Village of Corfu? In.
Town of Darien? Out.
Town of Pembroke? To be determined.
That’s the status of three municipalities on the western side of Genesee in the county’s quest to achieve updated water supply agreements from all towns and villages leading up to a proposed $10 million annual sales tax distribution plan.
Corfu, Darien and Pembroke had been holding out on signing the amended water agreements since early July when the Genesee County Legislature introduced its potential solution to revenue distribution by linking it to a reworking of current water supply pacts.
On July 28th, Corfu trustees voted to accept the agreement.
Last week, Darien Town council members voted, 5-0, to not accept the county’s offer.
And this coming Thursday (Aug. 12), the Pembroke Town Board is scheduled to vote on the issue.
A $10 MILLION OFFER
As previously reported, the county needs universal buy-in to the updated water agreements to set a plan in motion to distribute $10 million in sales tax revenue to municipalities over the next 38 years.
Without all towns and villages opting in, the county is proposing to distribute $7 million in annual sales tax revenue and another $3 million in other revenue on a periodic basis over the next 38 years. Municipalities not opting in would receive less in revenue distribution than expected to allow for the equalization of water surcharge revenue.
Contacted Sunday, County Manager Matt Landers explained that money would have to be withheld from communities that don’t sign the agreement to ensure that the water fund is made whole.
“In those cases, it will be the entire community paying for it and not just the water users,” he said. “For the Town of Darien, we’ll make sure water consumption is covered at $1.20 (per 1,000 gallons) if it can’t be covered by a surcharge because there’s a valid contract in place only charging them 60 cents. So, we’ll just have to equalize that through lower revenue distribution payments.”
Landers said he respects Darien’s decision, but welcomes further discussion with Darien Supervisor Steve Ferry Jr. and the board.
“We would love to have a $10 million sales tax sharing agreement in place for the next 38 years to provide that guaranteed revenue source to all towns and villages, but Darien is going to do what it feels is best,” he said. “I understand he’s (Ferry) doing what he believes is in the best interests of his constituents, which a town supervisor would do. I happen to disagree.”
DARIEN BOARD NOT CONVINCED
Ferry said his board rejected the county’s idea for several reasons.
“We have a water agreement in place,” he said. “This is the same resolution that they offered in 2018 and the board, then, rejected it. It was a totally different board but the outcome was the same, a vote of five to nothing.”
He said Darien officials are looking for a master plan to see “what was going to happen in the future” and also for movement toward an equitable, unified water rate in the county.
“We felt that our positioning was that if we signed it, they would still ignore us. So, we did not sign it because it is the only bargaining position that we have,” he advised.
Ferry said the county “ditched the sales tax agreement in 2018 with the towns and village in favor of a contract with the City of Batavia, and now they want us to try and fix it.”
“The two (water and sales tax) shouldn’t even be connected,” he said. “Why is it that we’re tying them together now?”
FERRY: ‘GIVE US A BONE’
When it was mentioned that the Town of Darien would receive less in revenue than entitled to based on assessed valuation, Ferry said, “Possibly, but then again, possibly, I call the AG’s (New York State Attorney General) office.”
“I’m saying, ‘Work with us here. Give us a bone.’ And they did nothing. They would not even produce a letter stating that they would try to equalize the rate within X amount of years – because I think they don’t think they can.”
Ferry said the Town of Darien pays $1.12 more per 1,000 gallons of water than other communities.
“If they make the claim that water pays for water, we on the western side of the county have been paying more for our water to get water out here,” he said. “If the east and the central part need water, why not make them pay more?
“We represent our constituents and if we were to sign this contract … in addition to the old one, and they get charged 60 cents more per thousand (gallons) right off the bat, what else do they get out of that contract? We can’t enter into an agreement that is worse than the one we have without something as an offset.”
Landers said by opting in to updated water agreements, municipalities are ensuring that their water users are paying their fair share of the cost for water.
“One way or the other, Darien will still pay the additional costs – it’s a matter if they want to pay through the entire town or through the water users,” he said. “I still hope and there’s still time since I’ll be back in the office tomorrow and will reach out to Steven and see if there’s anything else that I can communicate.”
LANDERS OPEN TO MORE TALK
He said that he and Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein presented the plan at meetings of the Village of Corfu and Town of Pembroke boards, and indicated that Ferry attended the Corfu meeting as well while another Darien council member was at the Pembroke meeting.
Landers also said he would like to address the entire Town of Darien board – something that hasn’t happened yet – as the deadline for towns and villages to make their intentions known is this Friday.
“I’d be more than willing to have further talks with Steve,” he said. “I’m 100 percent available to Steve and the Darien Town Board to talk some more, and until the 13th comes and goes, there is still an opportunity.”
Calling it a “complex issue,” Landers said the original water agreement has limitations to it as it has a fixed 60-cent surcharge (per 1,000 gallons).
“Genesee County is responsible for bringing an adequate supply of water into the county, and we have incurred significant monies beyond Phase 1 into Phase 2, and now going into Phase 3. If we truly want water paying for water, we can’t live by water supply agreements that are fixed at 60 cents for time in eternity,” he said.
“When we raise the surcharge, we have to raise it across the board for all users because it’s our responsibility to bring supply into the entire county. I realize that Darien and Pembroke don’t see the benefit of paying that extra 60 cents because they received their benefit from Phase 1. But with Phase 3, there will be future enhancements that will benefit them.”
Landers said he was not involved in the first round of water supply agreements with municipalities … and looking back, “the 60 cents didn’t work and that is one of the major factors that we’re trying to change with all of these updated water supply agreements; the ability to have water paying for water.”
PEMBROKE: IT’S A MATTER OF TRUST
When asked about the Town of Pembroke, he said he did not want to speculate, stating only that he has had “a good conversation” with the Pembroke Town Board.
Pembroke Supervisor Thomas Schneider Jr. said he believes there is support for the amended agreement, but also noted “some concerns from the past over the way things have been handled, as far as agreements with the county.”
Citing lingering hard feelings, he said the county has “made agreements that they don’t seem to be concerned about breaking.”
“So, now if we sign on to this new one, what’s to say that it can’t be changed five years down the road. I think that’s the biggest concern that most people on our board have.”
Landers said it’s his job to try and build trust in all the towns and villages and hopes that “over time they will believe what we say.”
An email to Corfu Deputy Mayor Michael Doktor and a phone call to Mayor Thomas Sargent seeking comment were not returned. In fact, there has been no reply to requests from The Batavian from either village official throughout this process.
Previously: Ways & Means passes measures rescinding revenue distribution payments, accepting HCA with Plug Power.
Previously: Genesee's west side municipalities considering county legislature's sales tax/revenue distribution proposal.