ALBANY – The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner has approved giving Jamestown lead agency status in the environmental review of a piece of property the city wants to annex from the Town of Ellicott/Village of Falconer.
On Aug. 24 DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos ruled that the Jamestown City Council would be designated as lead agency to conduct an environmental review under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), based on his findings that the city has the broadest authority to conduct the environmental review.
The lead agency designation was required before the city, town of Ellicott, or Village of Falconer could formally act on the annexation proposal. Jamestown wants to annex the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities Dow Street Substation Property, which is located in Falconer/Town of Ellicott but is adjacent to the city line, making it eligible for annexation.
City officials have said the annexation would serve the public interest, because it would help stabilize utility rates by reducing the annual tax costs the BPU has to pay on the property – which totals more than $320,000. In addition, the city has argued that by putting the property in the jurisdiction of the city, it means it would also be protected by the city’s professional Fire and Police Departments. Currently the property falls under the jurisdiction of the Falconer Volunteer Fire Department.
Officials with the Town of Ellicott and Falconer, along with the Falconer Central School District, have come out in opposition of the proposed annexation because it would result in a loss of tax revenue. According to the Post-Journal, of the $322,090 the BPU pays in property taxes, $153,852 goes to the Falconer School District; $68,789 goes Falconer; $67,217 goes to the county; and $32,232 goes to Ellicott. The totals are all less than 1 percent of the total operating budget for each, except for the village of Falconer, where the total BPU tax payment comprises just over 5 percent of the total revenue for the village’s operating budget.
As part of their effort to fight the annexation, the Town of Ellicott had requested the BPU deny the city lead agency status for in the SEQR process and instead grant it to the village of Falconer since it is the current controlling government for the BPU property.
“We are not happy with the decision,” Ellicott Town Supervisor Patrick McLaughlin told WRFA on Monday. “The law firm we have hired has recommended that we not challenge the DEC ruling, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t give up the fight on the annexation effort.”
WRFA also reached out the Falconer Mayor James Rensel on Monday, who said he had no comment at this time on the DEC ruling.
With the DEC SEQR ruling in place, the Jamestown City Council can now formally vote on annexing the property and that vote has been added to Monday night’s meeting agenda. Under state law, the involved municipalities must vote on an annexation within 90 days of a public hearing on the matter. Since the public hearing on the Dow Street Substation annexation took place on June 12, the deadline to act is Sept. 12.
Both Falconer and Ellicott, along with Jamestown, must also act on the annexation by Sept. 12. If any of the three involved municipalities fails to vote by the deadline, it would be the same as a “yes” vote. As a result, McLaughlin tells WRFA that a special meeting of the Ellicott Town Board will take place before Sept. 12 so that officials can act on it before the deadline.
If Jamestown votes in favor of the annexation and either Falconer or Ellicott or both vote against it, it will then have to be settled in the New York State Appellate Division Court in Rochester.
Monday Night’s Jamestown City Council Meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the city council chambers on the second floor of city hall. It is open to the public. A city council work session will also take place prior to the meeting at 6:45 p.m. in the Mayor’s conference room, fourth floor of city hall.