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Batavia eyes measure to spur development of abandoned homes

BATAVIA – The City Council is considering a slightly altered version of a proposal from City Manager Jason R. Molino to enact legislation designed to spur the redevelopment of abandoned houses into owner-occupied single-family residences.

Speaking at the board’s conference meeting Monday night, Molino outlined a plan that would provide an incentive to those willing to invest their money and time to transform highly distressed properties, of which there are around 50 in the city.

Molino, with assistance from the New York Conference of Mayors, crafted legislation featuring a gap financing tool to exempt the increase in assessed value for the redevelopment for up to 25 years.

“We went with the 25-year exemption because it is parallel to a residential mortgage,” said Molino, noting that the tax break would be applied only in cases where renovation results in a single-family home – and not to assist rental or income properties.

To illustrate his point, Molino said that by putting $60,000 into a home assessed at $40,000, the new assessed value would go up by $35,000. Gap financing would then kick in, providing a $25,000 exemption (the total cost of redevelopment minus the increase in assessed value).

The resulting increase in taxes (based on current city, county and school tax rates) would be $1,519. By dividing that amount into $25,000, the homeowner would receive a full exemption for 16 ½ years.

“The city, county and school district would continue to receive taxes on the base assessment of $40,000,” Molino said.

Molino put his proposal into a resolution that, with the approval of the Council, would be forwarded to the State Senate and Assembly in the hope that it will be drafted into a bill and eventually into law.

While Council members said they like the idea, several were not on board with the 25-year provision.

“I’m not crazy about a 25-year exemption,” said Rose Mary Christian. And Kris Doeringer suggested a graduated format.

After discussion, the Council asked Molino to report back with an amended version where the exemption decreases by a certain percentage incrementally over time.

Molino said he would rework his proposal in time for the Council to act on it at its April 13 business meeting.

In other developments at the meeting: the Council:

• Listened to a presentation by members of the University at Buffalo Animal Law Pro Bono Project Group on how to manage the growing feral cat population in the city. Law students Joseph Smith and Nicole Komin encouraged Council to adopt a model community cat ordinance, prepared by the law school, which advocates a trap, neuter, vaccinate and return approach to controlling community cats.

“TNVR is the scientifically proven best way to manage cat populations,” Smith said. “Catching and killing them doesn’t work because you can’t catch them all, and leaving them alone doesn’t address the underlying problem.”

Council members asked Molino and Assistant City Manager Gretchen L. DiFante to look into forming a task force to research the matter and develop a strategy to address the problem. 

• Voted unanimously to appoint Batavia attorney Durin B. Rogers to the position of part-time City Court justice, replacing Michael Del Plato, who decided not to renew his term. Rogers will begin his six-year term on April 21. Salary for the post was not disclosed.

• Agreed to consider, at its business meeting on April 13, the renewal of its lease and sublease with the Rochester Red Wings for the Triple A baseball organization to manage the city-owned Dwyer Stadium and the Batavia Muckdogs for the 2015 and 2016 New York-Penn League seasons.

• Learned that the city fire department has applied for a grant to fill three current vacancies through the Department of Homeland Security. The grant would be for $500,000 and would require no matching funds from the city.

• Received a recommendation from Sally Kuzon, director of public works, to approve the replacement of the city’s water plant roof, which has deteriorated over the past 20 years. Kuzon said she anticipates opening bids on April 6 and putting the matter to vote a week later.