JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Board of Public Utilities has approved another round of payments for the law firm hired to handle the Falconer Substation Annexation Case.
During it Monday afternoon board meeting, the board approved an additional $125,000 for the law firm Bond, Schoenek & King – which is currently awaiting a court date for the State Supreme Court’s 4th Appellate Division to hear arguments involving the annexation.
The new $125,000 payment is in addition to the $280,000 the BPU has already agreed to pay the Albany-based law firm, bringing the new total to $405,000.
According to BPU General Manager David Leathers, the latest change order will allow payment of legal expenses estimated through June 2019 and is specifically related to developing and filing the required brief to the Appellate Division, developing and filing a reply brief, and preparing and providing oral arguments. Leathers added he’s hopeful this will be all the additional money needed to deal with the legal case.
Meanwhile, Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, who serves as president of the BPU, said Monday night that the continued spending is unfortunate but also necessary.
“It’s greatly unfortunate. I can only imagine what the other side has been spending for legal bills associated with this challenge,” Teresi said. “It’s their right to challenge it. We think it’s a challenge without merit and we’ve got to go in and defend ourselves against the challenge. I can only imagine the other side is spending as large if not a larger amount of funding to advance this case and we’ll see where it all leads to.”
While the latest amount of money the other side has spent on the lawsuit is not known, the amount as of August 2018 was a reported $177,000 and climbing.
All the money from the city’s side of the lawsuit comes from the BPU Electric Division and not the city general operating budget, meaning revenue collected from all BPU customers, both inside and outside of the city, is being used to pay the city’s legal fees in the case. The money from the other side comes from the general operating budget of Falconer, Ellicott, and the Falconer School District – meaning in some cases residents in those jurisdictions who are also BPU electric customers are paying for both sides of the lawsuit.
In August 2017 the Jamestown City Council unanimously voted to annex the BPU’ substation property located in Falconer, with a portion of the land being adjacent to the border between the village and the city. The city had argued that because the property sits on the village line with the city and is owned by the city, it is eligible for annexation on the grounds that it is to the benefit of public safety.
In early September 2017 the Falconer Village Board voted against the annexation and the Ellicott Town Board did the same. As a result, the matter has to be settled in state appellate court.
The BPU currently pays Falconer, Ellicott, the Falconer School District and the county approximately $360,000 annually in property taxes. If the annexation is approved, the BPU would no longer have to make those tax payments, although it would have to make a payment to both the the city and the Jamestown School District a Payment in Lieu of Taxes of about $80,000 each.
The court has yet to set a date for when oral arguments in the case will be made. On Monday night Teresi said it will likely take place in April.