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Batavia council says ‘no’ to police consolidation study

BATAVIA – The viewpoints of a couple of new members and some pointed comments from residents have led the City Council to rescind its support of a law enforcement consolidation study with Genesee County and the Village of Le Roy.

Two months ago – and before three Council seats changed hands – the lawmakers agreed to sit down with county and Le Roy officials to look into the possibility of blending the city’s police department into the county Sheriff’s Office.

That option was taken off the table, however, at Monday’s conference meeting at City Hall.

“It’s not an about-face,” said Council President Eugene A. Jankowski Jr., responding to a reporter’s question inferring that the Council was being indecisive in light of a Council-appointed task force’s recommendation to build a new city police facility on a vacant parcel on Swan Street.

“We have had a chance to get feedback (from the public) and we have three new Council members. It’s just a change in direction. People have expressed that they don’t want to waste any money on a new study and that they want to keep their police force,” he said.

Jankowski said he heard that petitions had been circulated and noted much activity on social media in favor of retaining a police presence in the city.

“I think what we learned tonight is that we want to move forward with the (new) building, but maybe on a smaller scale than the (proposed) $10 million cost,” he said.

The Council had asked City Manager Jason R. Molino to find out if any grants were available to fund a study. Molino came back with two grant programs that, if received, could have funded up to 90 percent of the cost of the study, which he estimated at $80,000 to $100,000.

Even before that point could be articulated, Council Member Rose Mary Christian spoke out strongly against the study.

“Some of our police officers and detectives will not be here if we get into this, so I’m not willing to put anything into it,” she said. “Crime is going up and drugs are rampant. I don’t want to call dispatch … and have to wait 15 to 20 minutes (for someone to respond).”

Newcomers Alfred L. McGinnis and Paul L. Viele agreed with Christian, as did Patti Pacino, Kathleen Briggs and Jankowski – and those six voted against drafting a resolution to participate in the joint study. John L. Canale, Brooks M. Hawley and newcomer Adam M. Tabelski voted for it.

“My only concern is this study was in reaction to public feedback we had gotten from the possibility of spending a lot of money on a new police facility,” said Canale, stressing that he doesn’t want to be pegged as someone who wants to eliminate the city police department.

“If we are saying we don’t want to look at this option, are we saying let’s build the new $10 million facility? I think it would be better to spend some tax dollars (on the study) if it means saving ourselves a lot of tax dollars in the future.”

Both Tabelski and Hawley said they support the study as a way to show residents that the Council is willing to do its “due diligence” before undertaking such a big project.

In the end, the Council agreed to discuss the issue further at its next conference meeting on Feb. 22.

In other action, the Council:

• Tentatively set budget work sessions for Feb. 1, 9 and 16, leading to a proposed public hearing date of Feb. 22 on the $24.8 million spending plan for the 2016-17 fiscal year. If deliberations remain on schedule, the budget and related resolutions would be adopted on March 14.

• Voted to draft a resolution modifying the municipal code to allow business owners to change the message of their digital signs once every 10 seconds instead of the current ordinance that permits a change once every 24 hours.

• Jankowski said the Council will seek the input of the City Planning & Development Committee before rendering a final decision on the matter. The Council’s action pleased Jeremy Liles, owner of Oliver’s Candies, who had spoken against the code. “I’m happier than I was before,” Liles said.

• Voted unanimously to transfer two blighted properties on Ellicott Street to the Batavia Development Corp. for the purpose of making them available to private companies for reuse and redevelopment. The parcels, which housed the former Soccio & Della Penna construction firm and Santy’s Tire Sales, were sold for $1 each. The city had been awaiting a default foreclosure judgement on both properties.