UPDATE (8:51 p.m., Nov. 21, 2019) – Our initial report inadvertently left out details of a third spending resolution by the BPU approved during its Wednesday meeting. Also added was the total amount of money the BPU has now committed to both the failed 2017 annexation effort as well as the new 2019 annexation effort: $515,871. And finally, the Jamestown City Council will act on an annexation resolution when it meets on Monday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
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JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Board of Public Utilities held its monthly meeting Wednesday and, following an executive session, voted unanimously to continue pursuing the annexation effort for a piece of city-owned property in the town of Ellicott/village of Falconer.
The vote continues the annexation effort that started in January 2017 and which culminated in August of this year with a decision from the State Appellate Division – Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester, which ruled against the city’s effort to annex the BPU Dow Street Substation property, stating that the city’s original petition to initiate the court review on the matter was untimely.
But while that August appellate court ruling was against Jamestown, it also kept the door open on whether or not the city was legally allowed to annex the property. That’s because no decision was made on the merits of the case, only on the technicality of missing a filing date.
The Jamestown City Council initially voted in favor of annexing the property in August 2017. But both the Ellicott and Falconer boards voted against the annexation effort in September that same year, arguing the move was not in the best public interest, nor was it even legally allowed. Those in opposition of the annexation have also said it is nothing more than a money grab by the city in order to help solve the financial challenges in its general operating budget.
- RELATED: JUNE 2017 PUBLIC HEARING ON ANNEXATION DRAWS LARGE CROWD OF OPPOSITION
- RELATED: ELLICOTT, FALCONER OFFICIALS DISCUSS ANNEXATION ON COMMUNITY MATTERS (JUN 2017)
Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, who also serves as president of the BPU by way of his elected position, told WRFA at the start of the month that the annexation effort is not something that was initiated by the city government, but instead came forward as a recommendation by BPU General Manager David Leathers and his staff.
“Staff initiated this on their own back in 2017. They did the research on it and felt there was a benefit to the Board of Public Utilities electric division. It not only benefited the city but also benefited all customers in the electric division – in the village of Falconer, the village of Celoron, the town of Ellicott – but there was also a benefit directly back to the city budget and the Jamestown Public School system budget,” Teresi explained.
The Dow Street substation property is actually a combination of four separate parcels assessed at a total value of $7,861,599. Currently the BPU pays a total of $333,889 in property taxes out of its electric division budget. If the annexation were to take place and the property fell into the jurisdiction of the city, Teresi said BPU electric customers would no longer pay those property taxes and the BPU would instead make an annual payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) to both the city of Jamestown and the Jamestown School District of about $80,000 each.
“Another way to look at it, over a ten year period it would result in about a $1.7 million in savings to the BPU electric division that could help forestall rate increases moving forward,” Teresi said, adding, “As we know rate increases do not happen every year. Rate increases are meant to cover a sustained period of time moving forward and the savings to the city of Jamestown over that ten year period is about $800,000 and $800,000 to the Jamestown School District. And all of that money – over a ten year period – is certainly not inconsequential.”
In addition to voting 9 to 0 in favor of the annexation, the BPU also voted unanimously to retain the services of the law firm Bond, Schoeneck and King, the legal team that helped to build and argue the city’s case for annexation the past two years and who were also responsible for failing to file the legal paperwork on time in in the fall of 2017. That failure ultimately led to the appellate court decision against the city this past August.
The Jamestown BPU has so far committed over $400,000 in legal fees toward the case. Falconer/Ellicott/School District have spent at least $320,000.
As part of Wednesday’s vote to retain the legal services, the BPU also approved an additional $35,871 change order to the legal team for its past work on the annexation. In addition, the BPU approved another resolution of up to $75,000 to open a new annexation case. That puts the total amount of money the BPU has committed to both the failed annexation effort as well as the new annexation effort to $515,871.
The resolutions acted on Wednesday did not appear on the agenda for the BPU’s monthly meeting so the public was unaware the vote was going to take place. It came only after the board went into executive session to discuss ongoing legal matters.
With the BPU voting to proceed with the annexation, the matter must now be acted on by the City Council. The vote by the council would be to initiate the annexation process by filing a petition for annexation. If that is approved, the city, the town and the village would have to again hold a joint public hearing before any final, formal annexation vote is to take place.
The next voting session for the city council is Monday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m. An agenda for that meeting was released Thursday afternoon and an annexation resolution is included under new business.
“[Dummy] Resolution relative to the Dow Street Annexation request by the City of Jamestown Board of Public Utilities.”