JAMESTOWN – The Mayor of Falconer was once again in Jamestown City Hall Monday night to voice his opposition to the city’s effort to annex the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities’ Dow Street Substation property.
Mayor James Rensel spoke to the council during its regular work session, criticizing members for being unwilling to speak out against or even openly discussing the pros and cons of the annexation effort.
Rensel also challenged statements made by Mayor Sam Teresi and City Council President Greg Rabb following the council’s June 26 voting session, when the two said that they have not encountered strong opposition against the annexation from city residents.
“Why do we get into public service? To share and support our ideas and to listen to the people we represent when they say ‘no.’ It’s my opinion, and a lot of other people’s opinions looking from the outside in at this, that there are a lot of [city residents] saying ‘no’ and if you’re not hearing about it, I’d be very surprised,” Rensel said, adding, “This city council does not get to the public discourse in my opinion. This city council is accomplished at following directions of others, it seems to me.”
Rensel also said that during a public hearing on June 12 that was open to both Falconer and Ellicott residents as well as Jamestown residents, no one spoke in favor of the annexation, including five city residents who spoke out against it.
Several council members took exception to Rensel’s criticism, including at large councilman George Spitale.
“Every meeting you come to you’ve insulted somebody and then you want us to meet you half way on something? What do you expect to accomplish?” Spitale asked following Rensel’s comments, though Rensel was not given the opportunity to respond.
Later in the meeting councilman Tony Dolce, the longest serving member of city council, also offered a more leveled response to Rensel’s comments. Dolce said that he understands the Falconer mayor is trying to represent his constituency, but added that the city council members are also doing what they think is right for their own constituency.
“I understand your position and I respect that. You’re here to represent your constituents and I can appreciate that. We also have to represent our constituents and I can honestly tell you that I know all of us have gone door to door over the last few weeks getting petitions for this year’s elections. I went to nearly 80 myself, and I never had even one person ask the question. It never came up,” Dolce said. “It’s a very difficult and complex issue. It’s one that I think most people – unless they delve into it and really look at it – don’t understand it. I’ve had to answer a few questions about it, what it is and what it isn’t. We understand the complexity of it. We understand the sensitivity of it. We understand, obviously from your point of view, what it could mean and the impact it could possibly have.”
Councilman Tom Nelson also offered his thoughts.
“I think we know there’s two sides to it. I did the same thing as councilman Dolce, going door-to-door to get signatures for my petition. I did get one person who was opposed to it but the vast majority said, ‘We’ve got to do this’…. but they’re not going to come out to meetings and cheer this on. They’re quietly saying, ‘We have to do this.'”
Also responding was Rabb, who said that while council members may not spend a lot of time discussing issues during voting sessions, much of the discussion and even some debate will occur during a committee meeting or work session. Mayor Teresi also came to the defense of council members, saying that regardless of party affiliation, all council members he’s worked with over the years have always discussed the issues and have worked to make the best decisions on behalf of their constituents.
Since the city first announced it would pursuing the annexation of the BPU property in Falconer, Mayor Rensel and others from the town of Ellicott and Falconer School District have attended city council meetings urging them to stop the effort, calling the annexation a tax shift that would only hurt relationships between the city and its neighbors in the town and village.
The city is pursuing the annexation because it would result in the BPU saving an estimated $160,000 each year by no longer having to pay $320,000 in taxes to the village, town, school district and county. If the annexation were to take place and the property was made part of the city, the BPU would instead make a payment in lieu of taxes of about $80,000 to both the city of Jamestown and Jamestown School District.
The city, town and village are all required to vote on the annexation prior to Sept. 12. If any one of the three votes differently than the other two on the matter, the issue will then have to be settled in State Appellate Court.