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Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Collins promotes bill to support craft cider makers

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, NY-27

Press release:

Congressmen Chris Collins (NY-27) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) today issued the following statement after reintroducing the bipartisan Cider Industry Deserves Equal Regulation (CIDER) Act. The Act, HR 600, would amend the section of the tax code that deals with wine and related beverages, 26 USC § 5041, to support the growing number of craft and entrepreneurial cider makers, and tailor IRS rules to reflect variations in craft ciders across the country.

“I am proud to introduce legislation that will support our nation’s apple growers and cider makers,” Congressman Collins said. “The CIDER Act will help spur growth in these industries by restructuring taxes to fairer rates that take into account the natural variations in the cider-making process. I thank Representative Blumenauer for joining me in this goal to reduce burdens on small businesses and simplify our tax code.”

“Cider making is sometimes closer to an art than a science,” Congressman Blumenauer said. “As the American apple and pear hard cider industry becomes more prominent on the world stage, and cider becomes a beverage choice for more Americans’ developing palettes, we need to ensure that cideries have every opportunity to expand and meet the needs of this growing market without an unfair tax burden.”

During the fermentation process, a variety of factors can lead to small changes in the composition of a cider’s alcohol content and carbonation. Because of the narrow way that hard cider is currently defined in the tax code, these small variations can lead to cider being taxed at a rate 15 times higher than what the statute clearly intended. The Collins-Blumenauer bill would update the tax definitions to greatly reduce the chance that improper taxation could occur. The bill would also broaden the definition to include both pear and apple ciders.

The changes proposed by congressmen Blumenauer and Collins will update the existing federal definition of cider to better reflect the industry and keep American cider competitive in the international marketplace. Production nationally has been robust, more than tripling from 9.4 million gallons in 2011 to 32 million gallons in 2013. Cider revenues in the U.S. have been just as impressive, tripling from $178 million in 2007 to $601 million in 2012.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Just in case this is his last season as head coach, Dave Pero to be honored before tomorrow's game

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, high school sports, Notre Dame, sports

Notre Dame's Dave Pero will be honored before tomorrow night's girls basketball game against Holley.

Several former players will be on hand to speak and share their thoughts on how Pero helped influence them and shape their lives.

If this sounds like a swan song event for the Fighting Irish coach, it just might be. Then again, maybe not.

Pero hasn't announced any retirement plans but his son, Dave Pero Jr., is thinking that once the season is over, the elder Pero just might call it a career.

"It's not guaranteed he's going to resign, but if I had to put a dollar on it, I would say it's his last year," Pero Jr. said.

Given that hunch, the assistant coach wanted to be sure his father got a proper send-off. The Friday game seems like the best time to do it with only two home games left on the schedule -- a weekday game, which former players who are in college wouldn't be able to attend, and then senior night, and on that night a farewell to the coach would take the spotlight away from the players.

Pero became head coach at the start of the 2002-03 season. His teams have notched eight five league titles, a state title (in 2013) and sectional titles in 2003, 2006 (the team lost the state title game that year), 2007 and 2013.

A logical choice of successor for Pero Sr., is Pero Jr., who said he's obviously interested in the job, but that's a decision for the Notre Dame Board, not to mention his wife, who he would ask to bless any such assignment.

UPDATE: More on Pero's record:  He is currently 234-51, and 101-12 at home. His teams have a postseason record of 34-11.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Photo: Demolition of Town of Batavia Fire's rec hall

post by Howard B. Owens in Town of Batavia Fire

Demolition has begun on the old Town of Batavia rec hall (and onetime fire hall) on Lewiston Road. The fire department is planning a new, modern fire hall at the location, as well as a new Station #2 on Clinton Street Road.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 9:22 am

Sheriff's Office announces retirement of two deputies

post by Howard B. Owens in Sheriff's Office

Press release:

Deputy Daniel M. VanValkenburg, of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office retired December 20, 2014, after 20 years of service. Deputy VanValkenburg started his career with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office on December 5, 1994, as a Correction Officer at the Jail.  He was appointed Deputy Sheriff-Road Patrol in 1998 and for the past two years, was assigned to the Court Security Detail. In addition to his normal duties, he also participated in community events on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office with the Safe Child ID Program. During his career, Deputy VanValkenburg has earned two Commendation Awards. 

