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City Council’s 5-4 vote ends funding for Vibrant Batavia program

BATAVIA – The City Council’s 5-4 decision to stop funding Vibrant Batavia two years short of its anticipated five-year commitment is a step in the wrong direction, a volunteer on the community development network said this week.

“We’re very disappointed and we all feel really badly for a lot of different reasons,” said Mary R. Valle, owner of Valle Jewelers and a contributor to the program since its inception in 2012.

“I really believe that several of the Council members didn’t understand the value of it and couldn’t grasp the vision of what we had planned to do over the next couple years.”

Valle and other Vibrant Batavia supporters attended Monday’s Council meeting, and a couple of them spoke on behalf of the program. But they left feeling angry and betrayed after “no” votes were cast by Council President Eugene A. Jankowski Jr. and Council Members Rose Mary Christian, Alfred L. McGinnis, Paul L. Viele and Kathleen Briggs.

Council Members John L. Canale, Brooks M. Hawley, Patti Pacino and Adam M. Tabelski voted to continue to support the initiative.

“This was formed from a study paid for by City Council, recommendations that said we needed to work on changing negative attitudes in the city and hiring a community coordinator to make things happen,” Valle said. “Now, in the middle of it, just when things are moving forward, they stop it.”

Last year, the Council agreed to appropriate $25,000 for Vibrant Batavia in 2016-17 but reserved the right to rescind that money if the program’s organizers failed to show that they had raised $15,000 in private funding.

“The resolution was clear, and it still is on the table,” Jankowski said. “If, over the next few weeks, they came to us with news that they had raised the money – or at least a large portion of it – it would be difficult for us to deny funding them for another year.”

Jankowski mentioned that the Centennial Committee, which included Vibrant Batavia committee members, raised more than $130,000 from businesses.

“Why can’t Vibrant Batavia go out and do the same?” he asked.

Valle said volunteers would have continued to work on strategies and at events – such as “Healthy Block” gatherings that provide information on how to increase property values – but that they are not fundraisers.

City Manager Jason R. Molino presented several options to the Council to keep Vibrant Batavia going, including using proceeds from a Walnut Street home that was sold at auction, generating $33,000, but that, too, didn’t fly with the Council majority.

Molino said he disagreed with the Council’s decision, echoing Valle’s sentiments that “community development sometimes is a hard concept to understand.”

In the end, Jankowski said that he saw the value of a program such as Vibrant Batavia and thanked the committee for its efforts but that he wasn’t convinced that the city received a big enough return on its investment. “Most of the people I’ve talked to either didn’t know about it or thought it was a good idea but didn’t think the city should be paying for it,” Jankowski said.