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Howard B. Owens's blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 12:26 pm

City set to receive funds to provide grants to small businesses

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business

A $200,000 federal grant could help create from five to 10 new businesses in Batavia, the City Council was told Monday night.

The "micro-enterprise" grant program is designed to help fund businesses with fewer than five employees either through a start-up or growth phase.

The minimum federal requirement for the program is that five business owners receive benefits and five new jobs are created.

Recipients would be required to attend classes at GCC's Best Center covering the fundamentals of owning and operating a business, including planning, legal issues, accounting and financing. 

The program would be supervised by the Batavia Development Corp. with the assistance of a grant administrator.

In total, $150,000 would be available for grants to small business owners, with $31,300 for program delivery, $10,000 for grant administration, and $8,700 for classroom instruction.

The money given out would be in the form of grants, not loans.

City Manager Jason Molino told council members that it's his understanding the federal government would require some sort of claw back for businesses that fail or move out of the city within the first three years after receiving the grant.

The City Council will vote on a resolution to accept the federal money at its March 9 meeting.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 11:13 am

Councilman makes '11th hour' plea for vote on assistant city manager job

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Budget

Councilman John Deleo opposes including money for an assistant city manager in Batavia's budget for 2015-16 and wants his vote on the record.

In what one of his colleagues characterized as an 11th-hour plea, Deleo asked near the end of Monday's City Council meeting how he goes about proposing a budget amendment.

Deleo said his constituents don't want him to drop the issue.

"We talked about it at budget time, but it never came up," Deleo said. "It was never put on the agenda here, but I made a promise to the voters that they wouldn't grease the rails and slide this though. I would make sure I would bring it up."

The council approved the addition of an assistant city manager position in the 2014-15 budget and over the summer, local resident Gretchen Difante was hired to fill the role. Since then, she's worked on a variety of issues for the city, including flood insurance, problems with the emergency communications system, administrative services, including finance, the clerk-treasurer, personnel, information technology, the youth bureau and assessment. She's even been called on to help city residents deal with feral cats.

Her annual salary is $75,950.

While Deleo maintains the majority of the people he's heard from say the city should eliminate Difante's job, Councilman John Canale said he is hearing a completely different message.

The feedback he's getting, he said, is the job is needed.

Couching his words with phrases like "in all due respect" Canale was critical of Deleo's request for a vote after the council has already been through budget work sessions and a public hearing on the budget.

The budget needs to be approved by April 1 and making a substantial change at this stage would require a second public hearing, which could potentially jeopardize timely passage.

At any point in the process, Deleo could have made a motion to eliminate the job, but didn't. 

"This is a knee-jerk reaction," Canale said. "We had this discussion many, many times. We had several budget sessions and nowhere did you ask Mr. Molino to take it out of the budget."

Canale called on Deleo to show some leadership and do what's right for the city.

"I voted against this job from the get go," Deleo said, "because that's what the people said. I still work for the people. I'm still against this and I want to get it on the record that I'm still against it and that's what I'm asking for."

At one point, after much discussion, Deleo made a motion, seconded by Briggs, to schedule a budget workshop session for Friday evening.

At such a session, Deleo could make his motion and if it passed -- and even Deleo conceded it wasn't likely to pass -- a public hearing on the amended budget could be scheduled.

After further discussion, City Manager Jason Molino said he had run some calendar calculations, and if the council waits until its March 9 meeting for a vote on Deleo's proposed budget amendment there would be a day or two of wiggle room to get in a public hearing before a final budget vote.

With that, Deleo withdrew his motion for an early meeting.

At several points during the discussion, Molino told council that at no point has the council expressed a request for him to do a budget analysis on the impact of removing the position, both for its impact on the tax rate and its impact on city operations.

By the end of the meeting, no council member made that request.

Monday, February 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Scott Doll's motion for dismissal without merit ADA argues

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, pembroke, scott doll

One of the main issues in a motion by an attorney for Scott F. Doll to dismiss his 2010 murder conviction isn't supported by the court record, Assistant District Attorney Will Zickl is arguing in an answering affidavit released Friday.

