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Vibrant Batavia Community Network meets resistance on more funding

BATAVIA – While it has been able to bring neighbors together and persuade businesses to champion a yearlong centennial celebration, the Vibrant Batavia Community Network found out Monday night that its toughest task yet may be convincing the City Council to continue to fund the community-enhancement program.

Leanna DiRisio, coordinator of Vibrant Batavia, asked the Council for $50,000 for 2015 after favorable comments from city residents and her report of the organization’s accomplishments. The request comes on the heels of the Council’s contribution of $80,000 over Vibrant Batavia’s first two years of existence.

All of the Council members who spoke during the conference session acknowledged Vibrant Batavia’s good work, which includes raising $124,000 from Batavia merchants for the centennial celebration that kicked off on New Year’s Eve, hosting several neighborhood block parties and the publishing of the Vibrant Times quarterly newsletter.

But a few Council members balked at using more taxpayer money to fund the program. “I’ve got to put my personal feelings aside because of the comments coming to me” from city residents, Councilman John Deleo said. “I work for the voters, who can understand the (proposed) water rates increase but can’t understand the 1.47 percent (proposed tax increase).”

Vibrant Batavia was formed in 2012 as a part of a strategy to improve the city’s neighborhoods and strengthen its downtown economy. The city entered into a contract with NeighborWorks Rochester, which advises and oversees Vibrant Batavia and pays DiRisio’s salary – currently $13.50 per hour for 20 hours a week – and in return receives a 5 percent service fee.

Business owner Mary Valle, a member of the Vibrant Batavia task force, said DiRisio “puts in twice as many hours as she is paid and has done a fabulous job.”

Valle thanked the Council for its financial support and noted that Deleo was among those who believed that Vibrant Batavia would not be able to raise Council’s goal of $86,000. “We raised $124,000 for the centennial celebration excluding Vibrant Times (an additional $22,000),” she said. “I would be disappointed and embarrassed if you wouldn’t go along. If you do pull back, our business leaders – and I being one of them – would be very hesitant to contribute again.”

Councilman Eugene Jankowski said that the $124,000 is to be used exclusively for events and activities tied to the centennial and that “it should go on as planned.”

“Everyone agrees that (Vibrant Batavia) is a good thing, but the disagreement comes on whether tax dollars and the government should be funding it completely,” he said. “Maybe it could be funded to a different degree as it is now. Maybe there could be a compromise.”

The Council also heard from Julie Pacatte, director of Batavia Development Corp., which is seeking to extend its agreement with the city through August 2018. The agency is again seeking $90,000 for its operating budget plus $35,000 for the revolving loan fund to help businesses.

In other business, the Council announced that it is looking to fill a part-time position of City Court judge for a six-year term, effective April 21. Applicants must be attorneys living in the city who have practiced law in New York State for at least five years.