Mayor Steve Valentino was absent from the October 6, 2021, Geneva City Council meeting. The meeting was led by Deputy Mayor Bill Pealer (Ward 2). Council was supposed to hold a work session on October 4, 2021, but that meeting was canceled because of a lack of a quorum.
The meeting opened with two Public Hearings. The first hearing was regarding the proposed sale of City-owned property parcel 119-7-1-51 on Jay Street. The second hearing sought public testimony on the proposed 2022 City of Geneva Budget. Neither public hearing received any public comment, and both public hearings were closed.
Council also invited public comment. Jessica Farrell opened public comment when she spoke in support of a Proclamation to establish an Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The proposed proclamation supported having the new holiday be held in conjunction with Columbus Day.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Day proposal turned out to be the most debated issue of the evening. The Proclamation was brought to the City and Council by Farrell and Community Education for Transformation.
Farrell and Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) argued that the Proclamation was appropriate because of the atrocities indigenous people have suffered since Western Europe discovered the Americas. In fact, Farrell argued that it was the doctrine of “discovery” that is partially to blame for the atrocities suffered by indigenous people. She asserted that Europeans believed they had discovered the Americas because they did not consider indigenous people to be humans.
Farrell acknowledged that Columbus was not personally responsible for the 100s of years of atrocities faced by Indigenous People. But Farrell went on to assert that Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be held on October 11th because Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas was the catalyst for those atrocities. Farrell contended that having the new holiday should not in any way stop Italian Americans from celebrating their culture, “…unless you are celebrating “discovery””.
Salamendra read the entire Proclamation into the record. However, there was significant opposition to the Proclamation from both the public and Council. Tony DiCostanzo, President of Geneva Lodge 2397 of the Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America spoke in strong opposition to the Proclamation. DiCostanzo said that he represented many Italian Americans in Geneva who were opposed to the holiday and had a number of audience members stand to show that he was in fact testifying for them.
DiCostanzo was concerned that the Proclamation would further divide City residents who had been divided by police reform. DiCostanzo also felt that the Proclamation was a direct attack on Italian culture and heritage. He also thought this Proclamation was only the opening salvo towards eliminating Columbus Day in Geneva.
Several Councilors felt that there should be a holiday recognizing Indigenous People and their contribution to the Geneva region. But most seemed to believe it should be separate from Columbus Day. Council did not vote on the Proclamation Following the meeting, City Clerk Lori Guinan confirmed that the Proclamation also was not signed by Mayor Valentino and that it has not in any way been adopted by the City of Geneva.
Council’s first official action of the evening was to consider the Second Reading of Ordinance amending Section 300 of the City Code This amendment would add a dedicated license for the Resource Recovery Park to operate a garbage transfer facility. The transfer facility license would not authorize the transfer facility to make home pickups.
Initially, Councilor John Pruett (Ward 6) offered an amendment to the Ordinance to require that trucks with 10-wheels or more enter and exit the facility from a specific entrance. Much of Pruett’s discussion was not audible because the City continued to have technical mic issues.
Some Councilors were concerned that the larger chronic truck traffic issue should be handled separately from the Ordinance amendment. In fact, Salamendra said that she hoped the City would address the truck issue for the entire City, not just the issue of trucks around the Resource Recovery Park.
Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers said that some of the streets in the area already restricted truck traffic with signage. Blowers assured Council that staff could work with Department of Public Works Staff (DPW) to get better sign placement and explore better enforcement of the existing rules.
Pruett ultimately withdrew his proposed amendment when it appeared that it would not pass. Council approved the Ordinance on a 7-1 vote with Pruett voting no.
Council also considered Resolution #66-2021 which sought to approve the sale of a vacant parcel of land on Jay Street. Blowers indicated that the property went through a sealed bid process. The highest bid was $10,000. The assessed value was $30,000. The parcel has a single family home on one side and a wooded area owned by Hobart & William Smith Colleges on the other side. Blowers also stated that the property is buildable under Zoning rules. However, Blowers clarified that there is a creek running through the property that could impact the purchaser’s ability to build on it. Salamendra stated that she opposed the Resolution because the bid was so much lower than the assessed value. Council approved Resolution #66-2021 on a 7-1 vote with Salamendra voting no.
