Submitted by Howard Owens on January 23, 2013 - 1:11am
Given the backdrop of a proposed city budget that reduces local property taxes by 14.58 percent, various department heads sat before the Batavia City Council tonight and explained some of their funding needs.
The annual budget work session gives council members a chance to understand how taxpayer money will be spent and to ask questions, and even challenge, some of the budgeting decisions.
The discussion comes a week after City Manager Jason Molino presented the council with a proposed budget that reduces spending from a 2012 total of $15.8 million to $15.2 million for 2013.
Most of the savings comes from a proposal to change the way garbage is collected in the city.
For the past three decades, Genesee ARC has picked up residential garbage and recycling, with residents leaving their household waste by the curb in bags, cans and boxes.
The proposed new system would give each city residential property -- and some businesses -- at least two totes for refuse and recycling that could be collected by trucks fitted to dump the cans automatically.
According to Molino's budget, this would save -- especially if Allied/Republic is selected over Genesee ARC as the vendor for the new service -- some $218,000 in the first year.
That's a 21-percent reduction in expenses over what it would take to keep things as they are.
The city's tax rate would go down from $10.71 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.15.
The tax rate could conceivably go down even more, but the city is faced with a nearly $300,000 increase -- mandated, non-negotiable -- in pension costs.
For the third year in a row, the assessed value of city property has not increased.
With that backdrop, here are some key points from tonight's discussion:
- The city could receive $250,000 in revenue from Batavia Downs from video lottery terminals. The VTL revenue is never a sure thing because Albany sometimes decides not to release the funds. But if it comes through, half of the money would go to the revolving loan fund of the Batavia Development Corp. If that happens, the redevelopment coordinator job currently held by Julie Pacatte could be retained for another two years. Economic growth and new jobs are critical to growing Batavia's tax base, Molino said. About $30,000 would be used to recapitalize the revolving loan fund. The city would also continue its $10,000 annual contribution to fund the position. If the city doesn't receive the funds, the city council will need to make a decision about what do to with the economic development coordinator position. In response to questions from council members, Molino said the position is necessary because the Genesee County Economic Development Center is not focused on redevelopment, or "brown field" development -- the kind of economic development a built-out city needs. Rather, GCEDC is focused on "green field" projects such as the agri-business park and STAMP. That lack of focus on the city means if that the city is going to pursue business develoment, Molino said, it needs a person dedicated to that task.
- This spring and summer, look for a community garden at the youth center near Batavia High School. Nearby residents will be able to have plots to grow vegetibles for $15 to $35 per plot.
- In response to questions from council members: The city expects to pay $28 million on debt currently accured, including principle and interest, from 2008 to 2043. Molina said he will need to look up what the actual principle owed is on the city's debt.
- Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian raised the issue again of privatizing Falleti Ice Arena. "When are we going to get serious about letting somebody else take it over," Christian said. Molino said that while it's not certain, city staff believes if the city were to sell the arena, the proceeds would need to be spent on building a similar facility, under terms of a grant secured 30 years ago by then-Rep. Barber Conable.
- The Department of Public Works needs to spend $377,000 from its equipment reserve fund to replace aging trucks, including a loader, a single-axel dump truck and plow and two one-ton dump trucks.
- The city will spend $75,000 from the sidewalk reserve to replace some 12,000 feet of sidewalk, including walkways on Hutchins Street, Cedar Street, Tracy Avenue and Richmond Avenue.
- Council members asked why residents don't help pay for sidewalk replacement. Molino said sidewalks are legally the resident's responsibility. Councilman Jim Russell pointed out that at one time the city had a program whereby residents would share the cost of replacing sidewalks. Molino said city staff could research alternative programs. Such a program, Russell pointed out, could mean twice the amount of sidewalks could be replaced each year. Christian said she remembers when the city did that and it was no big deal to have the cost of a new sidewalk in front of your house tacked onto your tax bill. Molino said such an approach is popular across the country.
- Matt Worth, superintendent of water and sewer, said the city will need to hire a consultant this year to come up with a plan and a budget for removing sediment from one of the wastewater facility's treatment ponds. The actual clean-up work won't occur until 2014. The last time this was done the bill was $600,000, but the pond in rotation for clean up now doesn't have the filtration devices that the previous pond did, so the cost should be less. There is a build up of phosphorus in the pond. Phosphorus must be removed before the wastewater is introduced into the Tonawanda Creek, because it causes algae to grow, which isn't good for aquatic life. Worth said he remembers when he was a child how Lake Ontario would have a lot of foam on it. That was from phosphorous being dumped into the water stream (such as from laundry detergent). Worth said if the city doesn't clean the pond, the Department of Environmental Conservation will come down hard on the city. The clean up is mandated by the Clean Water Act. This is a once-every-22-years requirement for this pond.
- The city fire department is currently down five firefighters and by the middle of summer it will be short eight firefighters due to retirement. New firefighters won't graduate from the academy until August. By the end of 2013, city fire should be fully staffed.
- The department is hiring an already-trained firefighter, in his first year on the job, from Canandaigua. The Canandaigua department is reducing staffing. The new firefighter will be required to move to Genesee County, though not necessarily into the city. Questioned by Christian, Fire Chief Jim Maxwell, who started his job more than a year ago, said he has relocated his family to Genesee County. (After the meeting Molino said that reducing the number of firefighters in the city fire department will be a topic of negotiation with the union during upcoming contract talks.)
- Because of the shortage of firefighters following a spate of retirements, the city is expected to incure $220,000 in overtime expense in the department in 2013.
- Batavia PD faces a similar personnel shortage early in the year with the anticipated retirement (due to a forced restructuring of the department) of three lieutenants. A sergeant is also expected to retire. The city plans to replace the lieutenant positions with two new patrol officers and a sergeant. The department will also create a deputy chief position that will oversee road patrol. There are currently two vacant positions in the department and new officers aren't expected to start arriving until late summer.
- Staff shortages will mean an anticipated $220,000 in overtime expense for the police department.
- The city will also acquire a new patrol vehicle and a new supervisor's SUV at a cost of $55,000.
- Council President Tim Buckley questioned the need for five new Tasers at an expense of $5,200. Molino and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch explained that all new officers will be Taser-certified, which isn't necessarily the case with veteran officers. The use of Tasers and other non-lethal means to subdue suspects helps reduce the city's liability costs, Molino said.
- Heubusch said his former department, in Warsaw, had officers wear body cameras -- these attach to an officer's uniform and are activated when they are out of a patrol car and dealing with an incident. He said prosecutors love them because they record everything that an officer sees and everything that is said by the officer and a suspect. The city will purchase three such devices as a trial for using them in Batavia. Cost: $1,500.
- Batavia PD will try bicycle patrols for the first time in 2013. Cost: $1,500. This covers the bicycles, safety equipment and training. Heubusch said bicycle patrols will help the city enhance its community policing program.
- A public hearing on the budget, as well as a slight water rate increase and the new proposed refuse program will be Feb. 11.