Darien opts in to water agreement after receiving assurances that county will pursue equalized rate
The Darien Town Board, in an “eleventh hour” meeting Tuesday night, unanimously passed an amended and restated water supply agreement with Genesee County that includes a stipulation that in seven years the county legislature will petition the Monroe County Water Authority to equalize water rates for all retail customers in the county.
Previously, the board had voted against opting in to the county’s revised water supply proposal, reasoning that the town (along with the Town of Pembroke and Village of Corfu) had been paying more for water than other municipalities all along and shouldn't have to face additional surcharges.
But, last night, after continued talks with County Manager Matt Landers – and receiving assurances that the county will move toward a unified water rate -- the board reconsidered, and joined the county’s other towns and villages by passing the resolution following a 35-minute discussion at the town hall.
The 5-0 vote came a day before the county’s deadline for municipalities to decide whether or not to opt in. The full legislature is expected to vote on the unified water supply agreement at a meeting this afternoon at the Old County Courthouse.
Darien Supervisor Steve Ferry Jr. said the agreement “is not pretty” and called it “a fix of something that we didn’t create.”
“They (legislature) created the problem and it seems like we’re the ones having to fix it,” he said.
Ferry and the town’s council members -- Michael Grant, David Krzemien, Timothy Benton and Michael Fix – said they didn’t agree with the county tying water supply agreements with sales tax distribution.
Several weeks ago, the county came up with an idea to share $10 million annually for 38 years in sales tax revenue with its towns and villages as long as all of the municipalities opted in to revised water supply agreements.
That looks as though that will happen now that Darien has opted in. The town stands to receive $970,942 annually for the 38 years in sales tax distribution.
Ferry said his board held out until it received something in writing that the county would take steps to ensure a unified, equalized water rate.
“It is not a strongly worded agreement, but it is an irrevocable resolution,” he said. “The other thing is that it kind of holds the legislature’s feet to the fire, although not as much as I wanted. But it does give us something to shoot for.”
He said the agreement is a good thing for the town, but for those in the five water districts, “they’re going to feel a 60-cent per thousand (gallons) hit.”
The Darien board was able to get the county to add a paragraph to the water supply agreement that states the following:
Notwithstanding any other provisions herein, at seven (7) years after the date of full execution of this Amended and Restated Agreement, the County Legislature shall adopt and submit to the Monroe County Water Authority an irrevocable resolution urging and recommending that the Authority equalize the water rates for all retail customers in Genesee County. Upon failure of the County to timely comply with this requirement, the surcharge rate shall automatically revert to the rate as per Paragraph 6 herein (60 cents) with no additional action needed by either party; provided further that this reversion to 60 cents for each one thousand gallons of water used shall not be applied retroactively.
Krzemien acknowledged that the revision was “a step in the right direction,” but wondered about the status of the town’s current agreement. Ferry said once they signed the new one, the other would be nullified.
Grant said he had problems with the word “timely” in the added paragraph.
“What does timely mean?” he asked. “Timely doesn’t mean (anything) to me. What is going to bind the legislature to follow through after seven years?”
Ferry said the county plans to shut down the City of Batavia water plant, which would pave the way for all municipalities to get their water from MCWA and allow the legislature to “take in the entire county and equalize the rate.”
“It’s not going to happen for six years; 2027 is the projected date of that happening,” he said, adding that equalization can’t happen unless the city and the Town of Batavia become retail customers like the other towns and villages.
Contacted this morning, Landers said the agreement with Darien is the same as every other contract, with the “minor change that will give better assurances to the Town of Darien that the county is going to follow through on what are plan ultimately is – an equalized retail MCWA rate throughout Genesee County.”
“That is something that we have long talked about what the future holds,” he said.
Landers said that in seven years, the county will request MCWA to create an equalized, countywide retail rate.
“Right now, there are different retail rates. Customers on the Western side of the county – Darien, Corfu, Pembroke – pay a higher retail rate because their water comes from Erie County. That’s the only difference there is in this agreement,” he explained.
He said he will be sending a letter out to the Towns of Darien and Pembroke and Village of Corfu.
“If the legislature passes this agreement, I am going to send out a letter, giving them 120 days’ notice as is required in the agreement,” he said. “We can’t raise the rate to $1.20 effective tomorrow. We have to give 120 days’ notification. The rate won’t take effect – that $1.20 – until after 120 days have passed.
“We did the same thing with the other agreements. If we ever raise the rate above $1.20, we have to give 120 days’ notification for that as well.”
Landers said the county could act toward equalizing the water rate now, but it would be best to wait until city residents enter the retail customer pool.
“The shutting of the city plant and the addition of city retail customers into the pool make the overall rate go down, but it’s not a requirement. Technically speaking, we could go retail now without city customers included because they wouldn’t and they’re not retail customers of MCWA. You would just have the outer towns,” he said. “But it makes sense to equalize once you have more customers to bring the rate down. Once the city is a retail customer, that’s the bigger trigger -- whether the plant is closed or not.”
He said the plan is for that to happen within seven years as the county continues to bring in more water as part of Phase 3 of its Countywide Water Supply Project.
In the end, Landers said he appreciates the efforts of the municipalities on the West side of the county.
“I know that we didn’t always agree, but I appreciate the efforts that Steve and his board went through to consider this – along with the Town of Pembroke and Village of Corfu,” he said. “I’m glad we came to this resolution and, in the end, I think it’s better for everyone. I’m going to remain optimistic and positive.”
Photo: The Darien Town Board at its meeting last night, clockwise from left, Steve Ferry Jr., Deputy Clerk Gwen Yoder, David Krzemien, Timothy Benton, Michael Fix and Michael Grant. Photo by Mike Pettinella.