JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council voted 7 to 1 Monday night in favor of filing a petition for annexation of the Dow Street Substation property in Falconer.
According to Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, last week’s vote by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities and Monday night’s vote by the city council is only the start of a legal process that will include a joint public hearing with the Town of Ellicott and Village of Falconer and which would also still require a final vote by the council within 90 days of that hearing taking place.
“The outgoing mayor, council and BPU board are taking what are the first – not the last and final – steps in the process and will in effect be merely making a formal, on-the-record public recommendation to the incoming mayor, city council and BPU board members as to what they feel is right and is in the best interest of both the city taxpayers and BPU electric ratepayers in the city of Jamestown and throughout the greater Jamestown area,” Teresi said.
If the story feels like Deja Vu, that’s because the Jamestown city council took similar action on annexing the same piece of property in April 2017, launching a two-year long legal battle after both Ellicott and Falconer officials voted to block the initial annexation attempt. In August of this year the New York 4th Appellate Division ultimately ruled against the annexation on a technicality, saying the required paperwork from the city’s legal team of Bond, Schoeneck & King to have the court review and rule on the case was not filed in a timely fashion.
That decision came only after the BPU spent $405,000 from its electric division budget to proceed with the annexation. Meanwhile, Falconer, Ellicott, and the Falconer School District spent over $300,000 to fight it.
Even if the paperwork was filed on time, Ellicott and Falconer officials say the court would have ruled against the city, basing their assumption on a unanimous recommendation that was submitted to the court by a three-member referee panel at the end of 2018.
The city says it wants to annex the property into its own jurisdiction, arguing it is in the public interest of the entire BPU service area because it would ultimately help to save the BPU’s electric division over $160,000 every year. That savings would come from the BPU not having to pay $330,000 in taxes to Ellicott, Falconer, the Falconer School District and Chautauqua County, although $160,000 would then be paid to the city and the Jamestown Public Schools as part of a payment in lieu of tax agreement the BPU has with the city and school district.
As part of the renewed annexation effort, the Jamestown BPU last week approved resolutions that would give Bon, Schoeneck & King an additional $35,000 in payment as part of the previous annexation effort, along with committing up to another $75,000 for the renewed effort.
Monday’s council vote came after more than 30 minutes of public comment with 11 of those who spoke voicing opposition to the annexation or at least requesting the council wait until the new year when a new council and mayoral administration is sworn into office. Those individuals who spoke included both the current mayor of Falconer and the mayor elect, the town of Ellicott Supervisor along with a Town of Ellicott Board member, the Falconer School Superintendent and the Falconer School Board president, and Jamestown Mayor-Elect Eddie Sundquist, who asked the city to table the motion.
Mayor Teresi also spent more than half-an-hour explaining why the annexation is being pursued in addition to outlining the various ways the city has and will continue to work with its neighbors, despite the legal dispute involving the annexation.
The only council member to vote against the annexation resolutions was outgoing Jamestown City Councilman Andrew Liuzzo. Councilwoman Tamu Graham-Reinhardt was recused from voting because she cited a conflict of interest, being an employee of the Falconer School District.
The City Council actually voted on a total of three resolutions involving the annexation – with the final resolution involving the date for the Public Hearing – tentatively set for Wednesday, December 18 at 7 p.m. inside JCC’s Scharmann Theatre.
Following that Public Hearing, the council will have up to 90 days to formally vote for or against the annexation. That vote could come as early as the December 30 voting session. But councilman Tony Dolce said that more than likely it would take place following the new year when Sundquist is sworn into office and a new council is in place.