MAYVILLE – An advisory agency created by the Chautauqua County Legislature is continuing to struggle with finalizing a recommendation on establishing a lake rehabilitation district that would help raise money to care for Chautauqua Lake.
The Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency met Wednesday afternoon in Mayville and spent much of the meeting discussing which properties would be included in a proposed lake district, including what criteria needs to be considered as part of that inclusion.
County Attorney Steve Abdella said that after researching state law he learned that in order for a property to be assessed a fee or tax the district would have to clearly identify how the district would directly benefit the property owner. Members of the agency generally agreed that lakefront property owners, as well as those with direct access to the lake through a deeded right-of-way, would benefit because the money collected by the district would be used to help treat the waters of the lake, thus improving their access to and use of the lake. That in turn could help improve property value. These properties are known as “Tier 1” properties.
However, the group was unable to determine exactly which non lake-access properties could be considered “Tier 2” properties or even if such properties could be included in the district because it would be more difficult to prove a direct benefit to those properties, in accordance with state law.
Abdella also said that the state law requires district to use direct benefit as a criteria, and not whether or not a property is causing an adverse or negative impact to the health of the lake.
“To include a ‘Tier 2’ [level], a rational demonstrating a benefit and enhancement in value to those properties would have to be shown,” Abdella noted.
That means a property or properties that may have activities deemed to cause harm to the lake’s health wouldn’t automatically qualify them as being included in the proposed district.
At the end of the meeting, the group requested additional information that includes an accurate account of all properties that are either on the lake or have right-of-way access. Once they have that number available, the agency can then determine how to establish a recommended fee or tax for Tier 1 properties. They will also continue to work on identifying what criteria would be used to identify Tier 2 properties, which, again, would require showing how such a designation would benefit them.
The county currently has a map and database that shows all properties on the lake, but it doesn’t include information on what other properties may also have right-of-way access. County Planning and Economic Development deputy director Don McCord said that means county employees will likely have to work to come up with that information.
“Lake rights are not identified as part of [the county property map], so we would have to figure out how to go about doing that. That affects how long it will take for us to get to a ‘next product’ that’s a little more refined than where we’ve been. Right now we’ve just being doing a rough theoretical approach to begin the conversation and try to work out these details so far,” McCord explained.
Because of the resources it would take to search for and compile that information, County Executive George Borrello cautioned the agency that it wouldn’t be worthwhile for county employees to begin looking for that information until the agency was sure it is what it wants to use to help establish criteria for which properties to include in the proposed district.
“What we really need from [the agency] is some consensus. Then we can create a strategy to say we are going to pursue this so we can get some good data and that’s data the legislature can use. Then we can present it to the public at the same time,” Borrello said.
Town of Ellicott Supervisor Patrick McLaughlin – who is a member of the agency – also requested an update on a timeline on when a final recommendation should be brought forward and acted on by the County Legislature. He said that his town is putting together a budget and he needs to know if he should include expenses for herbicide treatment in 2020 as part of the budget. It was explained that any action by the legislature would only be an initial step and that the state would also have to review and give it’s authorization for the creation of a district. That means that it’s unlikely any district would be created and revenue collected until the middle of 2020, at the earliest.
Several lakeside property owners were also in attendance for the meeting and voiced their concerns about the proposed district. Several said they think it would unfair to only focus on charging an annual fee or tax for properties with direct access to the lake, since all residents, businesses, and even many visitors see a benefit from the lake.
Another resident asked why the county doesn’t place a surcharge on all boaters who use the lake, since they also see a direct benefit. But it was explained that state law doesn’t allow local governments to charge a location registration fee for boats.
One resident also said that the agency needs to also focus on how any money collected by the district would be used to treat and care for the lake since there still seems to be a disagreement on the best way to proceed on that front.
Borrello reminded the public that the agency doesn’t have the authority to establish the district, but only to put forward a recommended plan for how the district would function. At the end of the process, the county legislature would still have to give its approval on any final district plan. He said that is the phase of the process when concerns and questions should be brought forward. In the meantime, all agency meetings will continue to be open to the public to allow for full transparency into the process.
The eventual goal of the agency is to make a final recommendation on how a district would operate and then pass that recommendation onto the county legislature, which would then decide whether or not to proceed with establishing the proposed district.
The agency was formed by the county legislature at the end of 2017 and is comprised of legislative members and officials from various municipalities that surround Chautauqua Lake.
The agency’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 4 p.m. in Mayville and will be open to the public.