Deputy John R. Duyssen, of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office will retire effective at the end of his shift tomorrow, January 30, 2015, after 21 years of service. Deputy Duyssen started his career with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office on April 19, 1993. In addition to his normal duties, he was also a Crash Reconstructionist, Field Training Officer and also conducted farm safety training for the agricultural community. During his career, Deputy Duyssen earned several awards which included Officer of the Year in 1998, three Meritorius Awards, and four Commendations. 

“Deputies VanValkenburg and Duyssen have been valued employees with the Sheriff’s Office, and everyone here wishes them all the best in their future endeavors,” stated Sheriff Gary Maha.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Planners look at how to make Batavia more attractive to Millennials

Millennials -- that generation born after 1980 but before the turn of the century -- came of age in a time of economic stagnation, fewer jobs, fewer chances for career advancement, lower pay.

Technology has ruled their lives.

They're getting married later in life, starting families later, and moving to smaller cities in droves.

Buffalo has attracted a 34-percent jump in recent college graduate residents, outpacing bigger cities such as Los Angeles.

All of these trends, and more, are attracting the attention of land use planners and informing a new way of looking at planning, said Felipe A. Oltramari, director of the the Genesee County Planning Department, during a presentation at City Hall this morning on the Millennial Generation.

There are 87 million people born in the Millennial decades, about 11 million more than were born during the Baby Boom years.

What they want out of life tends to be far different than Baby Boomers or even Gen-X.

To them, suburbs are dead.

A higher percentage of them than any previous generation have never had a driver's license. Often, they don't own cars.

They're more environmentally aware and socially connected through their digital devices.

The reason they're flocking to cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Portland and Houston is they're more interested in deciding what lifestyle they want before deciding what job they will take, Oltramari said.

Sixty-four percent settle in a city before they get their first job offer.

"It's going to be a difficult job market any place you go, so you might as well go to someplace where you want to live," Oltramari said.

So why not go to New York City instead of Buffalo?

Because it costs a lot more to live in NYC than Buffalo.

So why come to Batavia instead of Buffalo?

Because, Oltramari said, eventually, as Buffalo attracts more Millennials, the cost of living will rise. Adjacent small cities such as Batavia can offer some of the same advantages of bigger cities, but at an affordable price.

Besides, Millennials are the coming economic driver, so Batavia should be planning to be the kind of community they want now; otherwise, we get left behind.

The planning model for this new urbanism is called "form based."

From the 1920s until recently, all planning was built around zoning codes -- what developers cannot do, not what a community wanted.

Planning zones were radically segregated, not just separating, say, residential from industrial, but apartments from houses, offices from retail space, artisans from factories.

Mix-use was a product of the organic growth of American cities in the 19th Century, but planners tried to stamp it out in the 20th Century.

In the post-War years, as suburbs grew and highways were built to accommodate the booming auto industry, planners replaced dense city blocks with strip malls and paved over culturally diverse neighborhoods.

Batavia, with its white elephant of a mall and Urban Renewal conformity, is an example of a city that lost its soul to parking lots and drive-thru restaurants.

"What planners tried to do was try to make our cities more like suburbs, and what did we get? Very bad suburbs," Oltramari said.

Form-based codes allow cities to set a vision for what they want to be.  

"Conventional planning looks at use, not at form," said Derik Kane, a senior planner for the county, and himself of the Millennial Generation. "In looking at use, you eliminated things you might want, such as small artisans when you moved out the industry, things like that that make an economy and a community. With form-based codes, instead of eliminating things you don't want, you say what you do want."

For developers, new construction and renovation of existing structures becomes a more streamlined process.  

A community with form-based codes doesn't need to require a developer to go through the current lengthy and expensive environmental review process, Oltramari said, because a conforming proposal will already fit within those environmental requirements.

"We need to be moving at the speed of business," said Chris Suozzi, VP of business development for Genesee County Economic Development Center. "Developers don't want delays."