Doll's attorney, Timothy Murphy, argued in his motion that investigators didn't have probable cause to detain Doll after he was found in blood-soaked overalls on North Lake Road, Pembroke, the night of Feb. 19, 2009.

Doll was convicted by a jury of murder for beating to death Joseph Benaquist, a former coworker of Doll's and occasional partner in a used car business, at the victim's home in Pembroke.

He is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence in State Prison.

The failure of Doll's defense team -- Paul Cambria and Daniel Killilea -- to raise the issue of the detention constitutes insufficient legal representation, Murphy argues.

Zickl counters that Murphy fails to establish a factual basis for his motion. He argues that at the trial court level, the defendant challenged the legality of his detention, including his transport to the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, in his motion to suppress statements Doll made to investigators.

Doll has already lost an appeal on the legality of his being questioned without being read his rights.

An appeals court found that questioning Doll was legal under what's known as the "emergency doctrine." Since investigators had reason to believe a person may be injured and in immediate need of assistance if located, they need not advise Doll of his right to remain silent.

Zickl argues that Doll received a vigorous and well-crafted defense during all phases of the case.

"A cohesive and closely tailored theory of the Defendant's innocence was cogently presented to the jury by the defense team," Zickl writes.

Zickl asks that since the record is so clear, Doll's motion be denied without a hearing.

As for Doll's motion for further DNA testing, Zickl argues that further testing won't produce different results.

"A central premise of the Defendant's motion is that the victim and the perpetrator were involved in a 'struggle' and as a result it is likely that genetic material would be found underneath the victim's fingernails or on his clothes," Zickl writes.

"This theory is not supported in the record. In fact, the record is more consistent with a theory of an ambush and rapid incapacitation of the victim by the Defendant.

"Even assuming, arguendo (for the sake of argument), that the requested genetic testing had produced a profile other than the Defendant's, it would not explain or diminish the overwhelming evidence of the Defendant's guilt, such as the volume, distribution and appearance of the victim's blood on his person, his clothes and his vehicle."

Noonan will rule on the motions at a later date.

For previous Scott Doll coverage, click here.

Monday, February 23, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Two people seriously injured in Bethany accident remain in ICU

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, accident, Bethany, corfu, pembroke

Two of the people seriously injured in a weekend accident that took the life of a young Pembroke woman remain in guarded condition at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Details of the injuries to Brandon Danser, 21, of Batavia, and Jamie Scherer, 21, of Pembroke, are not available.

Strong lists all patients in the Intensive Care Unit as "guarded."

Both were passengers in a vehicle early Saturday morning that was northbound off of Molasses Hill Road, Bethany, when it was struck by an eastbound semi-truck on Route 20.

Alyson D. Krzanak, 18, of Pembroke, later succumbed to injuries sustained in the accident.

The vehicle was reportedly driven by Hannah Dibble, 21, of Pembroke, who was transported by Mercy EMS to ECMC and treated and released.

Felicia Fazzio, 20, of Darien, was transported by Mercy EMS to ECMC. She was listed in stable condition, but today a patient information operator at ECMC refused to release information on her condition, other than to confirm she hasn't been released.

Gabrielle Uzarowski, 21, of Pembroke, was treated at the scene and released.

The driver of the truck, Leonard Odums, of Cutburt, Ga., was not injured.

The accident remains under investigation.

Monday, February 23, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Law and Order: Driver charged with DWI following alleged hit-and-run in Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, Oakfield, Pavilion

Brian Michael Glor, 43, of Church Street, Oakfield, is charged with DWI and refusal to take breath test. Glor was arrested following an investigation into a hit-and-run accident at 7:34 p.m., Monday, in the City of Batavia, by Deputy Michael Lute.

Steven R. Colombo, 28, of Ellicott Street, Batavia, is charged with criminal contempt, 2nd. Colombo allegedly violated a complete stay away order of protection. He was allegedly found hiding in the pantry of the protected party's residence.

Jimpce J. Etienne, 38, of Buell Street, Batavia, is charged with unnecessary noise. Etienne is accused of playing extremely loud and disturbing music at 11:30 a.m., Saturday.

