Progress cited in Williston Park, East Williston water talks

Bryan Ahrens

Village of East Williston and Williston Park officials said last week that progress had been taken to resolve an ongoing dispute over the rates Williston Park charges East Williston for water following discussions between trustees of the two villages on Thursday night.

“Progress was made,” said East Williston Deputy Mayor Bonnie Parente, echoing the comments of other East Williston officials . “The train is moving down the track. Hoping to get it to the station.”

Village of Williston Park Trustee Michael Uttaro seconded these comments, saying he is hopeful going forward.

“It was a very good start,” he said. “It’s about time.”

Village of East Williston Mayor David Tanner said a second meeting between the two villages was scheduled to take place on Thursday, Jan. 29.

“We’re both very optimistic,” Tanner said.

Uttaro said Williston Park officials will meet amongst themselves on Thursday, Jan. 22 to discuss last week’s negotiations alongside other village matters.

“The fact that we are having a second meeting is a good sign,” he said.

Despite the reported progress, East Williston Trustees issued a statement Friday morning saying that the village plans to continue with plans for a proposed $7 million well project in Devlin Park, which they said previously was made necessary by Williston Park officials’ unwillingness to negotiate with them.

“As we negotiate with the Village of Williston Park, we are continuing to move forward with other options as well,” officials said in a letter sent by East Williston Mayor David Tanner and village trustees.

East Williston officials said  that discussions were ongoing between a private water company and the Village of East Williston.

“We were contacted immediately after our November 13th water information meeting by a private water company. One which we previously met with several years ago, who now that we have well permits “in hand” is interested in building and operating an East Williston water supply system,” officials said in the statement.

The officials, who declined to name the identity of the water company, said they “expect to have more information on this soon and if meaningful, conduct another informational meeting with our residents and the private company.”

The five trustees and attorney for both village boards each met at 7:30 p.m. in separate rooms in the East Williston’s Village Hall.

The two boards each entered executive session at the start of the meeting and met in pairs in the Village Hall’s first floor library along with East Williston Attorney Jeff Blinkoff and Williston Park attorney James Bradley.

The two boards were originally scheduled to meet behind closed doors on Thursday.

But the format of the meeting was changed after Robert Freeman, director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said in a Newsday article that the meeting would have violated the 1977 Open Meetings Law

Freeman said the law states that the mayors and a quorum of the board cannot meet to conduct public business unless the public is notified and permitted to attend.

The meeting of village officials is the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between the two sides over two increases in the rate Williston Park charges East Williston for water in the past three years.

In 2011, the Village of Williston Park board raised the price of water to East Williston from $2.99 per thousand gallons to $3.83 per thousand gallons in 2011. Williston Park followed with an increase from $3.83 per thousand gallons to $4.33 per thousand gallons in 2012.

The Village of East Williston trustees filed lawsuits against Williston Park following each rate increases following a break down in negotiations between the two sides in which both sides blamed the other.

In early July, a state Appellate Court found in favor of East Williston in the first lawsuit, stating that Williston Park should have held a public hearing prior to imposing the first rate increase in 2011.

But the court found in favor of Williston Park in the second lawsuit, stating that Williston Park was within its right to raise the water rates in 2012 to $4.33 per thousand gallons.

The Village of Williston Park sent East Williston a bill for $600,000 – $300,000 for withheld rate increase money and $300,000 for interest and penalties – following the court decision.

The Village of East Williston made a payment of $239,000 to Williston Park to cover the cost of the rate increase, minus $61,000 accrued under the price hike that the court ruled to be improper. East Williston officials also announced that Williston Park was not entitled to penalties and interest and they would fight any effort to collect them.

During the Nov. 13 hearing on the proposed village water system, East Williston trustees told residents that Williston Park would not meet to negotiate unless “negotiating penalties are put on the table.”

Williston Park Trustee Teresa Thomann said at the meeting that Williston Park has its own “plan B” as well, but said that she would be willing to facilitate meetings between the two boards to come to an agreement.

Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar said on Dec. 15 in an interview with the Williston Times he agreed with East Williston officials that it is the best interest of both villages to reach an agreement.

“Both sides are looking for a reasonable agreement,” Ehrbar said. “I’m hopeful that agreements can be made.”

East Williston trustees sent a letter to Williston Park trustees a month ago requesting the meeting. Three weeks ago, Williston Park trustees accepted the invitation and last week announced that the two sides had agreed to a Jan. 15 meeting date.

The letter from East Williston came 12 days after a hearing to discuss the proposed $7 million well project in Devlin Park that East Williston trustees said was forced on them by Williston Park trustees’ unwillingness to negotiate with them.

“Had we not put forth the effort to come up with this plan there would be no other opportunity to negotiate,” Tanner said in an interview with the Williston Times.

Tanner said about a month ago that the well project is still a “plan B” for East Williston.

“Our ‘plan A’ is to reach a permanent, reasonable solution with fair prices for both village’s residents,” he said.

“We’re looking for a solution where everyone wins,” Tanner said. “Williston Park is our sister village.”

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Bryan Ahrens

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