JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council unanimously approved three resolutions Monday night that set the table for moving an annexation effort forward for a piece of property in the town of Ellicott.
During the voting session, the council voted 9 to 0 in favor of a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute a Petition for Annexation, along with an environmental assessment. A second resolution then allowed the city council to entertain the Petition for Annexation, while the third resolution involved establishing the city council as lead agent for the Environmental Review of the property.
Together, the resolutions put the wheels in motion for an effort by the city to annex a piece of property in the Town of Ellicott/Village of Falconer that contains the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities Electric Division substation, known as the Dow Street Substation. Because a portion of that property is adjacent to the city border, it makes it eligible for annexation under state law, so long as the city can legally show just cause.
In January the BPU recommended the city consider the annexation as a way to help save money – because the city, through the BPU, pays more than $320,000 annually in property taxes to the Town of Ellicott, Village of Falconer, Falconer School District and Chautauqua County. Should the annexation take place, the property would then be within the city, making it ineligible for tax payment and the BPU would instead annually pay the city $160,000, as a payment in lieu of taxes.
With Monday’s city council action, Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi said the city will now formally notify both the town of Ellicott and Village of Falconer of the annexation effort, and the three governing bodies must now hold a joint public hearing on the matter.
“In not less than 20, no more than 40 days, we’ll be working with the three other taxing jurisdictions to establish a joint public hearing of the three legislative bodies to consider input from the general public,” Teresi explained. “The annexation law says that, no more than 90 days from that public hearing, each of the legislative bodies will then have to come out and take a position on the annexation. That is when the city council will be taking its formal position as to whether they think that the proposed annexation is in the interest of the general public, in the interest of the city of Jamestown, and in interest of the overall region.”
Both the Falconer Village Board and the Ellicott Town Board will also have the opportunity to vote on the annexation and if it is opposed by either board or both, the case will then go to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court – 4th District, in Rochester, where both sides will have an opportunity to argue for and against the annexation.
FALCONER OFFICIALS VOICE CONCERN, DISAPPOINTMENT WITH ANNEXATION EFFORT
Prior to Monday’s vote, Falconer mayor James Rensel and Falconer School Board President Todd Beckerink both addressed the city council to voice their concerns about an annexation effort.
Rensel said he was disappointed the city did not communicate with the village, town or school district about the issue.
“Those of you on the city council, I didn’t want you left with the impression – or I don’t know what you’ve been told or haven’t been told – that there’s been conversations, or a sharing of ideas, or a sharing of concerns on this. There has not been. To date, I have not been contacted by Mayor Sam Teresi on this topic at all,” Rensel explained to the city council.
Beckerink said the school district was also disappointed that the city didn’t engage in any dialogue.
“None of the taxing identities were notified what-so-ever. Not a phone call, Mr. Mayor,” Beckerink said. “The schools, I can guarantee you, we are in constant communication with the Jamestown School District on a daily basis. They are members of the consortium of of superintendents. We share services with Jamestown Public Schools. I’m appalled at the way this has been going.”
Beckerink added that if the annexation were to take place, the Falconer School District would miss out on approximately $150,000 in annual tax payments – by far the largest sum the BPU pays in taxes to the four jurisdictions because of the Dow Street Substation. However – that amount is still less than 1 percent of the district’s total operating budget, which will likely be over $22 million in 2017-18 school year.
In response to the concerns, Teresi explained that once the BPU recommended the city look into the annexation effort, leaders in Ellicott and Falconer went on record as opposing the matter and saying they would fight it. At that point, Teresi said he had no choice but to avoid discussing the matter with them.
“The mayor, the town supervisor, and the school superintendent were immediately out of the gates putting on public record their intention to sue the city of Jamestown, to block any action should the city council decide they wanted to proceed with this further,” Teresi said. “At that point in time – as the mayor understands, the town supervisor understands, and the school superintendent understands – as they likely would do as well, under advice and directive of legal council to cease all communications and to follow the process as set up in the law. And that is exactly what we have done.”
In fact, only the town of Ellicott supervisor Pat McLaughlin went on record after the possibility of annexation was first discussed by the BPU in January. The annexation was brought forward by BPU General Manager David Leathers during the board’s January 23 meeting. On January 30, Spectrum News ran a story in which McLaughlin voiced his concern and disappointment. A month-and-a-half later, both the village of Falconer and the Falconer School District also spoke out against the matter in a Post-Journal report, dated March 12.
Regardless, the mayor also points out that the annexation issue is not up to him to discuss or negotiate, because as the legislative body, the city council is the branch of government that determines whether or not to proceed, not the executive office. He said his role is to move the process forward, or executive, the directives from the council.
“There really wasn’t anything to discuss about this matter with our neighbors in an official fashion, with or without the threats of litigation, until the city council took the action that it did tonight, saying that it wanted to move it to the next step in the process,” Teresi said. “I’ve made it a habit of mine to work with the city council, and not to speak for the city council. We have to separate and equal branches of government and during my time as mayor, I have done my best not to step on their toes and try to legislate the policy-making arm of the government.”
Teresi said if the annexation is approved, it would not impact any jurisdiction’s budget until 2019, meaning they would have time to make adjustments to their respective budgets offset any loss of tax revenue from the BPU.
According to the Post-Journal, of the $322,090 the BPU pays in property taxes, $153,852 goes to the Falconer School District (.7% of the projected 2017-18 budget); $68,789 goes Falconer (5.3% of the village’s 2017 budget); $67,217 goes to the county (less than .01% of the 2017 budget); and $32,232 goes to Ellicott (.8% of the town’s 2017 budget).