Geneva City Council held its September meeting on September 1, 2021. Council moved the meeting from the Geneva Public Safety Center to Jordan Hall at the Cornell AgriTech Campus.
Council spent most of its time debating the Community Choice Aggregation program and trash issues. But the one big issue Council ignored was Councilor John Pruett’s August 17, 2021 resignation and his August 31, 2021 withdrawal of that resignation.
The meeting opened with public comment and Councilor reports. Several items of interest came out of these presentations.
During public comment, Geneva resident Charles king suggested that Geneva reconsider establishing staggered terms for City Councilors. King felt this would serve two purposes. First, he felt this would avoid the impact of having Council completely turn over simultaneously. Second, he felt this would give Geneva a way to fill the Ward 6 seat that will probably be vacated by Councilor John Pruett at the end of the year without having multiple Ward 6 elections in a short time.
Council also learned from Councilor Frank Gaglianese (At-Large) that the Police Budget Advisory Board had met. Gaglianese indicated that the Board had determined that there was not sufficient time for them to get up to speed on the budget process in time to evaluate the 2022 Geneva Police Department (GPD) Budget. The Board was planning to target the 2023 budget as the first budget that they would evaluate. Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) said that she was “alarmed and concerned” to hear that City Manager Sage Gerling and GPD Budget Review Board Council liaison Gaglianese were interjecting their opinion on what the Board should be doing. Salamendra felt that when Council created the Board, they specifically and intentionally left out any provisions for the Council liaison and City staff from having a decision-making role with the Board.
Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) also told Council that the Geneva Police Review Board had appointed Jessica Farrell as its chairperson.
In regular business, Council tackled two controversial issues.
First, Council considered Resolution 62-2021. This resolution would allow Joule, the City’s Community Choice Aggregation program contractor, to add an opt-out Community Distributed Generation component to the program. If passed, this would mean that Geneva Residents would automatically be signed up for the City’s alternative energy electricity provider. If residents did not want to participate in the program, they would have to “opt-out” by returning a postcard or via another telephone or computer method.
The Resolution was brought to Council by Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3). Regan spoke passionately in support of the program. She felt that the program was important because it would move Geneva towards renewable energy use. Regan said that this was particularly vital because of climate change.
Regan also argued that the City’s involvement in the program would have a greater impact on the problem. She felt the large-scale combined efforts of many residents would have a greater impact than individuals could accomplish alone.
Regan also pointed out that the program would virtually guarantee residents at least a 10% discount on their electric bills, and that the program would increase the City’s eligibility for grants.
Although everyone on Council supported moving from traditional to alternative energy sources, several councilors were concerned that government should not be forcing residents into the program. Some councilors were especially concerned about the “opt-out” requirement of the program.
Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) wanted to make sure that the City communicated the program requirements, particularly the opt-out provisions, to city residents. Noone said he was concerned about the communication issue because communication was not the City’s strong suit. He also stated that communicating the program requirements was essential because some residents felt that they had been “railroaded” into the program.
Gaglianese did not feel comfortable telling people what they had to do. Valentino said that two town residents told him that it took 6 months to opt-out of the town’s program.
Councilor Bill Pealer (Ward 6) also gave extensive comments on the issue, but his comments were not audible due to microphone audio issues.
Regan felt the argument against the opt-out provision was not accurate because residents were already in an opt-out program. Regan argued that residents were already given a default energy supplier and could only change providers by opting out of the default supplier.
Gaglianese was so uncomfortable with the issue that he wanted to table the Resolution to find out more about the opt-out program. There was no support for tabling the Resolution.
Salamendra thanked Regan for all of her work on the program. At one point Salamendra tried to “call the question” to cut off debate and call a vote. But Mayor Steve Valentino denied her request, saying that he did not know or have the Rules of Order and Procedures rules for “calling the question”. Eventually, Valentino pulled out a binder and read the “calling the question” rule. He ended up taking a vote on the Resolution without any further discussion, debate, or vote on Salamendra’s motion.
Council approved Resolution 62-2021 by a 6-3 vote with Gaglianese, Pealer, and Valentino voting no.
Council also considered two proposed two Ordinance amendments regarding Geneva trash services.
First, Council considered the first reading of Ordinance 4-2021. Ordinance 4-2021 would amend Section Subdivision 300-7 of the Geneva City Code to create a fifth trash hauler license. This license was specifically allocated to the Geneva Recovery Park, which planned to operate as a transfer station. The license would permit the transfer station to haul up to 20 cubic yards of waste daily from the Geneva Recovery Park to the landfill.
This proposed ordinance amendment started a lengthy discussion among Council. Some Councilors were initially confused and thought the ordinance would allow the facility to pick up garbage from residential locations. Some Councilors were concerned that allowing residential pickup would inappropriately compete with the 4 trash haulers licensed for residential pickups. However, Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers and City Manager Sage Gerling reiterated that the ordinance as drafted only permitted the transfer facility to haul trash from the transfer station to the landfill. Residents would have to take trash to the facility themselves.
Councilors also questioned how this fifth trash hauler license would impact the operation of the compost facility. Staff clarified that compost facility operations would continue as normal because that facility is exempt from licensing. Consequently, the compost facility can haul compost waste without having a trash hauling license.
