JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council has approved a resolution to move forward with selling the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Jamestown Local Development Corporation (JLDC).
During Monday Night’s City Council voting session, nine different people spoke to the council and asked members to vote against or table the waste water treatment resolution.
Despite the concerns, the council eventually voted unanimously to approve the resolution. However, prior to the vote city councilman and finance committee chair Tony Dolce assured those in attendance that the vote was not to sell the plant, but only to keep the process moving forward.
“There have been some excellent questions/concerns brought forward by many of the members tonight,” Dolce said. “I just want to assure the public and the people that are here that this marks the beginning, or the initiation, of the possible process…. This has to go through JLDC, it has to go through the BPU board, it has to come back through a series of resolutions to the city. Many of the questions that came up tonight are questions that will have the be answered before an actual sale can take place.”
Some in attendance said that matter appeared to be an 11th hour effort by the city to address its financial challenges, which Dolce said is simply not the case.
“tonight’s vote is not an eleventh hour thing. It has to take weeks and possibly months to vet this out, look at the possibility, and if there are legal objections, or either of the boards or this council feel that that this is not an appropriate way to go, there will be plenty of time to put a halt on it, to stop it, and go in a different direction,” Dolce said.
Earlier this Month Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi announced the city was looking into selling the plant to the JLDC as a way to inject a large amount of capital into the city coffers so it could be used to pay for infrastructure and equipment needs that will run into the millions of dollars, while also putting some of the money into a tax stabilization fund. The plant is valued at $18 to $20 million. The BPU would then pay the JLDC to use the plant, with the money coming from wastewater fees collected by the BPU and used to pay off the bonds the JLDC would have to take out to make the purchase. The plant itself would be used as collateral.
Teresi said that because the city has reached its constitutional tax limit, it can’t borrow money through traditional bonding methods. He said that the proposal gives the city an alternative method of raising a large sum of money and instead of using taxes to pay it back the city would use rate payments from wastewater customers, located both inside and outside of the city.
PUBLIC CRITICAL OF PLAN, REQUESTS MORE DETAILS
Members of the public, including the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier (MAST), question the plan and feel that it will hurt business and economic development while also risking the stability of the BPU and JLDC.
Attorney Edward Premo – from the Rochester area law firm Harter Secrest & Emery – is representing MAST on the matter and spoke to the council about the issues the organization has with the proposed sale.
“Members of MAST are very concerned about what the city council is considering doing. They are very concerned about this being a step in the dismantling of the BPU,” Premo said. “We believe that the sale of the wastewater treatment plant and facilities not only violates the laws in the city of Jamestown, but also violates the laws concerning the JLDC.”
Premo then raised five legal concerns MAST has with the proposal. They are:
- The Wastewater System cannot be sold without a majority vote of all residents, per the city charter;
- The Wastewater System cannot be sold while it is still in use;
- The BPU cannot pass through JLDC debt service to system users;
- Users will be charged double for the same system;
- As a lending agency, the JLDC doesn’t have the power to acquire nor bond for the Wastewater System.
Also addressing the council and raising concerns were Todd Tranum, president of MAST and the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, former BPU chair John Zabrodsky, former BPU member and Weber Knapp financial officer Wayne Rishell, who said that so far there has been no transparency regarding what impact the sale would have on waste water rates, as well as specific details on how the money from the sale would be spent.
Others who voiced concerns included labor representative David Wilkinson, town of Ellicott councilman-elect Dan Heitzenrater, and residents Doug Champ, Greg Linquist, Raven Thompson.
The matter will continue to be discussed, perhaps as early as Tuesday afternoon when the JLDC board meets at 4:30 p.m.