Williston Park outlines position in water talks, says negotiations at ‘standstill’

James Galloway

Following three rounds of closed-door negotiations between East Williston and Williston Park to settle a longstanding dispute over water rates, Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar has sent a letter from his village’s Board of Trustees to the Williston Times that says negotiations had “come to a standstill once again.”

The letter, which accuses East Williston officials of making “misleading, accusatory comments” to the press, includes a 12-point proposal to East Williston, including provisions about late-payment penalties and terms for long-term price stabilization.

East Williston Mayor David Tanner said he was pleased that “we finally have the start of a concrete offer” and that he would not characterize negotiations as at a standstill.

“We’ve been asking for something in writing for some time,” Tanner said, adding, “Some of what is included [in the letter] has merit, some of what is included is ice in the wintertime.”

In a phone interview Ehrbar said the letter “basically outlines [where] the Village of Williston Park is at with their proposals.”  

“Hopefully this will bring us both back to the table,” he said. “I believe what we’ve proposed here…is advantageous to both villages.”

The multiyear feud between the neighboring villages began in 2011 when Williston Park increased the rate it charged East Williston for water, sparking a lawsuit, a second rate increase and then a second lawsuit. A contract between the villages had expired a number of years prior, Ehrbar said.

As relations worsened, East Williston explored building an independent water supply at an estimated cost of $7 million if the villages could not come to terms.

Significant divides remained between the villages following the most recent round of negotiations earlier this month.

The Williston Park letter said the village has offered to maintain East Williston’s rate of $4.33 per thousand gallons — which a state Appellate Court upheld — and that all future rate increases “that may be mandated by increased costs and regulatory requirements” would preserve the current ratio between the Williston Park residential rate and East Williston rate.

“This would give the price stability that East Williston’s Board has told us is one of its principal objectives,” the letter reads.

It also says that Williston Park is willing to compromise on $300,000 in late-payment and penalty fees it is charging East Williston, something both mayors have previously said remains on the negotiating table. The letter does not include a figure offered by the village.

The letter says that the balance of paid penalties would be “placed in the Williston Park Water Fund, which would benefit both villages.”

The letter’s remaining points addressed services that would be offered to East Williston and that Williston Park would consider taking on routine water sampling.

Ehbar said the letter came from the entire Williston Park Board of Trustees and that everything offered in the letter had been previously offered verbally during the villages’ negotiations, though Tanner said some things seemed new.

“There is nothing new in this document other than to inform the community of where we’re at,” Ehrbar said.

East Williston Deputy Mayor Bonnie Parente questioned the Williston Park’s decision to print its written offer first in the Williston Times.

“It is unfortunate that Mayor Ehrbar has used the newspaper to document an offer he has not presented to the Board before now,” she said in an email.

The letter, which says East Williston officials have “made misleading, accusatory comments in the paper,” also says that the statement is not intended to set off a “he said/she said situation.”

Tanner said simply, “I don’t believe that kind of talk is helpful.”

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