Kayla D. Joiner, 22, of Schreck Avenue, Buffalo, was arrested on a warrant for alleged failure to appear on a aggravated unlicensed operation, 3rd, charge. Joiner turned herself in and was jailed on $100 bail.

Thomas J. Mitchell, 25, of Batavia, was arrested on two warrants for alleged failure to appear. Mitchell was located and arrested and jailed on $1,500 bail.

Robin A. Pickering, 31, of Croop Road, Clarence Center, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater, moving from lane unsafely, operation by an unlicensed driver and drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle. Pickering reportedly drove her car into a snowbank on Burke Drive, Batavia, at 4:36 a.m., Friday. The accident was investigated by Officer Matthew Wojtaszczyk.

James Rocco Soccio, 33, of Ross Street, Batavia, is charged with coercion, 2nd. Soccio reportedly went to the residence of a person scheduled to speak against Soccio in a Family Court proceeding. Soccio allegedly threatened to harm the person. 

Jacob J. Camerera, 23, of South Jackson Street, Batavia, is charged with criminal contempt, 1st, reckless endangerment, 2nd, and two counts of aggravated unlicensed operation, 2nd. Camerera allegedly drove a vehicle toward four other people in a reckless manner on Watson Street, Batavia, at 4:59 p..m., Feb. 15. One of the four people was covered by an order of protection.

A 17-year-old resident of Walnut Street, Batavia is charged with two counts of harassment, 2nd, and criminal mischief, 4th. The youth was arrested following an alleged incident at his residence at 11:30 a.m., Friday.

Kenneth L. Perkins, 51, of West Main Street, Corfu, is charged with criminal mischief, 4th. Perkins allegedly damaged the property of another person.

Heyward Clark Jr., 50, of Whitney Avenue, Niagara Falls, is charged with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child, driving while ability impaired by alcohol, following too closely, driving without a license, and child passenger in back seat not properly restrained. Heyward was stopped at 12:02 a.m. Saturday on Lewiston Road, Batavia, by Deputy Joseph Corona.

Jennifer P. Hepp, 32, of Varysburg, is charged with petit larceny. Hepp was arrested by State Police on Friday at a location on Veterans Memorial Drive. No further information released.

Philip D. Stahli, 34, of Lockport, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. Stahli was arrested by State Police in Pavilion on Saturday. No further details released.

Harry R. Silliman, 50, of Batavia, is charged with criminal mischief, 3rd, and harassment, 2nd. Silliman was arrested by State Police for an alleged incident at 9:45 p.m., Feb. 17. No further details released.

Monday, February 23, 2015 at 9:18 am

Monday morning photos

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia

I went out Ellicott Street Road to the new road heading into the ag park with a picture idea in mind. 

This isn't the picture, but I liked it better than my original idea.

Below, a snowman I spotted in front of a house on Ellicott Street Road.

Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 8:29 pm

Photo: Flag on Transit Road, Bethany

post by Howard B. Owens in Bethany

Returning from a trip to Wyoming County today, I liked the scene of this flag blowing in the wind with snow blowing from a drift behind it.

For a bit of what I did in Wyoming County today:

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 11:19 pm

Accident with injuries reported in East Pembroke

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, east pembroke, pembroke

A motor-vehicle accident with injuries is reported in the area of 2486 Main Road, East Pembroke.

East Pembroke fire and Mercy EMS dispatched.

UPDATE 11:53 p.m.: We've heard no updates on this accident. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Victim of accident in Bethany succumbs to injuries

post by Howard B. Owens in Bethany, corfu, pembroke

An 18-year-old Pembroke resident and student at GCC, has died as a result of injuries she sustained in an overnight accident in Bethany, the Sheriff's Office announced.

Alyson D. Krzanak, who listed her employment on her Facebook page as GCCA Child Care Center and JCPenney, was flown by Mercy Flight to ECMC following the early morning accident at Route 20 and Molasses Hill Road, and was initially listed in critical condition.

The Sheriff's Office release does not list a time of death.

Krzanak was one of six people in a 1997 Geo Prism that was northbound on Molasses Hill Road when it crossed Route 20 and was struck by an eastbound tractor-trailer.

The vehicle was reportedly driven by Hannah Dibble, 21, of Pembroke, who was transported by Mercy EMS to ECMC and treated and released.

