

Bialkowski, who expressed an overall optimism about the budget process this year, said: "We're not eliminating any downtown events." Instead, he said, several members of Council were looking at ways to reduce overtime costs—especially those related to the management of downtown events—to help reduce the property tax burden. While this would not "eliminate" downtown events, it would reduce the funding available for them.

According to the budget proposal prepared by the office of the city manager, actual overtime costs so far paid out in the current budget season total more than $530,000, as listed in the budget's general fund. That total does not include such special funds as water and sewer, ambulance—in which overtime costs exceed $300,000—and the mall, which for some reason is maintained as a separate fund.

Nevertheless, most of those overtime expenses fall within the budgeted amounts. In fact, both fire and police overtime costs were under. For some reason, the communications department totaled more than four times what was budgeted. To date, that department has accrued $28,612 in overtime costs, while a mere $7,000 was budgeted.

What's most apt here, however, is the overtime cost for "community celebrations," which has totaled $4,997 so far. Those are the costs that Bialkowski has called into question. He says that if the city could get more use out of volunteers for the downtown celebrations and shift the schedule for assistance from public works employees from the weekend to Friday and Monday, the cost would drop from, say, $1,000 to $500, since overtime costs would be avoided.

"I'm a big believer for volunteering for events," he said. "We're just trying to keep any property tax minimal. We're looking at all costs, trying to keep it down as low as possible."

Cutting back on overtime costs are just one way he would hope to get expenses down for the next budget season. He has proposed a list of amendments, he says, that would reduce about $70,000 in "miscellaneous items" and by sharing services and getting more time out of certain city vehicles.

Christian and Briggs said that the cuts proposed by Bialkowski and others would, in fact, cut the funding for downtown events and shift the cost burden onto the BID, which would not be able to manage, and so be forced to eliminate the events.

"Some council members have recommended cuts in this area," said Briggs in an e-mail. "One suggestion was cutting it from $3,000 to $2,000. Nothing is definite yet. In my opinion the events shouldn't be scrapped. I'm not going to support this cut. We can't expect the Business Improvement District to pick up all of the cost, and we have to have some celebrations, right!"

Christian is of the same mind. She says that she is "not one of them," referring to some other members on Council who are trying to cut the funding for downtown events. Instead of those cuts, she said that she asked for City Manager Jason Molino to see if he can cut 1 to 1 1/2 percent from elsewhere in the budget. She hopes to get an answer on where and how that might be pulled off at the session Saturday.

"We'll see if Jason can find cuts in certain areas," she said. "The budget is astronomical. It's $24 million. We have to be realistic. The economy is a disaster. The stock market is a disaster. Even the president has said, it's not up to government, it's up to us. It's up to the people to make a change."

John Roach
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Joined: May 29 2008
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Philip, Thanks for looking into this. Any luck getting Greg Post to talk?
John Roach
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Joined: May 29 2008
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Hope she feels better. Since he has no intention of calling or emailing you, I hope you can get him on record. I would hate to think the money the City put into this merger/consolidation study was a waste because the Town leadership never really supported it.
Howard Owens
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I'm not sure I see how it's possible to reduce funding to these events without effectively killing these events. Perhaps somebody could explain how a reduction in funds isn't equivalent to killing them off? I agree with Don, supporting downtown business is essential to the economic vitality of the city. Downtown is the economic heart of Batavia. Without adequate support for Downtown businesses, then the city might find itself suffering even a bigger revenue shortfall.
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