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Batavia heads into a year of major roads, sewer, sidewalk construction

BATAVIA – City Manager Jason R Molino doesn’t give a formal “State of the City” address, but if he did, highlights of his speech would be City Council’s steadfast commitment to funding infrastructure improvements and its recent move toward downtown economic redevelopment.

“This Council has made it a priority to enhance the infrastructure – roads, water and sewer, and sidewalks – as part of our strategic plan, and its support of the Batavia Development Corporation to attract investors to our Brownfield Opportunity Area is beginning to pay off,” Molino said last week as he prepares for a Feb. 22 public hearing on the 2016-17 budget.

Batavia’s annual spending plan, which goes into effect on April 1, currently sits at $25.1 million and calls for a slight increase from last year’s tax rate – from $9.16 to $9.29 per thousand of assessed valuation. That equates to a hike of about $12 for the entire year on a home assessed at $90,000.

“Council realizes that revenues are constrained this year, sales tax is taking a hit,” Molino said, “but we are under the (state) tax cap so any increase will be returned to the home owner through New York’s property tax freeze credit.”

Molino said that planning is enabling the city to invest in its “physical assets,” noting that the 2016 construction season will be the busiest that Batavia has seen since its waste water plant project in the early 1990s.

Projects on the docket include reconstruction of Summit Street, a sanitary sewer system overhaul and street repaving on Washington Avenue, sanitary siphon work on State Street, and road resurfacing and sidewalk replacement on several streets off Jackson and South Main streets.

“Financially, we’re in good shape,” he said, noting that his office continues to streamline its budget and financial statement practices and is looking gain national accreditation for its Department of Public Works, and police and fire departments.

Last year, Batavia became just the third city to receive a Government Finance Officers Association budget award. The city also was recognized for transparency of its financial statements.

“By going in this direction, it demonstrates that the city is providing services based on best practices in the industry,” said Molino, who was named Batavia’s manager in 2006 after a stint as assistant manager of the village of Port Chester in Westchester County.

Molino credited Assistant City Manager Gretchen L. DiFante for her efforts in moving the city toward a self-insurance model in the area of workers compensation, action that is expected to save the city more than $250,000 in premiums next year.

DiFante also has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to gain the city’s admittance into the flood insurance discount program known as the Community Rating System. A rating from FEMA – which would lead to discounts for residents who own homes in the flood zone – is expected within a couple months.

The city’s most significant recent accomplishment could be the Batavia Development Corp.’s successful campaign to persuade Genesee County and the Batavia School District (the county’s other two taxing jurisdictions) to participate in its Batavia Pathway to Prosperity plan, Molino said.

Under this program, the city, county and school district would divert half of its future payments in lieu of taxes issued by the Genesee County Economic Development Center into a fund to be used for tax incentives for potential investors in the city’s downtown core 366-acre Brownfield Opportunity Area.

“This is the first of its kind in New York State,” Molino said. “To have all taxing jurisdictions plus the IDA and the BDC cooperatively partnering in the same vision is a big confidence booster for anyone who wants to invest in the BOA.”

These developments, along with the progress made by the Vibrant Batavia neighborhood improvement committee, have Batavia on the appropriate path to attracting a new generation of millennials to the city, Molino added.

“We’ve really begun to position ourselves to capture the benefits of what’s happening at STAMP (Western New York Science and Advanced Technology Park in the Town of Alabama) and with other county economic initiatives,” Molino said. “We can offer a better quality of life by becoming modern in everything we do.”