Resolution #67-2021 proposed the sale of city-owned property at 28 Jackson St. The City acquired the property through tax foreclosure. The original structure was demolished. The property was located in the Foundry area, which delayed the City from being able to sell the property. Blowers stated that the City received a high bid of $2,000 and the assessed value was $6,000. Blowers also indicated that the lot was buildable based on Zoning rules and the purchaser was interested in building a home on the lot. Council approved the Resolution on an 8-0 unanimous vote.
Resolution #68-2021 proposed allowing the City to apply for a New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act Clean Water Grant. If approved, the grant funds would be used for improvements at the Marsh Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The funds would allow the construction of a new Auto-Thermal Thermophilic Aerobic Digestion (ATAD) system, and additional upgrades to the plant. This would be for wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Blowers said that these upgrades were critical for the City’s growth. He also said that the plant was currently at 96% capacity of solid waste processing. Council approved Resolution #68-2021 on a unanimous 8-0 vote. The motion carried.
Council also considered Resolution #69-2021 to approve a plan for the use of American Rescue Protection Act (ARPA) funds. ARPA funds are Federal funds provided to offset lost General Fund revenue cause by the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Geneva was allocated $1,295,483.30 in ARPA Funds. The City is set to receive $647,741.65 of the funds in 2021 and 2022. The United States Department of the Treasury administers the funds. Treasury required that municipalities present a plan by October 31, 2021, for how the City plans to use the money.
The plan proposed by City Manager Sage Gerling allocated the funds as follows:
- $325,000 – Marsh Creek Pump State Upgrades.
- $18,00 – Audio and visual equipment for remote and in-person meetings.
- $85,000 – Water plant infrastructure projects.
- $50,000 – Wastewater Treatment Plant Doran Ave. building roof.
- $169,741.65 – General Fund revenue loss due to COVID-19.
- $55,000 – water Plant infrastructure projects.
- $236,631.35 – General Fund revenue loss due to COVID-19.
- $356,110.30 – Community benefit projects to be determined by the City Council.
Gerling proposed using the $356,110.30 from community benefits projects in 2022 for installing broadband. Councilor Frank Gaglianese (At-Large) asked what the ongoing maintenance costs would be. Gerling could not answer that question. Gerling indicated that the City already had 9 public Wi-Fi spots, but 4 of them were being worked on. Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) thought that some of the money should be used to harden/improve the current Wi-Fi sites so that they never go down. Ultimately Council did not make a decision on how to use the 2022 community benefit project funds. But Council did unanimously approve Resolution #69-2021 on an 8-0 vote.
Council also considered Resolution #70-2021 regarding Bond refunds. Blowers explained that this Resolution was basically combining several bond issuances into a single new bond issuance at a lower interest rate. Blowers estimated that the City would save approximately $70,000 per year over 20 years for a total savings of roughly $1.4 Million. Council approved Resolution #70-2021 unanimously on an 8-0 vote.
Camera renewed his long-standing concerns regarding railroad operations in the City of Geneva by bringing forward Resolution #71-2021 to formalize a community Lakefront Railway Integration Committee. The Committee has been meeting informally. The Resolution indicated that the committee consisted of Greg Bendzlowicz, Gary Baxter, John Pruett, Dan Belliveau, Laura Salamendra, Robert Camera, and Hanna Dickinson. The resolution also stated that the Committee “may be expanded or diminished based on need and personal schedules.” However, the Resolution provides no procedure for determining who will be on the committee. In fact, the Resolution failed to provide any details on who would make appointments to the Committee.
The Resolution also says that the Committee will address such issues as:
- 6th Ward access to the Seneca Lake waterfront park;
- Railroad maintenance operations and storage, particularly track siding issues along the lake front;
- Herbicide spraying along rights of way and within proximity of Seneca Lake;
- Impacts on Middle St.’s future development prospects; and
- Inconsistent and low property assessment valuation used for railroad rights of way.
Camera also said that he hoped the Committee would make recommendations regarding the Ontario County IDA’s agreement with Finger Lakes Railroad, which ends in 2025. Camera was particularly concerned about the low payment the City received annually from the Railroad.
