Tanner sez he will offer W.P. rate compromise

Christian Araos

Village of East Williston Mayor David Tanner said Tuesday the East Williston Board of Trustees will submit a proposed settlement offer to the Village of Williston Park in an effort settle the ongoing dispute between the two villages over the rate Williston Park charges East Williston for water.

“Were working on a proposal that we think both communities will feel to be very reasonable,” Tanner said.

On Friday, Tanner stood by his claim that Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar rejected a request made by state sen. Jack Martins to mediate the ongoing water dispute between the two villages.

“We the village stand by the accuracy of our statements,” Tanner said.

Ehrbar denied the claims in a column published in the Aug. 21 issue of The Williston Times. 

“This never happened!,” Ehrbar wrote, “To bring the senator, a good friend to both villages into this discussion is outrageous, inappropriate and unconscionable!”

Ehrbar also criticized Tanner and the East Williston Board of Trustees for personally attacking him.

“For the East Williston Mayor and Board to continually attack both me personally and the Williston Park Village Board serves no purpose, if East Williston is sincere about wanting to settle this dispute,” Ehrbar wrote. “It appears that the East Williston Board is running a public relations campaign with inaccurate comments and mischaracterizing statements in order to convince their constituents that they must build a water plant.”

The East Williston Board voted on Aug. 10 to move forward with the environmental review process required by the state for the installation of a well near Devlin Park.

Tanner said in July that what he termed Williston Park’s repeated price increases and unwillingness to negotiate a reduction in water rates was making the idea of East Williston installing its own well more sensible. 

He maintained that even under current rates East Williston residents would save money by building its own water plant. He also criticized Williston Park’s handling of its water system, calling it a “fiscal disaster.”

East Williston retained the services of H2M Architects to conduct the environmental review. The well would cost slightly less than $7 million according to an H2M presentation made last November. 

In his column, Ehrbar challenged Tanner on his assertion that East Williston residents would save money with a village water plant.

“If their plan comes to fruition it will quickly become obvious that operating a water plant requires ongoing costs and more effort than just turning on a spigot,” Ehrbar wrote.

“Even if the cost of building a water plant in East Williston meets projected costs, which seems unlikely, in the long run, their residents will be saddled with water rates far exceeding those currently being charged by Williston Park,” Ehrbar added.

Williston Park currently charges East Williston $4.33 per thousand gallons. That figure was upheld by the appeals court after a lawsuit filed by the Village of East Williston. 

In a letter posted on the village website on July 1, Tanner and the East Williston trustees announced that they will be holding a public meeting in September to “review our water options with residents.” 

The announcement coincided with a decision by the Village of Williston Park to file suit in Nassau County Supreme Court against East Williston over unpaid penalties stemming from an ongoing dispute over the price Williston Park is charging East Williston for water.

In 2011, Williston Park board raised the price of water to East Williston from $2.99 per thousand gallons to $3.83 per thousand gallons. Williston Park followed with an increase from $3.83 per thousand gallons to $4.33 per thousand gallons in 2012. Ehrbar said the rate increases included other services that differed East Williston’s cost of water.

East Williston trustees filed lawsuits against Williston Park following each rate increase.  

In early July 2014, 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 then 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. Tanner said the water penalties Williston Park is attempting to collecting are punitive in character.

Village of Williston Park voted in July to file suit in Nassau County Supreme Court against East Williston over the unpaid penalties.

Tanner said in July he is sure Williston Park will raise the rate again to overcome a $150,000 budget deficit.

“It is obvious he’s concerned about the likelihood of us building our own well and the loss of potential revenue,” Tanner said.

Ehrbar declined to respond to Tanner’s statement.

Ehrbar confirmed in July that the village is facing a $150,000 deficit, saying that the amount is “equal to the cost needed to defend ourselves” in litigation with East Williston.

But he denied that the village planned to raise the water rates for East Williston.

“There’s no current plan in place to have a rate increase,” Ehrbar said at the time.. “We are currently in the midst of court action.”

The two sides also continue to disagree over whether the other has adequately responded to letters sent from the village’s respective attorneys. 

Ehrbar wrote that East Williston has not responded in writing to a letter sent six weeks ago. Tanner said Williston Park did not respond to a counteroffer made. 

Ehrbar and Tanner each separately said that they were tired of finger pointing made by both sides.

“This type of behavior only confuses the facts and has the potential of creating unnecessary animosity between the Villages, a disservice to all residents,” Ehrbar said.

Reach reporter Christian Araos by e-mail at caraos@theislandnow.com or by phone at 516.307.1045 x204. Also follow us on Twitter @Christian_Araos and Facebook at facebook.com/theislandnow.

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Christian Araos

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