MAYVILLE – A State Supreme Court Judge has made a procedural ruling regarding the case involving the annexation of the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities Dow Street Substation property in the Town of Ellicott.
On Friday, Supreme Court Judge Lynn Keane issued a ruling favoring the BPU as part of an Article 78 proceeding, with the Town of Ellicott and Village of Falconer challenging the certification process for moving forward with the annexation, along with whether or not the property even qualified for annexation.
Specifically, Ellicott and Falconer argued through their attorneys from Harris Beach PLLC that the annexation petition from the city does not comply in form and content with the requirements of the New York State Municipal Annexation Law and as a result, it ought to be vacated and annulled. The town and village argued that the city property assessor’s certificate for the property did not satisfy state law. But Keane ruled that it in fact did. She also ruled the property was eligible for annexation, despite Ellicott attorneys arguing that the property isn’t adjacent to the city line because a road separates the property from adjoining to the city boundary. Under state law, municipalities can only annex properties that are adjacent to their own boundaries.
The ruling does not involve whether or not the annexation is in the “overall public interest.” That argument can still be made by Ellicott and Falconer and it would have to be made in State Appellate Court, as explained in Section 712 of New York General Municipal Law:
“In the event that one or more but not all of the governing boards of the affected local governments shall determine that it is not in the over-all public interest to approve the proposed annexation, the governing board of any other affected local government may apply to the appellate division of the supreme court for adjudication and determination, on the law and facts, of the issue of whether the proposed annexation is in the over-all public interest.”
However, before making that argument in the State Appellate Division, the Town of Ellicott/Village of Falconer also has the legal option of challenging the recent Article 78 ruling through an appeal. If that happens, the matter will have to be argued in State Appellate Court before the main argument against the annexation – which is that it is not in “the overall public interest” – can proceed.
The annexation saga has been ongoing for the past several years. City officials have argued that by annexing the property into the city limits, the Board of Public Utilities would save an estimated $160,000 each year in property taxes, thus saving money for all utility customers in the service area. They also claim such a move is in the overall public interest due to the city having a professional public safety department that could better respond to any safety emergencies that occur on the property.
Ellicott, Falconer, and the Falconer School District are all opposed to the annexation, saying it is nothing more than a money grab by the city.
As a result, the issue has to be taken up by the State Appellate Division in Rochester. The matter was already taken up by the appellate division once before, but in August 2019 it threw the case out on a technicality regarding the timeliness of the petition filing and as a result, it never ruled on if it was in the overall public interest.
The legal fees for the previous annexation approached a combined $750,000. The law firm Bond, Schoeneck and King is handling the case for the BPU, but Mayor Eddie Sundquist has said this time they wont charge more than $75,000 from start to finish in this current annexation effort.