JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council voted 7 to 2 Monday night in favor of annexing the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities’ Dow St. Substation property in the Town of Ellicott/Village of Falconer, setting the stage for another legal showdown in State Appellate Court.
Monday’s vote came following statements from both Mayor Eddie Sundquist and Council President Tony Dolce. Sundquist said that the city was willing to negotiate an outcome to help avoid legal action, but officials from Ellicott, Falconer and the Falconer Central School (FCS) district walked away from the table the night before a second negotiating session was scheduled to take place.
“I truly believe that there is a middle ground where all the parties could benefit. As part of that we’ve attempted negotiations. We’ve offered to invest in projects that make sense as a larger region and to support some of the work as we develop this area,” Sundquist said prior to the vote. “On the eve of the second round of negotiations, we were informed by Ellicott, Falconer and Falconer Schools that they no longer wish to negotiate with us in order to come to a resolution with this annexation.”
Dolce added that while there is the possibility for returning to the table to negotiate a deal and avoid litigation, he and other council members felt it was time to move the process forward.
“I was ready and willing to try and work to put off that vote again, but since they have decided to end the discussion there’s no need to wait on the vote,” Dolce said. “We still can sit down and talk and hopefully they would like to come back to the table but at this time I think we’ve extended the olive branch and its time for us to move on.”
Dolce joined six other council members in supporting the annexation, including councilwoman Tamu Graham-Reinhardt, who had previously recused herself from voting on any resolution involving the annexation because of a conflict of interest due to her working for the Falconer School District. But as of earlier this month Graham-Reinhardt is no longer working for the district, meaning she no longer had to recuse herself from voting on the issue. The two council members to vote against annexation were newly elected members Grant Olson and Jeffrey Russell.
Ellicott, Falconer and FCS are against annexation because it will result in a loss totaling $330,000 in annual tax revenue between the three.
The City and Jamestown BPU argues that by annexing the property, it will serve the public interest of the entire BPU service area, including customers living in the village, town and school district. The BPU would also avoid paying the $330,000 in taxes, and would instead make an estimated $80,000 payment in lieu of taxes to both the City of Jamestown and Jamestown Public Schools.
Following Monday’s council meeting, Sundquist explained that during the negotiations, the city was pressing for an annexation while also trying to help soften the financial impact it would have on the three affected municipalities.
“It all revolved around annexation but we had flexibility on what was being annexed and what values would be associated to the annexation. But at the end of the day it was this council’s message as well as the BPU board that they wanted some form of annexation. But we were willing to be flexible on that and offset certain costs.”
The annexation can be legally challenged if either Falconer or Ellicott (or both) vote in opposition of the annexation. That is what is expected to take place, most likely during the next respective village and town board meetings.
Once a vote of opposition is made, a legal complaint is filed and the city will then have a limited amount of time to respond. Failure to do so before the deadline will result in the case being thrown out. This is what happened during the previous annexation attempt, which went to court in October 2017. But the issue of whether or not the annexation could proceed was never answered. Instead, the state 4th Appellate Division in Rochester ruled that Jamestown’s legal team – Bond, Schoeneck and King – had failed to file its response paperwork on time. The court case then ended on the filing technicality, with a ruling not being delivered until August 2019.
The legal fees for the previous annexation approached a combined $750,000. Bond, Schoeneck and King will again handle the case for the BPU, but Mayor Sundquist said this time they wont charge more than $75,000 from start to finish in this annexation effort.
“For this second round of annexation there is a cap of $75,000, going up all the way to the State Court of Appeals, which means that is the most we will pay,” Sundquist said.