Village of East Williston trustees told a packed room of residents on Thursday in Village Hall that a proposed plan to build a $7 million water system in Devlin Park came as a last resort after a three-year dispute with Williston Park over water rates had shown no progress.
“We have no other option at this point,” Deputy Mayor Bonnie Parente said during the hearing. “I hope by the end the majority of you will see that we don’t have another choice.”
Village officials called the meeting in Village Hall to discuss a report prepared by Melville-based company H2M architects + engineers on construction the water system, which was posted on the village’s website two weeks ago and accompanied by a letter to residents.
In the letter, the village of East Williston announced plans to build an “independent water supply system” in Devlin Park that would replace water provided by the Village of Williston Park at rates which have been the source of contention for three years.
The letter, which was signed by Village of East Williston Mayor David Tanner and the four village trustees, said the project would include a 70’ by 50’ water system built partially below grade along East Williston Avenue but would not include an overhead or elevated water tank. Village officials also said the construction of the water supply system would not disrupt use of the ball fields at the park, but would use the area currently occupied by tennis courts and would require their reconstruction once the project was completed.
“This is a permanent, independent, self-contained solution,” Tanner told an overflow crowd of residents at Village Hall. “We don’t need a long term but a permanent solution.”
Tanner said the plan currently supported by the trustees calls for a 30-year bond for $6,955,990 with a 3 percent interest rate. The bond, according to village projections, would not be paid off until 2044 with payments totalling $10,406,161.
The proposed bond, he said, would be subject to a vote by residents and would follow multiple hearings conducted by trustees.
The Village of Williston Park has raised the price of water to East Williston twice in the past three years. In 2011, the Village of Williston Park raised the price of water to East Williston from $2.99 per thousand gallons to $3.83 per thousand gallons in 2011. They followed with an increase from $3.83 per thousand gallons to $4.33 per thousand gallons in 2012.
During the public hearing, which lasted until 12:30 a.m. Friday, Williston Park Trustee Teresa Thomann said 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.
“We’re a community, we shouldn’t be adversarial,” Thomann said. “Call my cell number, send me something because I will make sure we facilitate a meeting,” Thomann told the board.
“I thought that we should have possibly facilitated a year and a half, two years ago.” Thomann added. “Unfortunately not everyone liked my idea.”
Efforts to reach Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar were unavailing.
The Village of East Williston trustees filed lawsuits against Williston Park following the two rate increases after a break down in negotiations between the two sides.
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.
East Williston trustees told residents Thursday that they are still open to negotiations with Williston Park but that multiple attempts to negotiate failed, and said that Williston Park will only meet if “negotiating penalties are put on the table.”
East Williston Trustee Robert Vella said that there is a danger in relying on Williston Park for water because they can raise the rates as they like.
“That’s not a neighbor I personally want to be beholden with,” Vella said.
Thomann said she believed the two villages could benefit from having both boards meet together, something she said is required at this point.
“I feel that it is bigger than the 10 of us,” Thomann said. “There’s a lot at stake here and I think we owe it to our children, I think we owe it to ourselves to figure something out.”