Village of Corfu resisting county's proposed new water contract
The Village of Corfu is digging in its heels when it comes to the county’s demand that it sign a new contract allowing the county to increase rates charged for water.
“We want to make sure as a board we let everyone know what we’re dealing with,” said Mayor Joseph Biggs Johnson at Monday night's village board meeting.
Trustee Al Graham explained to the more than 40 residents who attended that the village has a 40-year contract with the county, with 22 more years to go, guaranteeing a rate of 60 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used.
“Now they want us to do away with that contract and sign another allowing them to charge any amounts the county decides are necessary,” Graham said. “The money collected will be used to provide water to other Genesee County residents, and as we already have a water system in place, we won’t get any benefit from this increase.”
Genesee County said the increase is necessary because they underestimated the demand for water throughout Genesee County and the rate needs to be raised substantially to generate the money to pay for more water.
The Corfu Village Board is further upset by what it considers a threat from the county attorney to take away sales tax from the village, even refusing to maintain water lines if Corfu fails to sign the new contract.
One resident remarked the village was essentially being held hostage.
“We don’t like the words ‘blackmail’ or ‘extortion’ but we’ve been told we can sign or we can lose a big portion of our sales tax, which we use to run our village,” the mayor said.
He said then they would be forced to raise taxes.
Trustee Tom Sargent said other towns had already signed, except Corfu, Darien, Pembroke and the City of Batavia.
Johnson said another thing which upset them was the fact the county couldn’t tell them if the charge would increase past 60 cents, and no plans or improvements were ever discussed with the village before the decisions were made.
Graham said the village board has to investigate legal action.
“But we have to expect if we come in with a lawyer, the county will have 20,” Johnson said.
He said the county justifies the increase by rationalizing in this way: When the entire county has water, it will attract more business and more residents, which will result in more sales tax.
“But will it be enough to offset the extra cost?” Johnson asked.
A lady in the audience said there was no guarantee new businesses would be coming in, when businesses are moving out of New York State and people are leaving.
Another resident asked why areas which still need water couldn’t be charged enough to pay the cost, but the mayor explained the county wanted to be fair and charge the entire county.
When someone asked what the board’s stance was, the reply was, “We won’t sign.”
That was met with rousing applause from the crowd.
“If we would benefit by better water, it would be acceptable to pay more,” Graham said, “but we aren’t going to.”
The board said it has been getting pressure from the county for several months to sign.
Village Attorney David Saleh said taking money from one source as a penalty for another may be legal, but it also may be a breach of Corfu’s existing contract, something he is looking into.
The board urged residents to contact their state and county lawmakers and express their concerns.
The county was invited to send a representative to the meeting, but no one attended.
It was decided to schedule another public hearing on a date which is convenient for someone from the county to attend.