The City Council has already approved funding for a new master plan for Batavia and City Manager Jason Molino said form-based codes will certainly be part of the discussion as the process moves forward.

Urban Renewal did a lot of damage to Downtown Batavia, but there are still positive aspects that can be enhanced.

Kane pointed out that experts in new urbanism recommend you build on successes, rather than trying to fix problems.

For Batavia, that success would center around Jackson Square, especially Jackson Street.

Oltramari suggested borrowing a page from a small Massachusetts city and building over a portion of the parking lot on the west side of Jackson Street and putting up a row of single-story, small retail shops.

Millennials want walkable communities -- remember, they often don't have cars -- which means density, and more retail on Jackson would give them what they want.

County planning is planning on bringing in a walkability expert this summer to study Batavia, but online resources such as WalkScore.com already give Batavia low marks.

On a scale that counts 80 as pretty good, very little of Batavia scores higher than 70 (my house, three blocks south of Downtown Jackson Street, scores 67).  

Greater density and more options downtown would help improve those scores, which Millennials look at when deciding where to live.

One issue planners might wrestle with is Baby Boomers still have an auto-oriented mindset. They demand parking. They expect to park right in front of the store they wish to enter. Any proposal to eliminate parking downtown is going to meet resistance, even as data shows it's not necessary.

People will park and walk, or just walk from their residence, if it's an interesting walk, Oltramari said. 

"Nobody wants to park on the far edge of the Walmart parking and walk to the store, because it's not interesting," Oltramari said. "But if you measure it, they probably walk at least twice that distance once they get inside the store."

People will walk for blocks and blocks at Disneyland, he noted, and then come home and complain if they can't find a convenient parking place downtown.

For Millennials, if they're living and working in a neighborhood they like, parking simply isn't an issue.

"The good news is, we know how to build this way," Kane said. "We built this way for centuries.  Your villages, your main steets, are all walkable places."

Copies of the slides used in Oltramari's presentation along with related material can be found on the Web page for the county planning department.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Law and Order: Woman accused of providing alcohol to four minors

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, Stafford

Carolina M. Frias, 34, of West Main Street, Batavia, is charged with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child and criminal nuisance. Frias is accused of providing alcohol to four juveniles at her residence.

Kimberly A. Brodsky, 23, of Elm Street, Batavia, was arrested on a warrant for alleged failure to appear on a traffic ticket. Brodsky turned herself in to Batavia PD. Brodsky's mother posted $250 bail.

Marene A. Donnelly, 29, of Oak Orchard East, Albion, was arrested on a warrant for allegedly parking after hours on city streets. She turned herself in to Batavia PD.

Kelly A. Kasper, 44, of Dellinger Avenue, Batavia, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Kasper is accused of causing pain to a child during a domestic incident. She was jailed on $3,000 bail.

Kurt Wayne Tripp, 58, of Bernd Road, Le Roy, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .08 or greater, moving from lane unsafely and refusal to take breath test. Tripp was arrested following a report of a vehicle on fire in a field at 7:53 p.m. Monday on Buckley Road, Stafford. It's alleged that Tripp drove a 2006 Chevrolet pickup while intoxicated when it travelled off the west shoulder of the road and eventually caught fire.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Task Force announces arrest of two suspected dealers

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bergen, byron, crime, Pavilion
Joshua Baltz

A pair of investigations by the Local Drug Task Force has led to the arrest of two men, one accused of selling a controlled substance, the other of selling marijuana.

Busted were Joshua L. Baltz, 38, of Wood Street, Batavia, and Mark A. Knickerbocker, 17, of Route 262 in Byron.

Baltz allegedly sold a quantity of suboxone to an undercover agent on three separate occasions, once in Pavilion and twice in the City. 

He is charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, 4th, a Class C felony.

Knickerbocker is accused of selling marijuana to a person under age 18 while in the Town of Bergen in May.

He is charged with criminal sale of marijuana, 2nd, a Class D felony.

The task force was assisted by the District Attorney's Office, uniformed deputies and Batavia PD.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Batavia beats Lackawanna 73-32

post by Howard B. Owens in basketball, batavia, Batavia HS, high school sports, sports

With an offense that distributed the points a bit, the Batavia Blue Devils beat Lackawanna on Tuesday night in a non-league game, 73-32.

