CRS Helps City Build Internal Partnerships

Under budget constraints 10 years ago, the City of Batavia, in upstate New York, eliminated its assistant city manager position. With growing administrative needs, among them the City’s interest in joining the Community Rating System and gaining discounts on flood insurance for its 1,040 floodplain properties, the City thought the timing was right to reinstate the position.

Eying the premium discounts, improvements in flood mitigation, and other taxpayer benefits, the City Manager made the CRS Coordinator’s role part of the job of the new Assistant City Manager. “Our task,” says Gretchen DiFante, the new Assistant City Manager, “was to get Batavia into the CRS, to benefit our taxpayers, and to help better mitigate flooding in our community.”

A community of about 15,500 people subject to periodic flooding from Tonawanda Creek and from stormwater, Batavia had its first CRS site visit review in the fall of 2015 and recently received notification of its Class 7 rating—making it among the four top-ranked communities in New York State. “Our goal was to enter the CRS at Class 8 and work towards a 7; but with so many communities willing to share information and with the many resources available to help us, about halfway through the process, we set our sights on a Class 7 with the desire to be among the best in the state,” DiFante says.

Forging Partnerships

“Support for the CRS has to come from the top,” DiFante explains. “You need a strong commitment from city management, and we have that. You also need to involve the many organizations that can help.” The City relied on County departments—mainly planning and emergency management, as well as an adjacent town’s engineering personnel. Participation also included countless community professionals in banking, insurance, real estate, the media, and tourism as well as regional organizations like the Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council and state agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation. Batavia’s CRS team relied on existing CRS-participating communities for input and advice.

“When one looks at the entirety of the CRS, it can be overwhelming. But when we identified our strengths and concentrated on those, it was much more doable,” comments DiFante. For example, with very little preserved open space in its 5.2 square-mile jurisdiction, Batavia knew it wasn’t going to be eligible for tons of points in that category. But the CRS team did have expertise in marketing and emergency management, so they pursued points centered around the CRS-credited Flood Insurance Promotion, Program for Public Information, and the Flood Warning and Response activities. “Every community’s strengths are going to be different. It’s knowing how to capitalize on those strengths and organizing the application process around those strengths that made the difference for us,” she notes.

“We will be the first community in Genesee County to get into the CRS. Now, if other communities in the County are interested in joining, a good chunk of the legwork is already done for them. It’s this kind of networking that is really, really valuable for everyone.”

Since the community has had its CRS site visit, three other nearby communities have contacted them about the web site and two of them are now attempting to get into the CRS.

Soon after, the publisher of the local newspaper attended a City Council meeting where the CRS was being discussed. He contacted DiFante to brainstorm ways that the newspaper could assist in the promotion of the CRS in the community. Out of this collaboration between the city and the newspaper sprouted a series of flood information articles (one on each element of the Program for Public Information), which were featured in the home page of the newspaper along with photographs.

“Getting this information out to the general population has been extremely beneficial, and it happened because the publisher reached out and wanted to be a part of helping the citizens realize CRS discounts,” DiFante says.

A Whole Program for Outreach

The community’s floodplain management/stormwater management website was designed with the CRS in mind and more specifically, with the Program for Public Information element in mind. It was the first CRS activity undertaken by the community. This was a natural step for DiFante, whose background is in communications. “We were going to be putting this information together anyway for the CRS, then why not follow the requirement for the PPI? That way it will already be done, and ready for future credit.”

A look at the flood information page on Batavia’s website shows what DiFante means. Instead of bombarding the user with loads of technical information, the page uses simple, direct messages to tell Batavia residents how to deal with flooding. For example, one category is “Protect people.” Under that, it cautions, “Keep away from Tonawanda Creek, especially after ice and snow melt and heavy rains.” And “Avoid Kibbe Park after heavy rains, because it is designed to collect floodwaters so nearby properties will be drier.”

These are the kind of specific, action-producing messages that are creditable under the CRS. 

Another part of the PPI was to involve the emergency response and emergency managers in the process. “Emergency response is a huge piece of this PPI and a lot of the CRS elements are things you should be doing anyway,” DiFante says. The CRS helped Batavia get prepared not just for floods (which are not too frequent) but also for winter storms, tornadoes, and other natural disasters.”

In the runup to joining the CRS, Batavia was for the first time, giving strong attention to many flood (and other hazard) mitigation activities and considering how they could enhance the community as a whole, according to DiFante. “These are the kinds of things that the CRS application process has made us not only look at, but actually take action on. The CRS is systematic, it’s comprehensive, it’s doable, and it’s something that benefits all of the citizens of our city.”

Editor’s note: This is just a snapshot of the numerous floodplain management and CRS activities being carried out in Batavia. For more details, see the city’s website.