Also injured were Brandon Danser, 21, of Batavia, who was taken by Mercy Flight to U of R Medical Center and is listed in guarded condition.

Jamie Scherer, 21, of Pembroke, was transported by Attica Ambulance to WCCH and then transferred to U of R by Mercy Flight, and he is in guarded condition.

Gabrielle Uzarowski, 21, of Pembroke, was treated at the scene and released. Felicia Fazzio, 20, of Darien, was transported by Mercy EMS to ECMC and is in stable condition.

The driver of the truck, Leonard Odums, of Cutburt, Ga., was not injured.

The accident remains under investigation. The Crash Management Team responded to the scene.

Assisting the Sheriff's Officer were State Police, Bethany, Alexander, Attica, and Pavilion volunteer fire departments along with the Genesee County Emergency Management Office.

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Photos: A hall of famer, a Heisman Trophy winner a pitching legend at Batavia Downs

post by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, sports

Batavia Downs hosted another sports collectables show again today, and again the show included autograph sessions to sports stars.

Pictured in these photos are former Buffalo Bills and Hall of Fame inductee Billy Shaw, Heisman Trophy winner Charles White and pitching great Luis Tiant.

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Photos: Presentation competition sponsored by 4-H

post by Howard B. Owens in 4-H, Byron-Bergen High School

Nearly 100 members of 4-H turned out at Byron-Bergen High School this morning to make short presentations on any topic of their choosing. The annual program is designed to help members learn about and practice public speaking and presentation. Topics range from Legos to race cars, from sports to sign languages. Each presentation was judged and certificates and ribbons were presented.

Above, Corrine Rhodes.

Dillon Weber talks about how to tan a hide.

After his presentation, Cole Phelps got pointers from judges Mary Edenhard and Sue Eick.

Kelly Ireland during her presentation on sign languages.

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Weather advisory warns of snow and freezing drizzle

post by Howard B. Owens in Stafford, weather

A winter weather advisory has been issued for snow and freezing drizzle through 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The National Weather Service anticipates snow through this evening, then areas of freezing drizzle after midnight through Sunday morning.

Look for from two to five inches of snow and then a trace of ice.

Travel conditions could be difficult.

Visibility could drop to less than a mile.

Photos: Taken around noon on Route 33 in Stafford.

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 2:04 am

Car and truck accident reported on Route 20 in Bethany

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, Bethany

A car and semi-truck have reportedly hit at West Bethany Road and Route 20 in Bethany. 

No word yet on injuries. 

Bethany fire and Alexander ambulance dispatched.

UPDATE(S) by Billie -- 2:10 a.m.: Two Mercy Flights helicopters are requested to the scene, along with Mercy medics. Fire Police are to shut down Route 20 eastbound and westbound.

UPDATE 2:13 a.m.: "I'm going to need triage as soon as you can get here," says a responder at the scene. The road needs to be shut down ASAP, he says.

UPDATE 2:24 a.m.: The second helicopter, coming from Buffalo, has an ETA of 12 minutes. The landing zone(s) will be east of the intersection.

UPDATE 2:28 p.m.: An ambulance has arrived. The big rig has Indiana plates.

UPDATE 2:34 a.m.: One landing zone is set up north of the scene.

UPDATE 2:35 a.m.: One patient is a semi-responsive female.

UPDATE 2:42 a.m.: Mercy Flight #4 is on the ground.

UPDATE 2:51 a.m.: Mercy Flight #5 is airborne and headed to Strong Memorial Hospital.

UPDATE 2:55 a.m.: Mercy medics are transporting a patient to ECMC.

UPDATE 3:01 a.m.: Mercy Flight #4 is airborne and headed to ECMC.

UPDATE 3:07 a.m.: Personnel with Alexander ambulance, including a medic from Attica, stablized a patient to load the person into one of the helicopters but did not transport anyone from the scene.

UPDATE 3:27 a.m.: Westbound Route 20 traffic at Route 63 will be shut down due to the accident.

