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Canandaigua City Council approves acceptance of climate smart project despite COVID-19 crisis

Thursday evening the Canandaigua City Council met for its May meeting. The meeting was held via Zoom conference call and was available for residents to view live on Finger Lakes Television, Ontario County’s public access television station.

In COVID-19 related business, it was announced by the Finance Committee that the City of Canandaigua expected a revenue shortfall of roughly $2 Million for 2020. However, the Finance Committee believed that because of a healthy General Fund balance and some spending cuts, barring any deeper revenue shortfalls, the City would get through 2020 in good shape. The Committee expressed concern that the measures needed to weather the 2020 COVID-19 financial crisis would put the City in a potentially bad financial situation in 2021.

The Council reconsidered Resolution 2020-029 to accept a Climate Smart Grant to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory, a natural resources inventory and a climate vulnerability assessment. These projects were identified as part of Canandaigua’s Climate Smart Communities Initiative. In April, the Council tabled the resolution due to concerns regarding the grant’s requirement for a local match of approximately $28,000. The Council asked staff to work with the State to see if activities under the grant could be delayed in order to provide the City some flexibility should the COVID-19 financial crisis make it difficult for the City to perform its obligations under the grant contract.

City staff determined from the State that if the City accepts the grant, the project would not need to start until 2021 and would not need to be completed until 2025. In addition, the contract with the State would clarify that the City’s $28,000 match would not be required until 2021. Councilmember James Terwilliger (At Large) stated that he was generally in favor of the project but cannot currently support the proposal because of the COVID-19 funding crisis. Councilmembers Steve Uebbing (At Large) and Dan O’Brien (At Large) also expressed similar financial concerns. Councilmembers Renee Sutton (At-Large) and Erich Dittmar (Ward 4) countered that the project is important to fund regardless of the financial crisis because the environmental crisis is every bit as severe as the COVID-19 financial crisis. Sutton even argued that sales tax revenue for the City would be far worse if Canandaigua Lake becomes environmentally unstable. Following the debate on the issue, the Council approved the amended resolution 7-2.

The Council also revisited resolution 2020-31 for grant writing services for the downtown revitalization initiative. The resolution called for an expenditure of $6,500 in the 2020 budget for the project. The resolution was tabled in April because of COVID-19 financial concerns. Thursday the Council formally withdrew the resolution from consideration because a different entity within the City had agreed to fund the grant writing services to keep the downtown revitalization funding effort going.

In new business, the Council first approved 3 resolutions (2020-35, 2020-36, and 2020-37) honoring the commitment and service of three retiring City employees. The resolutions honored Bryan Kransler for 45 years of service as a firefighter, Donald “Rosie” Romeiser for 32+ years of service as a mechanic, and Laura Cirillo for 39+ years of service at the Department of Public Works.

The Council also considered resolution 2020-38 that would authorize the City Manager to maintain employee benefits for employees furloughed due to COVID-19. Councilmembers expressed concern with the resolution as presented because they did not believe that its language properly limited the furlough benefits continuation to the COVID-19 crisis and because they did not believe that the language of the resolution properly extended benefits for furloughed employees should the employee furloughs last beyond the end of the COVID-19 emergency orders. What ensued was a roughly 45-minute discussion on the specific language to be inserted in the resolution. While all seemed to agree on the points that the resolution’s purpose was valid, that the authority of the City Manager to authorize benefit continuation for furloughed employees should only last through the end of the COVID-19 crisis, and that the actual benefits for employees should continue for the entire length of the furlough even if furloughs lasted beyond the termination of the COVID-19 emergency orders, the Council had great difficulty in drafting the language they felt would accomplish these goals. Councilmember Sutton eventually was able to craft language that was agreeable to all members of the Council and the resolution passed unanimously.

In other business, the Council approved Resolution 2020-39 to accept a New York Technical Assistance Grant to fund a building rehabilitation feasibility analysis for 4-7 buildings on Main Street in downtown Canandaigua. This grant, like the previously debated Climate Smart Grant, also required a small City financial match. However, the Council approved this resolution despite the financial match because the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) had arranged for the required matching funds to be provided by several local businesses.

The Council also moved towards ending litigation with Community Bank, NA regarding a dispute over the 2019 real property assessment. Canandaigua initially assessed a parcel of Community Bank, NA property at a value of $1,341,000 in 2019. Community Bank, NA sued claiming the assessment was incorrect. Resolution 2020-40 proposed settling the dispute by reducing the assessment to $1,250,000 and applying applicable business investment exemptions permitted under Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) Section 485-b. There was no debate on the resolution, and it passed unanimously.

The Council also approved unanimously without any debate Resolution 2020-41 awarding bids to T Mina Supply, Inc, Blair Supply Corporation, and Core and Main for the purchase of hydrant and valve equipment for water and sewer services.

In its final action, the Council introduced Canandaigua City Ordinance 2020-002. This proposed ordinance would amend the City’s current Snow Removal Fee Ordinance to state that the City Council will establish snow removal fees by resolution and that such fees shall be no lower than the fee necessary to cover ½ hour of work. A final vote on the ordinance will take place at the June 2020 Council meeting.

The Canandaigua City Council also met in special session April 9, 2020, and April 16, 2020. The April 9, 2020 meeting was scheduled to formally schedule a special public hearing on Local Law 2020-003. This proposed law changed the time frame in which property taxes become delinquent form June 1 to July 1, providing residents an extra 30 days to pay property taxes before penalties are assessed. The Council held the public hearing and no public comment was received. The Council then went into regular special session and approved the local law unanimously.

The Canandaigua City Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Thursday, June 4, 2020, at 7:00 P.M. It is anticipated that this meeting will be via Zoom conference call due to the COVID-19 crisis.