Several Councilors spoke on the issue. Councilor Tom Burrall’s (Ward 1) presentation could not be heard because his mic was not working. Some Councilors were initially concerned about the scope of the committee and didn’t want to see it negotiating with the Railroad on the City’s behalf. Camera clarified that passing this resolution would give the Committee some ability to use the backing of the City to get information, but that the Committee would only make recommendations back to Council, who would be responsible for taking any action needed on those recommendations. Gerling clarified that authorizing the Committee would also put the Committee under New York’s Open Meetings Law. The Open Meetings Law will require the Committee to meeting in public, notice its meetings, and keep records of its meetings that are subject to public review. Council ended up passing Resolution #71-2021 on a unanimous 8-0 vote.
Council also heard Resolution #72-2021 which sought to approve the sale of Easement for property located at the Industrial Park. The property is owned jointly by the City of Geneva, the Geneva Industrial Development Agency (IDA), and the Ontario County IDA
American Tower was seeking to purchase an Easement to maintain a cellphone tower on the property. The company originally wanted to purchase the land, but IDA and City did not want to sell the land because they wanted to keep some control over its usage. American Tower offered $620,000 for an Easement to maintain the cell tower on the property. The City would receive about $330,000 from the Easement proceeds. Council approved Resolution #72-2021 unanimously 8-0..
Council also considered the First Reading of Ordinance #5-2021. The Ordinance would authorize parking on the West side of S. Main Street. The ordinance would also create 9 additional parking spaces for residents in the area. Burrall was the only Councilor to speak on the Ordinance proposal, but his presentation was not understandable because his mic was not working. Council passed the First Reading of Ordinance #5-2021 on a unanimous 8-0 vote.
Council also held two discussions that did not result in formal resolutions or formal votes. First Council discussed turning at least portions of Geneva into a “Train Quiet Zone. This proposal was raised by a resident concerned about the noise caused by train horns. Gerling indicated that such a project would have significant costs. It was estimated that to install the necessary crossing equipment at just 4 train crossings would cost roughly $1 Million. Gerling also indicated that prohibiting trains from using their horns while going through intersections creates some serious safety concerns. Pealer did not like the idea and thought that residents opted into the noise associated with trains when they decided to live near the tracks. Some councilors thought this was a great issue for the railroad committee to take up, but Councilors did not think the proposal was a good expenditure of money.
Council also discussed the issue of whether or not to opt into allowing on-site marijuana consumption facilities within the bar. Onsite consumption facilities were characterized as marijuana’s equivalent of a bar for alcohol consumption. Several Councilors spoke on the issue. Some thought allowing the facilities would be good for economic development and offered a more controlled environment for the consumption of marijuana. While others thought the City should take a more wait-and-see attitude to determine what other City’s experiences with the facilities ended up being. Council was headed for a long debate on the issue, Pealer cut off discussion and called for a poll of Councilors to see how Council was leaning. A raised hand poll showed that 6 of the 8 Councilors present supported allowing on-site consumption facilities in Geneva. Council had previously told staff that they supported allowing marijuana sales facilities in the City.
Council is next scheduled to meet on October 13th and 14th for budget workshops. These meetings will start at 6:00 P.M. and will continue to be held at Cornell AgriTech Campus, Jordan Hall, 630 W. North Street. The agenda for the October 14, 2021 meeting agenda says that Council will hold an Executive Session “For the purpose of discussing a personnel matter.”
Public Officers Law Section 105(f) says that public bodies can hold executive sessions to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation”. In addition, agencies are required to specifically indicate which of the permissible reasons they are going into Executive Session to discuss. In this case, Geneva has not complied with the law because they have not identified which issue they will discuss in Executive Session. In addition, at Council’s October 6th meeting, Salamendra asked for the Executive Session to discuss “staffing issues”. If the Executive Session is simply being called to discuss budget and staffing information, without addressing the employment status of a particular individual, the session could be illegal under the Open Meetings Law.
Todd covers local government in the Finger Lakes. He has a JD degree the Lincoln Law School of Sacramento. Send tips to [email protected].