Jacob Fox, who runs the compost facility and would run the transfer station, spoke in favor of the Ordinance amendment during public comment. Fox also answered councilor questions about the facility during the Council’s discussions. Fox asked Council to consider expanding the fifth hauler license. Fox would like to be able to pick up garbage for residents who are unable to get material to the transfer station. Fox specifically noted situations where residents could not move construction debris because of their small vehicles. He also suggested that he could help individuals who were not physically capable of transporting the trash themselves. Some Councilors worried about how this proposal would compete with existing haulers. Ultimately, Council directed staff to draft the amendment for consideration on second reading of the Ordinance.
Pruett was the most vocal opponent of the Ordinance proposal. Pruett felt this type of operation was not appropriate for the location. Pruett did not believe people in the neighborhood want this. Pruett also felt that having a transfer station in the City was not the “look” the City wanted for economic development. Pruett suggested working out an arrangement where city residents could use the Town of Geneva’s transfer station.
Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) was concerned about the truck traffic that would be created by a transfer station.
Fox clarified that the real truck traffic comes from the Casella yard across the street. Fox also assured councilors that his truck would enter and exit the facility without traveling through the adjacent neighborhood.
Pruett continued to reiterate his concerns about the noise, traffic, and smell issues that the compost facility and transfer station would cause. Pruett asked that the City reach out to residents to let them know about this proposal.
Council approved the first reading of Ordinance 4-2021 on a 7-2 vote with only Pruett and Valentino voting no. The Ordinance would not be implemented unless Council approved it again on a second reading. It was anticipated that the proposed Ordinance would be amended on second reading to permit the transfer station hauler licensee to conduct some residential trash pickups. Council was scheduled to consider the second reading at its October 6, 2021 meeting.
Camera asked Council to consider Ordinance 5-2021. This Ordinance proposed amending Chapter 300 of the Geneva City Code to impose a fine on trash haulers who did not properly label trash and recycling totes. Under the proposal, Geneva would fine haulers $5.00 for each improperly labeled tote.
Camera said that he brought the proposal because Council previously mandated and provided the labels, but many trash haulers have ignored the requirement. Camera felt this was important to ensure that residents know which totes they should use for trash and recycling. He hoped that better labeling would result in less trash going to the landfill and greater use of recycling.
Several Councilors were concerned that Code Enforcement was not equipped to handle this new responsibility.
Noone pointed out that Code Enforcement was unable to enforce the original ordinance that required haulers to label totes.
Although he liked the idea, Gaglianese felt that the Code Enforcement office needed to be improved before it could take on new responsibilities.
Regan was in favor of the idea but was concerned about the logistics of collecting the $5 fine.
Councilor Tom Burrall (Ward 1) stated that he had never heard of this program. Burrall pointed out that he and many other residents own their own totes. He believed labeling totes should be residents’ responsibility, not the haulers.
Valentino argued that what was needed was to change people’s personal culture on garbage. He did not believe this Ordinance would make a difference in residents’ usage of trash and recycling totes. Valentino also did not believe that enforcement of this ordinance would be a good use of staff time.
Pealer also spoke on the issue, but once again his comments could not be heard because of audio mic issues.
After the long debate of the issue, Council rejected Ordinance 5-2021 on a 1-8 vote. Only Camera voted yes on the Ordinance.
Council also approved Resolutions 63-2021 and 64-2021 unanimously.
Resolution 63-2021 was a bit unusual. Geneva was one of several municipalities involved in a class action lawsuit to recover the costs of dealing with opioid abuse. One of the defendants in the suit was Mallinckrodt. Mallinckrodt filed for bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy court asked municipalities involved in the case to vote on Mallinckrodt’s bankruptcy plan. However, the bankruptcy plan, particularly as it relates to opioid abuse issues, was lengthy and complex. The Official Committee of Opioid Related Claimants (OCC) recommended that municipalities not vote on the Mallinckrodt plan until the OCC reviewed it and made a recommendation. Resolution 63-2021 adopted the OCC recommendation.
Resolution 64-2021 scheduled a public hearing for October 6, 2021, to consider the possible sale of City-owned property on Jay Street. The parcel was identified as Tax Map ID 119.7-1-51. The undeveloped parcel was located next to 189 Jay Street. The land was assessed at $30,000. The public hearing will take place at 7:00 P.M. as part of Council’s regular October meeting.
Camera also brought two discussion items to Council. First, he discussed a proposal to place troubled properties in conservatorship. The idea was that if landowners failed to fix their troubled properties appropriately, the City would step in, pay for needed repairs, assess the cost of those repairs to the property owners’ tax bills, and assess a 30% surcharge for the City having to do the work. Camera’s goal was to fix property more quickly, hopefully within 12 months. Camera was asking city staff to have a legal review performed to determine if the proposal would be legal.
Several Councilors expressed concerns regarding the legality of the proposal, particularly the City’s ability to unilaterally spend public money for the benefit of private property. Councilors also expressed concerns that Code Enforcement needed to be improved before a new program like Camera’s proposal could be taken on. Although City staff agreed to take a preliminary look at the proposal, there was no plan to seek a formal legal review of the proposal.
Camera was also scheduled to lead a discussion on a Railroad Lakefront Integration Committee. Council delayed this discussion to a later meeting. Camera will provide Council more information on this discussion before it is rescheduled.
Although it appeared that all matters had been addressed, the meeting ended with the YouTube video feed being cut abruptly before the was formally adjourned.