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City council debates spending for new administrator, Wi-Fi and a surveillance camera

It seems clear from the discussion at Monday night's city council meeting that resurrecting the assistant city manager position, which had been axed to save money in the past, would be a hard sell.

Springing for free Wi-Fi Downtown wasn't eagerly embraced either. Buying a neighborhhood surveillance camera, also part of the 2014-15 spending plan, got mixed reviews.

“The budget focuses on issues of priority by helping to improve the quality of life in Batavia,” City Manager Jason Molino said. “We're talking about neighborhood initiatives. In order to provide these services, you've got to have staff to do it.”

A portion of the 4.4-percent spending increase in the proposed budget would go to hire an assistant city manager to help make Batavia more vibrant and less flood-prone.

A primary duty would be to try and improve the city's flood insurance rating by culling from a 600-page guideline book for ways to mitigate flood issues as specified by the National Flood Insurance Program.

But not everyone wants to pay an annual salary of $63,000 to $77,000 for someone to do that.

“The city does not need an assistant city manager; it has done fine without one," said resident Lisa Whitehead. "City employees do the job and we don’t need to spend about $65,000 for a position that current employees already fill."

Councilwoman Kathy Briggs said the job can be done by the current staff members and hiring another administrator is not necessary.

“The City Manager and department heads need to prioritize in order to get the job done of assistant city manager,” Briggs said.

Other council members also balked at the expenditure.

“Looking over the budget, I am worried about whether we could afford to pay that salary,” Rose Mary Christian said.

Councilman Eugene Jankowski Jr. echoed the concern.

“Instead of going out and spending the money the city has saved on services in the past year, I think we should save it in order to keep the taxes down first,” he said.

The $16.6 million spending plan's offer of free Wi-Fi Downtown was viewed as a slippery slope by Whitehead.

“Once you set the precedent, where does it stop? Should our taxpayers be responsible for making Batavia a free Wi-Fi center in Western New York? I don’t think so,” Whitehead said.

Technology to bring vibrancy Downtown can also help improve neighborhood safety, according to Molino's plan, which pencils in $7,500 for a "neighborhood video surveillance camera.” Where the camera might be installed is not addressed.

Christian strongly supports the surveillance camera and suggested that it be put on her street first, then relocated to others.

“I really like the video surveillance and think we need that drastically,” Christian said.

Jankowski is concerned about the right to privacy for law-abiding citizens.

“I think we need to protect the privacy of people who are not committing criminal activity in the neighborhood," Jankowski said. "The video should only be used when there is justification to put it on the street, not just used randomly to video people on the street."

Of course, no one took issue with the plan to cut city property tax by 3 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value.

A budget session discussion is set for 6 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Resident Jim Rosenbeck urged the Council to take more risks, encourage public participation and embrace transparency -- not to duplicate services and manpower.

"The city has come a long way, although there are challenges ahead. I think our best plan is to dramatically rethink the size and role of city government,” Rosenbeck said.

Council has until April 1 to adopt a final budget.

John Roach
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Bonnie,
Lisa Whitehead was a speaker last night, not a Council member.

Jason Crater
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Neighborhood surveillance cameras? You're kidding right?

Doug Yeomans
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Jason, we're turning into great Britain. Ever notice how all the radio news reporters have a British accent now? GB is saturated with big brother watching all the time on camera. We're being assimilated!

Billie Owens
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John, Bonnie was right in the story she turned in to me. In the editing process, I made the error. It was entirely my fault. I corrected it ASAP. All apologies.

Mike Weaver
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The city discussed locking down streets yesterday, and today it is surveillance cameras.

I'm not sure I want to live in a community that is so inherently distrustful of the people within it.

Mark Janofsky
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Any of the naysayers have any suggestions regarding neighborhood improvement or trying to draw people into the city? Because the status quo sucks!

Mark Janofsky
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I really get sick of the old farts (literally and figuratively) getting up in front of Council every year and cry about how the city needs to slash and burn the budget. While we do need some watch dogs to keep the stupidly at bay, the city has to do something to attract people, especially young adults with jobs, into the city. Whether you like it or not we are in competition with our neighbors and we’re losing! The city needs a desirable edge that people can’t get locally by living outside of the city limits. Free Downtown WiFi is cheap and easy to setup. A few public use webcams that can be turned into surveillance cameras when the need arises are equally as cheap and easy to setup. And cleaning up the human vermin is a must regardless of the cost.

Mark Janofsky
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BTW, wasn’t Sally Kuzon originally hired as the assistant city manager and grant writer? She’s now the director of the DPW and made $93k last year. That’s more than the city manager. We had a much better deal with Len Walker, a licensed civil engineer, in charge of the DPW.

John Roach
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Kuzon was originally paid more because she was supposed to be the Asst Manager and head of the DPW, doing two jobs.

When we had Len Walker, we also paid for an Assistant Manager, the Engineer and a DPW head. There was also an Economic Development Coordinator, plus the Manager. That was 5 people. Now there are just two.

Peter O'Brien
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Mark, I am not an old fart and I want the budget slashed.

Free Wifi is not going to attract anyone to move here. If you want young people to stay in Batavia, putting up cameras is not going to do it. Your main attraction in the area is the Batavia Downs. Have you been there? Its blue hair central.

If you want to attract young people, you need to offer them something they can't get from Rochester or Buffalo. And it has to be more attractive than living near their friends.
If you really want them to move here, you need a college loan payback program that will pay their loans off if they live in the city for 8 years. By then, they will be 30 and thinking about starting or already have started a family.

Do you really think this city can or is willing to afford such a program? I don't. But I don't see any way your are going to get someone to make the choice I did 5 years ago.

I moved here because my house is huge and the cost was low. At the time I didn't have many friends in Rochester. Nor did I earn nearly what I make now. I can now afford a nice house in Chili and am thinking of moving there. It is closer to almost everything I like to do. Its closer to my friends who never visit because I am so far away. Its closer to my family. The only thing I would be moving away from would be the Muckdogs and the friends I made in the city while here. But Chili is not that far.

Not to mention they have a great adult rec program that Batavia doesn't offer.

Most young adults, if they choose to move out of their hometown (village) usually move out of state and for good reason. Jobs. There's not much in Batavia or Genesee County to offer these kids that is going to pay enough to cover living on their own and paying off student loans.

Eugene Jankowski Jr
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I'm a strong supporter of the US constitution and will never support anything that violates an individuals civil rights. I want to see a strict policy for the cameras use before I feel comfortable supporting this in the budget. As you read in the article I'm not a big fan of creating more Government management positions at the tax payer's expense. I expect this will be a much debated topic during the budget process.

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