It appears the Village of Corfu and Genesee County could soon be embroiled in a legal battle.
Relations between the two governmental bodies began heating up when the village received notice the county wanted to double the rates for water use.
Corfu currently has 22 years left on a 40-year contract it signed with the county, in which Corfu is paying 60 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.
The county says it needs the extra money because it miscalculated how much it would cost to provide water to the entire county, specifically the East Bethany area.
At a special meeting Tuesday night, attended by the village board and legislator Gordon Dibble, Corfu attorney David Saleh read a letter from county attorney Kevin Earl, in which Saleh said the word “negotiate” was glaringly admitted. Earl wrote that the deadline of Aug. 27 is fast approaching for design, bid specs, bond counsel and financing for debt commitments and cannot be delayed any longer by lack of a signed Corfu document.
He said 13 of the municipalities in the county have already signed the agreement.
If Corfu does not agree to the increase, the county has threatened to reduce the village’s sales tax allocation by the amount the increase would bring in.
For instance, in 2017, the actual voluntary sales tax allocation was $180,410 and the 2017 total Village of Corfu water consumption was 12,812,000 gallons.
The difference in the surcharge rate between $0.60/1,000 gallons and $1.20/1,000 gallons is $7,687.20, meaning Corfu’s sales tax allocation would be reduced by that amount – to $172,723.27.
This is money which would have to be made up by increasing taxes, said Mayor Joe Johnson.
Johnson is concerned over wording he found in the county’s contract, which he interprets as allowing the county to triple the rate.
“There’s no cap,” said village Trustee Tom Sargent. “It’s $1.20 today and in two years, what’s to stop them from increasing it again?”
One resident who attended Tuesday night’s meeting was Matt Steinberg, who called himself “one angry Corfu taxpayer.”
“If the county is going to put us over a barrel like this, they are going to earn it,” he said. “We have zero interest in funding someone’s water system way out yonder, and I for one am in favor of the village spending the money it needs for litigation.”
Steinberg said he would encourage every resident in Corfu to stop shopping or doing business in Genesee County if the county withholds money from their sales tax allocation.
Trustee Al Graham displayed a map of the county showing proposed improvements in red. He said there is no red in Corfu.
“We have paid for our system,” he said.
“When the county says it wants to renegotiate things in the contract that isn’t beneficial to them, that’s not fair to us,” Saleh said.
Corfu previously had its own water system, and when they signed the agreement with the county in 2002, the village was pumping 75,000 gallons of water per day. Now that the county is using Corfu’s system, they are putting 185,000 gallons through the village system a day.
Currently, neither Genesee County or the Monroe County Water Authority are paying anything for using Corfu’s lines. Graham said when the agreement was signed 18 years ago, the county was supposed to shut Corfu’s water plant down, but they are still using it.
Johnson said what the county is doing is extortion.
“They are taking a contract we signed which is good for our residents and forcing one on us which is bad,” Johnson said.
Graham alluded to the letter from the county which he says gives Corfu two options – sign the new contract or have your sales tax taken away.
“There is a third option,” Graham said. “Keep the signed contract we have. We do not want to fight with the county, but I don’t see how they think they can do this. We are elected to serve the people, and at our second public hearing, 100 percent of the residents there said, ‘Don’t sign.’ We’d be derelict if we didn’t listen to them.”
Graham said Corfu is being bullied by the county, and it is very frustrating.
“We are trying to be reasonable, but they are ignoring our requests to negotiate,” he said.
Corfu will schedule one more public hearing before proceeding with its lawsuit.
CORRECTION: A statement by Mayor Joe Johnson was misreported. In his actual statement, encouraged Corfu residents to stop shopping in Genesee County, not Corfu, if the County withholds sales tax residents. The correction was made in the story. Our apologies to Mayor Johnson.