East Williston responds with proposed rate in water talks

James Galloway

Three weeks after Williston Park issued a statement saying its longstanding negotiations with neighboring village East Williston over water rates had reached a “standstill,” East Williston trustees released a letter to Williston Park with a proposed rate of  $3.70 per thousand gallons.

The letter, which East Williston sent to residents on its email listserv and the Williston Park Board of Trustees, also included a proposal for $48,019 in penalty payments.

“I think that if we’re going to move forward, both sides have to compromise,” East Williston Mayor David Tanner said. “That has to be the basis for any agreement.”

Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar declined to comment on the specifics of the East Williston letter until he discusses it with his board, but he said he was “disappointed with some aspects of the proposal.”

“I’m glad they responded to our proposal,” Ehrbar said. “It seemed like negotiations had come to a standstill. It remains to be seen whether this will move it forward or not.”

East Williston purchases its water from Williston Park, but an expired contract and a rate increase by Williston Park in 2011 spurred a multiyear disagreement featuring two lawsuits, a second rate increase and no foreseeable end in sight to the dispute.  

As relations worsened, East Williston explored building an independent well at an estimated cost of $7 million as a plan B, reinvigorating talks between villages. But after three rounds of closed-door negotiations, both villages have thus far been unable to come to terms.

“It’s an endless soap opera,” Williston Park Trustee Michael Uttaro said. “Sad as it is, we appear to be nowhere. We appear to be exactly where we were prior to these lawsuits initiating.”

In its letter, East Williston proposes a water rate of $3.70, splitting the difference between the $3.52 per thousand gallons suggested by its consultant and $3.87 suggested by a consultant from Williston Park.

“Even at $3.70…our residents will be paying 18 percent more than the residents of Williston Park pay, at a minimum,” Tanner said.

Williston Park is seeking $4.33 per thousand gallons, which would maintain the current rate that was upheld by an appellate court, according to the Williston Park letter. Uttaro said he believes the village derived the $4.33 figure from a second water consultant, who determined the $3.87 was calculated incorrectly.

“A panel of judges deemed that $4.33 is a fair, reasonable rate to charge East Williston as a customer,” Uttaro said. “To come back now and still argue the rate is unfair, that’s just not an arguable point. It just says we’re going nowhere.”

Tanner contends that the courts ruled on the legality of the $4.33 rate, not its fairness.

“The court said it was not arbitrary – didn’t say fair. It was not arbitrary,” he said.

The East Williston letter also proposed paying $48,019 in penalty payments, significantly lower than the nearly $300,000 Williston Park had tallied, though both sides have said they would be willing to compromise.

In East Williston’s calculations, Williston Park would receive penalties for unpaid rates prior to the appellate court’s ruling, coming to just over $63,500. Meanwhile, Williston Park would pay equal penalties on a $62,000-plus balance it did not refund East Williston following the court’s dismissal of the first rate increase. The difference comes to $48,019.

“Once the court ruled in our favor we sent them a bill that went unpaid,” Tanner said. “They have claims that they have unpaid bills. We have claims we have unpaid bills.”    

Uttaro said he saw the proposed penalties as insufficient.

East Williston’s letter also takes issue with several of the services Williston Park offered to provide in its letter, taking particular aim at Williston Park’s offer to provide emergency chlorination.

“Such ‘service’ is not now nor has it ever been an additional service,” the East Williston letter says. “After all, as a customer we certainly expect that Williston Park will provide safe, potable water to use as it does to other customers. Our question is why would we now be charged for what has previously been included as part of the provision of water.”

Ehrbar said chlorination could incur additional costs for Williston Park.  

“They could develop a situation in their pipes, not ours,” he said.

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