UPDATE 4:28 a.m. (by Howard): Route 20 is still closed. The passenger vehicle had six people in it. Two patients were transported by Mercy Flight, one to Strong, the other to ECMC. Three patients were taken to area hospitals by ground ambulance. One person was apparently not injured. The driver of the truck was not injured. The truck was eastbound. The sedan was northbound and attempted to cross Route 20 from Molasses Hill Road. The accident is still under investigation. Members of the Crash Management Team are on scene.

UPDATE: The driver of the sedan was Hannah Dibble, 21, of Pembroke. Dibble, Felicia Fazzio, 21, of Darien, and Alyson Krzanak, 18, of Pembroke, were transported to ECMC for treatment. Krazanak was transported by Mercy Flight. Fazzio is in stable condition and Krzanak is in critical condition. Brandon Danser, 21, of Batavia, was taken by Mercy Flight to Strong and is listed in guarded condition. Jamie Scherer, 21, of Pembroke, was transported to Wyoming County Community Hospital and then transported by Mercy Flight to U of R Medical Center. He is listed in guarded condition. Gabrielle Uzarowski, 21, was treated at the scene. The truck driver, Leonard Odums, of Cutburt, Ga., was not injured.

Friday, February 20, 2015 at 8:30 pm

City DPW called upon again to repair water line break on sub-zero night

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, infrastructure

Another sub-zero night and another water line break for city crews to repair.

This time on Union Street (see previous post).

The location is between Notre Dame HS and Robert Morris, near Richmond Avenue.

A worker said they're hopeful it will be a quick repair, but the first order of business is finding the leak. Workers dug a hole first where the road was covered only by asphalt. An easy hole to dig, but no luck. The leak is further south, so they're punching holes through concrete (concrete under the asphalt at that location) to find the link. The concrete makes the work that much more difficult.

At the time this picture was taken it was minus five degrees.

Friday, February 20, 2015 at 7:29 pm

City putting pressure on banks to deal with vacant and abandoned properties

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, abandoned properties

The modest yellow house at 420 North St., Batavia, was probably somebody's dream home in 1930.

Today, it's emblematic of the difficulties the City of Batavia faces in dealing with abandoned and vacant homes.

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 such homes in Batavia and City Manager Jason Molino thinks it's an important enough of a problem that he would like to spend more time during his work days on the issue in 2015.

Vacant and abandoned homes can attract squatters. They serve as eyesores for neighborhoods. They bring down property values for surrounding residents. They are safety hazards. They can contribute to economic decline. They use city resources without contributing revenue or economic impact to the city.

It's important that vacant and abandoned homes be returned to the housing stock quickly. That's one reason the city is getting aggressive with banks that hold mortgages, and in some cases even hold title, by putting pressure on them to deal with code enforcement issues. 

Today, six banks were summoned to City Court to answer to code violation citations.  

Three banks were to be represented by attorneys when their cases were called. One bank previously received an adjournment of its case because the property will soon be sold. And counsel for two banks didn't show at all.

One of those was Bank of America, the bank the city identified as responsible for the quaint 1,600-square-foot house at 420 North St.

After court, The Batavian reached out to Bank of America and our call was returned by Rick Simon, a California-based spokesman for the bank. 

Simon said that Bank of America is not responsible for 420 North St.  

He referred us to Rushmore Loan Management Services in Irvine, Calif.

A spokeswoman for Rushmore quickly returned our call, but said she needed time to research the property before responding to questions.

The confusion over who is responsible for the property is exactly the sort of problem the city runs into as it tries to deal with vacant and abandoned homes.

First, the city must research who the mortgage holder is, whether there's ever been a foreclosure, or if the bank or somebody else ever took title, and then find the right person to talk with about the property.

Often times, Molino said, these big banks aren't even certain what properties they are handling and whether they're now responsible for it.

Simon, with Bank of America, said his company tries to be responsive to municipal governments with troubled properties in their neighborhoods, but it's up to the local officials to contact the bank. They don't know there is a problem unless they're told, he said.

In the case of today's scheduled court appearance for 420 Bank St., Simon couldn't confirm the bank ever even received the summons.

City records indicate the summons was delivered in October to a bank employee in Charlotte, N.C., where Bank of America lists its official headquarters.