As usual, Jeff Redband led the team in scoring, this time with 20 points.  Mmalachi Chenault had 13, Jarred Lasket, 9, Ryan Hogan, 8 and James Schrider, 8.

Redband added eight rebounds and three assists and had a blocked shot. 

Batavia was 46.4 percent from the field and 81.2 percent on free throws.

Batavia is now 10-2 on the season.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 10:51 pm

State releases mixed unemployment numbers for Genesee County

post by Howard B. Owens in jobs

The latest employment data for Genesee County paints a mixed picture of the local economy, with some indicators higher and some lower than previous measurements.

The county's unemployment rate for December hit 5.6 percent, which is lower than the 6.1 percent of a year ago, but two-tenths of a percentage point higher than November.

It's also higher than the fiscal year's lowest rate of 4.8 percent in August.

The total number of unemployed in the county fell from 1,900 to 1,700, year-over-year, but the number of total employed workers in the country also fell, from 28,900 to 28,000.

The state's unemployment rate is 5.7 percent.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Old Batavia Photo: Batavia Archers

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, history

Tony Mancuso shared with us another picture of old Batavia from his family archive. This shot is of a group known as the Batavia Archers. He doesn't know the year nor can he identify most of the people in the photo. He'd love to hear from anybody who can. His father, Joe Mancuso, is second from the left. The young lad looking like Robin Hood, near the center of the photo with the feather in his cap, is Jim DiSalvo, currently owner of Applied Business Systems and of the home on Fargo Road known for its annual Christmas lights display.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Attorney for Jacquelyn Deats plans series of pre-trial appeals to get charge dismissed

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Baby Chandler, crime
Jacquelyn Deats

The Batavia woman who at one time thought she was the grandmother of a baby who died while reportedly in her son's care should have the criminal charge against her dismissed, her attorney will argue in a series of motions that will be filed March 3.

Jacquelyn Deats is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, under the theory that she took no action to seek medical attention for 6-month-old Chandler Zuchs before he died Dec. 10.

Court documents that were available at the time -- and have since been sealed -- contained statements by Jacquelyn Deats and her son Jeffrey Deats that seem to indicate the once-presumed grandmother was alone with Baby Chandler and noticed something wrong, but didn't call for an ambulance.

When Jeffrey Deats came downstairs that morning, he found Baby Chandler unresponsive. It was then that 9-1-1 was called.

Baby Chandler, according to later medical examiner reports, died of brain injuries.

Jeffrey Deats, who seems to have believed he fathered Chandler with Michelle Zuchs (aka Michelle Denise), was charged with manslaughter.

In Facebook and Twitter posts, prior to Chandler's death, he displayed a good deal of pride and affection for little Chandler.

While confined to the Genesee County Jail, Deats learned he wasn't Chandler's father.

A week after Chandler's death, Deats attempted to hang himself in his cell with bedsheets. He later died at ECMC.

Jacquelyn Deats appeared in court today with her attorney Thomas Burns and entered a not guilty plea to the charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Burns, always aggressive on behalf of his clients, plans to file several motions aimed at either getting the charges dismissed or his client's statements surpressed.

Outside of court, Burns said he plans to challenge the legal sufficiency of the charge as well as bring a motion to dismiss the charge in the interest of justice.

A dismissal in the interest of justice has legal precedent and is predicated on a series of legal tests the judge must consider. 

"The case meets all the criteria for dismissal," Burns said. "(The motion) doesn't necessarily look at the merits of the case, but at the person's background, culpability, lack of criminal record, lack of a drug problem, factors such as no need for rehabilitation, no protection of the community issues. You put it all together and argue that the charge should be dismissed."

Burns has yet to see any evidence in the case, which could also be a factor in his series of motions.

With the Jeffrey Deats case sealed, it's unclear if Burns will have access to the medical records and police reports.

