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Batavia Council approves general budget; votes to fund development initiatives

BATAVIA – By 7-2 margins, City Council on Monday night approved a $15 million general budget that includes funding of the assistant city manager position and the continued financing of Vibrant Batavia and the Batavia Development Corp.

Passage of the budget results in a tax hike of 0.49 percent, which equates to an increase of $6.30 for the year to the average homeowner with a house assessed at $90,000.

Council also passed a 10-year capital project to upgrade the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, and a corresponding 3.5 percent increase in water rates and meter fees. Coupled with the budget tax increase, the same homeowner will pay $19.38 more in taxes for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Councilman John Deleo and Councilwoman Kathleen Briggs cast “no” votes on the budget.

Throughout the budget process, Council members heard from numerous residents and debated at length about the future of the assistant city manager post, Vibrant Batavia and the Batavia Development Corp.

Monday night was no exception as the board entertained a motion by Deleo and seconded by Briggs to eliminate the assistant city manager position that was created by a 5-4 vote in 2014.

“I’m for small government, but we seem to be getting fatter as taxpayers are getting thinner,” Deleo said. Before Gretchen L. DiFante was hired, the post was a combined job – assistant manager and head of the Department of Public Works.

Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian countered by commending DiFante for her efforts in removing city properties from the flood plain and taking the lead on several other projects.

“We voted for the assistant manager position and now you say ‘no?’ ” she said. “Gretchen has done a great job. … We’re at a point where this man (City Manager Jason R. Molino) needs help.”

Several board members said that cutting the position would adversely affect the budget.

“There will be ramifications,” said Councilman Pierluigi Cipollone. “Functions would have to be staffed by someone else. There are 22 specific items that call for guidance from the City Manager’s Office.”

Council voted, 7-2, in favor of keeping the assistant manager, with Deleo and Briggs voting against it.

“I’m just happy that City Council decided to invest in growth of the community,” said DiFante, who was hired at a salary of $75,905. “That is always what seems to be lacking to me.”

The importance of developing close-knit neighborhoods, and promoting investment in the city won out as Council voted to use surplus funds derived from Video Lottery Terminal state aid to maintain Vibrant Batavia and the BDC.

In both cases, Deleo and Briggs cast “no” votes.

The Council went with Molino’s recommendation to make a two-year commitment of $70,000 to Vibrant Batavia contingent upon the community improvement group’s ability to identify alternative funding sources thereafter.

It also agreed to allocate $250,000 in VLT money to the BDC for two years to underwrite economic development activities and to recapitalize the city’s fund for small-business loans.