The Bank of America employees responsible for these properties, whom Simon could normally check with, the spokesman said, were all off on this Friday afternoon.

After an initial phone conversation, he did further research on 420 North and called back to report bank records show responsibility for 420 North was transferred to Rushmore.

To help smooth away these wrinkles in the accountability process, Molino would like to see the state pass a "zombie law." The law would make it possible for municipalities to hold banks who issued the mortgage on the property accountable for the condition of the property. It would be harder for bankers to throw up their hands and say, "not our problem."

For the most part, however, bankers have been responding to the city's code enforcement efforts.

Of the four properties represented by attorneys in City Court today, all four are either now in compliance or moving toward compliance.

"We are getting some banks to take responsibility for the properties," Molino said. "We're serving papers and finding ways to get them into court where judges are receptive to telling them they have to comply with the code."

Today's successes:

  • 35 Manhatten Ave., with Michale Jabloski representing Wells Fargo. Many repairs were completed Feb. 1, though there is still some work to be done. The case was continued to April when the city expects Wells Fargo to be in full compliance.
  • 129 Summit St., another Wells Fargo property. Wells Fargo was not aware it was responsible for this property until just recently. The bank is awaiting more information from a code enforcement officer on what work needs to be done on the property. The bank was given until May 15 to bring the property into compliance.
  • 6 Manhatten Ave., with Jason Racki representing Ocwen Mortgage. Since Racki's last court appearance on the case, many of the required repairs have been completed, but there is new water damage to the structure that must be repaired. Ocwen has also put the property out for bid and anticipates accepting a bid soon. The matter was continued to May 15.
  • 40 Manhatten Ave., with Richard Fay representing Citi Mortgage. There have been previous appearances on this property and some work has been done, such as repairing and repainting the garage door. The chimney has been stabilized and the bank is now putting siding out to bid. The case was continued to May 15.

Also not showing today was HSBC bank, whom the city is holding accountable for 128 Ross St.

Another bank, J.P. Morgan, had its case adjourned in advance because it's about to sell 42 Porter Ave.

Some of these properties, like many vacant and abandoned properties in the city, are worth a lot less than it would cost an investor to buy and rehab the property.

Even if an investor can get the house for a song, he might be looking at spending $50,000 to fix up a place that he can't sell for much more than that, so he's now upside down on the so-called investment.

To help address that problem, Molino is working on a local law that would allow the city to offer tax abatements to would-be homeowners who buy distressed homes and fix them up.

"For every $1,000 paid in taxes, that's $1,000 that can't be paid on a mortgage or for rehabilitation," Molino said. "We're already not collecting taxes on it and at that valuation, the amount of taxes you would collect are miniscule, so why not redirect those taxes to rehabilitation."

A vacant home, Molino said, doesn't have a family in it who is bringing their buying power to our community.

"This is a process we really have to vet and decide whether it's appropriate for some of these upside-down properties," Molino said. 

He also thinks there are opportunities to work more with groups such as Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood Works and Pathstone to help identify people who would be productive homeowners even if they can't afford to buy a home without assistance.

"They have the capital, the overhead, to acquire properties and if they can get them cheaply, they are able to screen for good homeowners and arrange for financing, or they have the financing tools to help people get into homes," Molino said.

The first step, though, is bringing vacant and abandoned homes back into the housing stock, and that's only going to happen to the degree the city is successful in identifying responsible parties and getting them to move the property.

Previously: The problem of distressed properties complex and easy solutions elusive

6 Manhatten Ave.

40 Manhatten Ave.

129 Summit St.

Friday, February 20, 2015 at 5:40 pm

City employees responding to water line break on Union Street

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, infrastructure

Press release:

City employees are responding to a water line break on Union Street. Residents on Union Street between Richmond and West avenues will be without water from approximately 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. this evening while crews repair the leak. If you should experience discolored water after the service is restored, please run a faucet until the water runs clear.

Thank you for your patience as we make the necessary repairs.

Friday, February 20, 2015 at 2:13 pm

By mid-April, what's left of the Wiard Plow factory buildings will exist only in pictures

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Wiard Fire, Wiard Plow

Old industrial buildings off of Swan Street that weren't destroyed by arson in 2010 are being felled by code enforcement in 2015.