The case was sealed by Judge Robert Balbick under New York Law that requires cases to be sealed when a criminal case is resolved in the defendant's favor. With the death of Jeffrey Deats, the charges against him were dismissed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Naysayers aside, BDC gave city a return on its investment in 2014, coordinator tells council

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bdc, downtown, economic development

The City of Batavia has realized a 500-percent return on its $360,000 investment in community development, Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator, told the City Council on Monday night.

The Council has authorized $90,000 a year over four years to the Batavia Development Corporation- that's $360,000. In return, the BDC has generated more than $2.1 million in public-private investment in Downtown.

Several of the projects managed by BDC were building owners constructing renovated apartments, all of which rented immediately.

But perhaps the biggest win is the renovation of the old Carr's Warehouse in Jackson Square.

The property sat vacant and deteriorating for three years. The city marketed the building as a revitalization project and eventually found a developer.

With the help of a $115,000 state grant, Paul Thompson and his partners invested more than $500,000 in constructing four apartments and a first-floor office area.

The vacancies were filled as soon as construction was completed.

The property was assessed at $30,000, but since it was a city-foreclosed property, it was generating zero tax revenue. Now it's assessed at more than $200,000 and on the tax roles. (The developer has the option to apply for a tax abatement by March under a municipal program that works like a PILOT, offering tax relief on the increase in assessed value).

The nine new residential units, using current economic models, are worth about $5,000 each in extra consumer buying power Downtown, Pacatte said.

Pacatte's job has been funded in the past through the use of revenue generated by Batavia Downs and transferred by the state to the city on an annual basis.

Since this is not general fund revenue, it doesn't have any impact on local property taxes. Even so, there is some question as to whether the current council is willing to once again use city money to fund the development coordinator's position.

Pacatte's Monday presentation could be seen as a pitch to save her job, but that didn't stop her from getting a little feisty. She was full of energy during her presentation, and when she spoke about negative attitudes, Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian challenged the remark and Pacatte shot right back with her own view.

The topic of the exchange was the mall, which Pacatte had already called a travesty and an embarrassment and one of the factors weighing down economic development in the city.

"I think maybe people have a negative attitude because they have heard the same old thing year after year," Christian said. "How many years have we heard we're going to do something with the mall. I've sat on this board for 24 years and I've heard year after year we're going to do something with the mall."

Pacatte responded that she didn't say the BDC was going to do something with the mall, just that the issue needed to be resolved.

The negative attitude discussion harkens back to a consultant report from three years ago, which Pacatte referenced, that said one of the things hurting Batavia is a persistent, nagging culture of antagonism to new proposals.

From the report (pdf; page 29):

... many residents and business leaders alike are quick to say what is right about the place, but only after they or others have said how it is not the community it used to be. This habit goes to the core of the challenge for Batavia. Regardless of how effective the city government is, or how successful the schools are, or how homeowners keep up beautiful homes, there is always the perception that things used to be better. This sets up an impossible goal: Batavia needs to be as good as its finest past features, but without any of its previous problems, and certainly without any of yesterday’s resources. It allows critics to say, “see, I told you so.” It lives on phrases like “that can’t be done,” and “we tried that,” and “here’s why that won’t work.” Until the community addresses this problem, Batavia won’t achieve its full and substantial potential.

Pacatte has succeeded in helping to bring new development to Downtown Batavia despite the naysayers. Each new apartment development was met by a wave of criticism and endless predictions that nobody would rent such high-priced units.

Yet, there are no vacancies. Landlords rent the apartments as quickly as they become available.

The Carr's project was roundly criticized, yet it's successful.

The negative attitudes are just something to try and work though as a professional, Pacatte said after the meeting.

"I think it's important to listen to what the community is saying, but we also have access and in our profession we understand that these projects do happen and happen a lot in other communities and there's no reason it shouldn't happen in Batavia," Pacatte said. "We bring the folks to the table who can make it happen.

"It's important to hear some of the negativity at the time to maybe rethink how we approach a project," Pacatte added, "but it's important to be a professional and understand that it is possible and persevere to that end. I was hired to impact the economic community in Batavia and I believe that's what I'm doing when I push those projects forward."

In 2015, the BDC will look to advance the Batavia Opportunity Areas, such as the Della Penna property on Ellicott Street, and right next to it, the Santy Tires property.

