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City Council split over future of Vibrant Batavia program

BATAVIA – A split on the future of Vibrant Batavia became crystal clear Monday night during the City Council’s discussion over whether it should continue to fund the community development network for the last two years of a recommended five-year commitment.

Council members Rose Mary Christian, Alfred McGinnis, Paul Viele and Kathleen Briggs said they are against allocating any more taxpayer money to support the initiative, which was started in 2012 under recommendations from the city’s Community Improvement Plan.

Last year, the Council authorized a $25,000 stipend for Vibrant Batavia activities in 2016-17, contingent on the network’s ability to raise $15,000 in private funding and to deliver a sustainability strategy.

With City Manager Jason R. Molino absent from Monday’s meeting, the Council was unable to get an answer on the status of the $15,000.

“They have to demonstrate that they have it (the money) for us to release the $25,000 or we can revoke it,” Council President Eugene A. Jankowski Jr. said.

That isn’t an issue as far as Christian is concerned. She said the city has many more pressing needs.

“We need surveillance cameras, sidewalks and video cameras for police officers. They have a spray park at Austin Park and we were supposed to get one on the south side,” she said. “We’re fiscally stressed … and we want to put money into Vibrant Batavia? Let’s end this. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Those on the other side of the issue – John Canale, Adam Tabelski and Patti Pacino – said they want to know if the $15,000 will be raised by Vibrant Batavia volunteers and are in favor of moving the discussion forward.

“Let’s take a look at where we are now and the good work that Vibrant Batavia has done,” Tabelski said.

Jankowski said the “great work” is not the issue – “the issue is how to fund it.”

He said he hopes that Molino will be able to make a presentation at the next Council meeting on May 9.

In a memo to the Council, Molino outlined the Vibrant Batavia funding plan for the next two years.

It calls for $25,000 from the Council, $24,000 that remains from prior-year appropriations, $33,000 from the sale of a house on Walnut Street through an auction and $15,000 from a grant to support “Healthy Blocks” initiatives in low- to moderate-income areas.

McGinnis balked at the city earmarking proceeds from the auction for Vibrant Batavia.

“Any money coming into the city should go to the general fund or to a specific (fund),” he said.

Molino also recommended that the city renew its agreement with NeighborWorks Rochester, which hires a community organizer and oversees the program. Currently, Vibrant Batavia is without a leader as a result of last month’s resignation of Leanna DiRisio.

NeighborWorks Rochester receives around $3,000 annually for its services, said Eric B. Van Dusen, the agency’s director of community initiatives.

In another development, the Council held a public hearing on its franchise agreement renewal with Time Warner Cable Northeast, LLC, for another 10 years.

No one spoke at the hearing, setting the stage for adoption by the Council on May 9.