Tom Mancuso, current owner of what was once the Wiard Plow Factory, appeared in City Court today to update Judge Michael Del Plato on his progress toward bringing the property into code compliance after citations were issued by the City of Batavia.

The case was continued to April 17, giving Mancuso time to complete demolition of the half-dozen brick structures on the property.

The only thing that will be left of what was once one of Batavia's landmark companies will be the former office building, which is owned by Smart Design and undergoing renovation.

Two of the old factory buildings were destroyed in a fire in 2010 that was deliberately set by a 14-year-old resident of the city. (For The Batavian's complete and comprehensive coverage of the fire and its aftermath, click here.)

For decades after Wiard Plow closed up shop, the buildings were used to house several small businesses. The Mancuso family invested money to help bring in business and support those businesses, but the buildings were all vacant by the time of the fire.

Tom Mancuso still had plans for the wood and brick industrial buildings, but the fire was a big set back.

"The arson fire destroyed everything we had invested," Mancuso said. "The insurance proceeds did not cover the loss, so we came out of pocket on the fire and now we're going to be out of pocket again on the demolition."

It took some time to get the necessary demolition permits from the state, but Mancuso is through that process and a contractor is on site, preparing the property to be ripped apart beam-by-beam, brick-by-brick.

Asked how much the demolition is costing his company, Mancuso said, "Too much. More than we have."

Still, Mancuso is looking at the bright side.

"It will make the street better," Mancuso said. "It's a good thing for the community. You hope something good will come of it. For years, we've tried to find somebody to build something or do something there so we can redevelop it. We'll hope this allows something good to happen sooner."

Friday, February 20, 2015 at 11:08 am

Photos: ECS Drama Club performs CATS

post by Howard B. Owens in arts, elba, elba central schools, theater

The Elba Central School's Drama Club held a dress rehearsal Thrusday night for their performance of the hit Broadway musical "CATS."

A performance originally scheduled for tonight has been moved to 2 p.m. tomorrow. The cast will perform a second show at 7 p.m., tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 10:35 pm

Closures and cancellations for Friday, Feb. 20

post by Howard B. Owens in weather
  • Oakfield-Alabama: "This is a message from the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District. Due to the anticipated cold temperatures and wind chill students will not have school tomorrow, Friday, February 20th. All faculty and staff are still required to report as Friday will now be a Superintendent’s Conference Day. This unplanned change to the calendar will result in students attending school on Monday, April 27th which was originally planned as a conference day. Please make note of this change on your calendar. Extracurricular activities are not canceled at this time, except for the elementary super hero party. The party will be rescheduled for a later date.  Please stay safe and warm tomorrow!"
  • Elba Central Schools: As a result, tonight's production of CATS has been rescheduled as a matinee for 2 p.m., tomorrow. The 7 p.m. performance tomorrow will go on as scheduled. (Look for photos on The Batavian later today from last night's dress rehearsal.)
  • Alexander Central School
  • Notre Dame High School
  • Pavilion Central School District
  • Pembroke Central School District

Send closures and cancellations to [email protected].

Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Farmers bracing for lower profits in 2015

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, Craig Yunker, CY Farms

The outlook for farm profits in 2015 is far from sunny, according to media reports, and Craig Yunker, CEO of CY Farms, sees things much like other industry experts and economists who are predicting tight and declining margins.

Yunker, who stays abreast of agricultural markets and trends in the normal course of business, just returned from trips to California and Chicago, where he met with other farm executives and farm profits were very much the focus of discussions.

"We're looking at softer prices, tighter margins and a tougher year," Yunker said. "The good news is, farmers are in pretty good shape. Dairy farmers are coming off a strong year. The guys growing grain had good years when the market was strong. A lot of them paid down debt and pre-paid expenses going into 2015. Most farmers are strong financially in terms of balance sheets and that should help them survive these tighter markets."

Yunker is a member of the Association of Agricultural Production Executives, which is a group of 150 farmers. They just met this past week in California. He's also a trustee for the Farm Foundation, which just met in Chicago.

Much of the concern about farm profits is being driven by a recent USDA report, which predicts a 25-percent decline in farm income for 2015.