The mall fits in there somewhere, as well, though that is a much stickier problem with all of the competing interests and ancient animosities. Pacatte believes there might be an opportunity to apply for funding in 2015 through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to pursue some sort of long-term solution.

She also sees as her job in 2015 an effort to foster a greater entrepreneurial spirit in Batavia, to coordinate and implement a new micro-enterprise grant program, and support an industry-specific incubator.

The BDC will also apply for more redevelopment grant money from the state.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 5:17 pm

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

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Vibrant Batavia

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

Some on council sounded a skeptical tone about continued funding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Hawley pushes for term limits in wake of Silver arrest

post by Howard B. Owens in steve hawley

Press release:

With the recent arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on alleged federal corruption charges, the culture of deceit, lies and bribery in Albany has been brought further into the public spotlight. It is unfortunate that a few members of the legislature refuse to follow the rules and fall victim to money and power. Scandals such as these bring a pejorative perception to the already tainted Albany culture and make it difficult for the rest of us who truly want to do what is best for all New Yorkers.

If the recent news regarding Speaker Silver has demonstrated anything, it is that we need ethics reforms in Albany now more than ever. It goes against the very function of our government to have a single person hold as much power as Sheldon Silver. Silver has omnipotent control over which bills come before the Assembly for a vote and how taxpayer funds are used. The length of time Silver has been in office, more than 20 years, has allowed him to accumulate significant wealth and power. Now we have discovered that much of his wealth and power allegedly was either illegally obtained or used to promote his own private interests.  

If we are to truly reform Albany’s culture of corruption, we need to pass the Public Officers Accountability Act. I sponsored this legislation last legislative term, along with almost all of my Assembly Minority colleagues, because I know that abuses of power such as these should be handled proactively. This legislation: limits the time a member of the legislature can serve as a committee chair or legislative leader to eight years; bans elected officials from future employment for certain felony convictions; and requires the return of campaign funds to donors or charities upon certain felony convictions. Furthermore, I sponsored Assembly Bill 4935 of 2014 that proposes stripping pension and retirement benefits from public officials convicted of certain felonies.  

Until these bills are taken up for a vote, we are leaving the door open for further abuses of power and theft from the public coffers. The last thing we need is career politicians who have lost interest in benefiting their constituencies in exchange for padding their own pockets and ensuring their own reelection. The only way to handle serious ethics violations is with a serious ethics reform bill, and the Public Officers Accountability Act provides a plethora of reforms that will prevent these abuses before they happen again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Assistant city manager reports on issues with new emergency radio system, and fixes

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, communications, Emergency Dispatch, Le Roy

They call it "the Lt. Whitcomb incident," Assistant City Manager Gretchen DiFante told the City Council Monday night.

Jeff Whitcomb, a city fire officer, was leading a group of firefighters into a burning building at Ellicott and Swan streets Sept. 18 when he tried to radio critical information to his scene commander, Chief Jim Maxwell.

Whitcomb couldn't get a "grant tone."

That radio message comes from the dispatch center and signals the radio channel is clear and the responder in the field can transmit. Without it, the radio in the responder's hand is not much more than a brick.

After the meeting, Maxwell confirmed there was an issue with Whitcomb's attempt to transmit that day.

"What happened there was the lieutenant was inside and he was trying to radio out and he couldn't, so we thought it was a system failure because he couldn't get the grant tone," Maxwell said. "After we submitted the problem report we got a response back from Harris that the system worked the way it was supposed (to). We were operating at the fire ground on the same channel they dispatch on and dispatch has priority."

The inability for a firefighter in a burning building to transmit, even if only delayed by seconds, can mean the difference between life and death.

"This was a major turning point for us," DiFante said. "That's when I went to my boss and said, 'oh, boy, Mr. Molino, we've got to do something about this.' "

DiFante recognized immediately that not only were lives at stake, but as a matter of her fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers, the city faced a potentially monstrous liability issue if police officers and firefighters were saddled with a communication system that made them vulnerable in moments of crisis.

