JAMESTOWN – Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi took time out after the Jamestown City Council meeting on Monday night to field questions about a recent State Appellate Court decision involving the city’s effort to annex a piece of property in the town of Ellicott and Village of Falconer.
Last week the State Appellate Division Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester released a decision that ruled against the city, stating that the city’s original petition to initiate a court review on the Annexation of the Board of Public Utilities Dow Street Substation in the fall of 2017 was untimely because it occurred 30 days after both the Town of Ellicott and Village of Falconer filed their opposition notice with the Chautauqua County Clerk’s office.
While the ruling is seen as a setback for the city’s effort to annex the property, Teresi said the door is still open for the city to get a favorable ruling from the courts.
“The court decided to restrict its review of the matter and ruled exclusively on the timeliness issue. The court, if it wanted to, could have also ruled on the merits of the case based on statue and case law precedent. They chose not to. If they wanted to they could have ruled on both accounts and basically slammed the door shut on this matter once and for all.”
Because the court didn’t rule on the merits of the actual annexation, the city still has the option of moving forward with the process, even though it would likely have to start back at square one with another public hearing, followed by another vote by the city council on whether or not to proceed.
Since January 2017 when the Annexation was first discussed publicly by BPU staff and city officials, the BPU has spent a total of $405,000 in legal fees to the law firm Bond, Schonek and King to handle the case. It was the law firm that missed the appropriate filing deadline in the fall of 2017. Up until that point the city had committed $100,000 in legal fees to the effort, meaning another $305,000 was paid after the deadline was missed. The additional payments after the missed deadline doesn’t sit well with some residents, including Doug Champ. Champ appeared during Monday’s council meeting and said the BPU’s decision to spend over $400,000 on a failed lawsuit was a missed opportunity because the money could have been better spent elsewhere. He then said it’s time for the council to ask itself if it is truly worth it for the city to continue with the annexation effort.
“Where is the bottom line in how this equates? It doesn’t equate. You lost $405,000. So I ask you now, because most of you were there before in 2017, what are you going to do? Because all of you who were there have to decide on where you go from here,” Champ said.
Meanwhile, Teresi said that city officials will explore their options in the coming weeks on whether or not to continue the annexation effort.
“Legal counsel both in house as well as external, members of the BPU staff, and members of the BPU board are going to be going through this exploring all the options,” Teresi explained. “They’re going to do their due diligence and come back with a report to the city council when they feel that their effort is complete and they’re ready to give a report, the same way they did back at the end of 2016 and in early 2017.”
This year is an election year and Teresi has decided not to seek reelection. WRFA asked him if it would be better for officials to wait until a new administration came in before making a final decision on how to proceed, and he said that is a factor they will likely consider.
When first announced in 2017, the city had said that it wanted to annex the BPU Dow Street Substation property because it is in the best interest of city residents and BPU rate payers.
Ellicott, Falconer, and the Falconer School District are all opposed to the effort because the BPU currently pays around $325,000 in property tax payments on the property. If the annexation where to take place, those tax payments would no longer take place because the property would then be located in the city.