Corn prices have fallen substantially from their high of two years ago.  

In grains, the nation's farmers enjoyed record exports in 2014, but export revenue is expected to decline in 2015 (volume should remain roughly the same, but prices are down).

Globally, grain inventory is up, cutting demand.

The rate of economic growth in China is slowing, which cuts the demand for exports.

India has a big stockpile of wheat.

The strong U.S. dollar makes U.S. exports more expensive for other countries.

There's a glut of dairy products on the market.

While lower fuel costs will mean some savings, the cost of fertilizer hasn't caught up yet.

There's been no impact on seed prices yet.

With unemployment rates down, the labor market is tight, especially for truck drivers. Yunker expects that to push labor costs higher.

On the farm labor front and immigration, there are not as many immigrants coming to the U.S., so there are fewer available workers. As workers return to their home countries, or get arrested, or take jobs in other sectors, they're not being replaced by new workers. That will mean higher wages for the available farm workers.

A lot of vegetables grown locally go to food processors and those seasonal contracts haven't come out yet, so it's hard to predict what the prices will be, but Yunker said he's expecting prices to be softer this year.

There's a lot going on in the world that has a ripple effect on farm prices.

There was a huge worldwide onion crop last year, but the dockworkers' strike in California also means that onions that would normally be shipped to Asia are starting to flow East, so onion prices are down and dropping.

The weather has meant people are less likely to dine out, which has a big impact on cabbage prices, since a lot of the cabbage market is driven by what restaurants buy (think, for example, cole slaw).  

While lower fuel prices mean consumers have more dollars to spend, they don't typically spend that extra cash on more or better food or eating out more often.

"The benefit of lower fuel prices really goes to Walmart and those places rather than farmers," Yunker said.

As for ripple effects, the turmoil in the Ukraine could have an impact on corn prices. Ukraine is typically a big corn producer, but civil war could disrupt production, but worse for Ukrainian farmers is the deflation of their country's currency. Corn seed could be prohibitively expensive, so what do they do? Yunker wondered. They could dip into their wheat bins for seed and grow a lot more wheat, which costs them nothing. Whatever Ukrainian farmers do will impact the worldwide grain market.

"Those kinds of things are going on all over the world," Yunker said. 

The lack of a pipeline for shipping oil from the north into U.S. production facilities and ports has oil producers turning to rail. (Notice, there've been more oil tanker fires recently?) 

Haulers moving oil on rail means there's less capacity for shipping grain by rail, Yunker said. Midwest grain growers can't move their grain, so they're forced to lower prices.

The dock strike in California is having several impacts on ag prices. Milk powder, for example, that would normally sail to Asia, is being trucked (because rail cars aren't available) to the East Coast for shipment to Asia by that route. That's leading to higher milk powder prices.

Yunker expressed some frustration with how Obama is handling the strike, or not handling it.

"I don't understand why the labor secretary goes out there," Yunker said. "He's going to be a labor guy. He (Obama) should take a stronger stand. Trade is so important to ag. Ag depends on exports.  ... there's been no push for trade since Obama took office."

There was a time, Yunker said, when trade talks would be in the news all the time. The past few years, not so much.

"Generally, agriculture is disappointed in that," Yunker said. "We haven't seen any trade deals in six years. Now he's asking to fast-track trade, but the Republicans are loath to give it to him because they're mad at him for a lot of reasons."

The boom in farm revenue the past couple of years drove up the cost of farm real estate, Yunker said, which means some farmers are paying higher mortgages, and farmers who lease land are being asked to pay higher rents when those leases come up for renewal.

Predicting farm revenue with any certainty is about as trusty as predicting the weather months from now, which brings us to the weather. Another drought in the Midwest or an El Nino will impact crops and prices, thereby changing the whole outlook.

Local impacts both in WNY and everywhere there are farmers means car dealers will sell fewer pickups as cash flow for farmers tighten, and farm equipment dealers could see sales decline.

For the most part, Yunker thinks local farmers will hold on in 2015.

"There are players who will be really pinched because they don't have their house in order," Yunker said. "But for the most part, guys will be in good shape because they have good balance sheets."

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