A year ago, the county switched communication systems for police and fire to a $10 million digital system designed and built by Rochester-based Harris RF.

The need for the new system was largely driven by the FCC and Homeland Security, with a goal of freeing up the frequencies used by the old system and improving interoperability between local departments on a nationwide basis.

The grant money available for the new system came with a hard deadline for launching the Harris system.

Typically, a new communications system can be tested and refined over an 18-month period, which is what Ontario County did, DiFante said.

Genesee County got no time to test its new system before the old system was shut down.

When DiFante researched the issue, she found other jurisdictions facing similar issues with the Harris system. Miami-Dade County had to buy a new system. Las Vegas is tied up in a lawsuit with Harris. Oakland PD has had trouble, including 35 minutes of downtime when President Obama was in town.

The issue, however, she said, isn't with Harris. It's the nature of digital technology. Anybody with cable TV, she said, understands that digital technology is subject to disruption.

"Digital technology is great when it works, but when it doesn't, it causes things to happen," DiFante said.

So DiFante asked her contact at Harris which agency was doing the best with the new system, and she was told, without a doubt, Ontario County.

In her first contact with a communications director in Ontario County, he had a reaction she found common during her research -- those poor people in Genesee County.

"You know what he said -- everybody says the same thing when you tell them you're from Genesee County, 'you know what Gretchen, those poor people over in Genesee County and what they had to do,' " DiFante said.

From Ontario County, she was given the name of a consultant whom Harris is now paying to help the county resolve some of the issues facing the system.

This research, she said, led to the City Fire Department changing its communication protocol.

The volunteer departments in the county are going to the same procedure.

It won't be until March, DiFante said, before all the radios are reprogrammed.

The new system will require scene commanders to carry two radios. One will be used for communicating with dispatch. The other will be tuned to an analog tactical channel, which will be the channel used by firefighters use to communicate with each other while at a fire scene.

There will no longer be an issue with dispatch communications taking priority on the same channel with firefighter-to-firefighter communication.

There remain issues with the system DiFante said, though things have improved dramatically for both the police department and fire department over the past several months.

"We're very close to resolution," DiFante said. "What's happened since October is exciting. I can sleep better at night. This is the only thing that has kept me awake at night since I started my job."

Chief Shawn Heubusch agreed that when the new radio system was first introduced, he was troubled by the communications issues and concerned about the safety of his officers.

"There are some issues, as with any new product that is out there," Heubusch said. "It's constantly being tweaked. As she mentioned, it takes 18 months to vet these things. We didn't have that kind of time, so to put one consultant's words out there, 'we watched sausage being made.' Nobody wants to see sausage being made."

While DiFante held up folders full of trouble reports filed by the city with the county about the radio system, Heubusch said most of those trouble reports were filed months ago.

"They've made great strides in correcting the issues," Heubusch said.

Sheriff Gary Maha confirmed this morning that the county has not received a trouble report from the city since November.

Every radio system has its own issues, Heubusch said. The old system had dead spots in the city, and going back even further, when dispatch was handled by City PD, officers knew there were certain buildings -- such as the Harvester complex -- where they would be out of radio contact while inside.

"There are certain inherent dangers to public safety work that we kind of just take for granted, that we understand are out there," Heubusch said. "Digital technology has come a long way since it was implemented and again we are working on the issues that are in play with this system now and they've made great strides in making our officers and fire officers much safer."

There are issues, DiFante said, with gain control and voice fluctuations.

She also said there are still significant issues with coverage areas in Le Roy, but declined during her presentation to go into detail.

We spoke with Chief Chris Hayward, Le Roy PD, this morning and he confirmed there are ongoing issues that the county and Harris are working diligently to try and resolve.

There's one section of the village and some sections of the Town of Le Roy where the radios don't work well.

With the old system, the county had three antenna towers. The new system has six. One is on Cedar Street in Batavia, three are on the west end of the county, and there is one in Bergen and another in Pavilion.

There isn't a tower in the middle of the east side of the county.

A solution to Le Roy's dead-spot issue might be constructing a tower on Asbury Road.

Putting in a repeater at that location was the solution in the 1990s when Le Roy PD and Fire had reception issues with the old system.

Harris is running tests this week to try and identify any technology in the area that might be creating interference. At one time, there was concern that the LED lights on police cars were causing interference, but that has been ruled out, Hayward said.

As for using a tac channel for firefighters, he said the Le Roy Fire Department came upon that solution to its communication issues soon after the new radios were operational.

Hayward said he understands the county was put in this situation through no fault of its own and believes all involved are working to make things right.

"Hindsight is 20/20 and you can always ask, 'Why didn't think of this or why didn't think of that?' but I think they did a pretty good job of thinking ahead," Hayward said.

Heubusch also expressed confidence that everything possible is being done to ensure the county has a safe and reliable communications system for its emergency responders.

"It's the number-one priority with the county," Heubusch said. "It's the number-one priority with the city. It's the number-one priority with Harris -- keep everybody out there safe."

DiFante's presentation was only a portion of her 40-minute talk in front of City Council, which was really about all of the work she's done since becoming assistant city manager.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015 at 6:14 pm

When the weather warms up, Bill Cultrara will be cooking again, with Duke's Smokin' Bone

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bill cultrara, business, dining, food

Bill Cultrara and Larry Reisdorf are eager for the snow to clear from the smoker so they can get busy again with some serious BBQ.

Reisdorf has owned and operated Duke's Smokin' Bone, a catering service, for about a decade, and with business growing, he thought Cultrara's experience and expertise could help kick things up a notch.

Cultrara is a chef and former owner of Delavan's.

"With his experience, I thought it would be great if we could team up and work together," Reisdorf said.

Fans of Delavan's will be glad to see Cultrara cooking again, and happy to know Duke's will start offering his secret-recipe Italian sausage.

"I saw this as a different opportunity, nothing I've ever done before, and I like to learn," Cultrura said.

The new menu will include spatchcocked chicken and beer can chicken along with beef brisket and ziti and sausage (smoked or grilled). Duke's longtime favorites, quarter chicken, pulled pork and ribs, along with a several other meats, will also be available.

Duke's is available for private parties, corporate events and graduations.

For more information, visit Duke's Web site.

Monday, January 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Knights bid retiring coaches a farewell at annual dinner

post by Howard B. Owens in football, high school sports, Le Roy, sports

Jim Bonacquisti roasted retiring Le Roy football coaches Andrew Paladino and Brian Moran at the team's annual post-season dinner Sunday at the Stafford Fire Hall.

Paladino spent 30 years as the Oatkan Knights' defensive coordinator. Moran was the head coach for 26 seasons and retired with 203 wins, a state championship and 14 sectional titles.

The other coaches presented Paladino and Moran with rocking chairs.

JV Assistant Coach Jeff Condidorio was presented with a signed football by Moran. Condidorio is retiring after nearly 40 years with the football program.

Moran called each player to the podium and spoke briefly about their season and their career with the team. The seniors each received a miniature, mounted football helmet with their numbers on it. Here he's with QB Mike McMullen.

A slide show of more pictures will be posted later.

Monday, January 26, 2015 at 11:22 am

Moreland Commission reviewed Hawley's records and found no issues

post by Howard B. Owens in steve hawley

The now-defunct Moreland Commission took three months to review Assemblyman Steve Hawley's financial and business records and found nothing amiss, Hawley told a luncheon in Orleans County on Friday.

“There’s an old adage: ‘If you have nothing to hide, comply,’ ” Hawley said.

Orleans Hub reports that Hawley turned over a list of clients, employees, family members, advertisements, political materials, income taxes and property taxes. It was an exhaustive collection of documents.

Besides sitting in the Assembly, Hawley owns an insurance business based in Batavia.

The three-month review to see if Hawley was making money in kickbacks or abusing his public office for financial gain found Hawley was not misusing his office. Everything was clear.

Hawley's remarks came shortly after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on federal charges for allegedly taking kickbacks. Silver has temporarily stepped down from his leadership position.

The Moreland Commission was disbanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo before its work was seemingly complete, a decision that was controversial at the time and has been reexamined in light of the charges against Silver.

For more on the story, visit Orleans Hub.

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