East Williston seeks halt to Williston Park water bills

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The Village of East Williston is seeking a court order to stop the Village of Williston Park from billing East Williston for water services until a lawsuit contesting the rates Williston Park is charging are decided by the Supreme Court in Nassau County, according to court documents.

In response Williston Park has opposed the motion and asked that the court expedite its decision on whether Williston Park can continue to bill East Williston while the case continues in court.

“I’ve asked for an expedited decision here because this is public money we’re talking about,” said Williston Park village attorney James Bradley.  

In its filings with the court, East Williston village attorney Jeffrey Blinkoff  is seeking to block admission of new evidence that Bradley has submitted – minutes of a village board workshop meeting on March 7 workshop meeting last year. The minutes show that the Williston Park Board of Trustees unanimously voted to raise the water rates it was charging East Williston to $3.83 per 1,000 gallons, up from $2.99 per 1,000 gallons.

In a Jan. 6 letter to Supreme Court Judge Bruce Cozzens, Blinkoff said that Bradley’s second reply to the East Williston lawsuit should not be accepted and neither should the minutes of the March 7 meeting. He argued in his motion that the minutes should have been filed with Williston Park’s initial response to East Williston’s suit.

“Further, it is asked that this Court also stay any further issuance of bills by Williston Park to the Village of East Williston at the higher water rate until this Court reaches a determination of this matter,” Blinkoff wrote.

Bradley said the minutes of the meeting corroborate Ehrbar’s assertion that he didn’t act on his own in increasing the price Williston Park charges East Williston for water.

“This document confirms the statements in Mayor Ehbar’s affidavit that the decision to increase the water rate for East Williston was made by the Village Board of Williston Park, and not unilaterally by Mayor Enrbar,” Bradley wrote in his reply.

Bradley said he forgot to include the minutes of the meeting in his initial filing of documents in the case.

The case, in part, focuses on whether Williston Park followed legal procedures in implementing a water rates increase on East Williston. 

In a memorandum of law filed on Dec. 8, Blinkoff repeated East Williston’s contention that in imposing the new water rate Ehrbar’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious.”

Blinkoff wrote that the rates were raised by Ehrbar without a public hearing or a local law passed by the board, and should be invalidated.

“No explanation in the letter is given as to how the new rate was determined, nor is there any indication that a public hearing was scheduled to review the question. East Williston was merely sent this letter after the fact,” Blinkoff wrote in reaction to Williston Park’s mid-December response to his Dec. 8 filing.

The March 7 meeting in which the rate increase was approved followed a letter dated March 2 from Ehrbar to East Williston village officials informing them of the rate increase.

Bradley said the board voted to approve the increase in East Williston’s water rates at a February workshop meeting.   

“East Williston will claim differently because they’re not operating in good faith here,” Bradley said.

Binkoff and East Williston officials state that Ehrbar told them he would raise the rates “because I can.”

Ehrbar has said members of the East Williston Village Board walked out of a meeting with him in February because the full Williston Park board was not present for the meeting.

Ehrbar said he and Village of Williston Park Deputy Mayor William Darmstadt had usually conferred with East Williston officials by themselves, and he was expecting to settle the rates the night the East Williston officials walked out.

In his affidavit, Ehrbar said Williston Park had been “rational and fair” in setting the new rate and East Williston’s refusal to negotiate had forced its neighbor village’s hand.

“It is the position of the Williston Park Board now that because the East Williston board refuses to enter into a long-term agreement, and because of the dramatically rising costs in running its water system, Williston Park can no longer afford to grant the generous discount of 78 percent off the commercial rate that it previously granted to East Williston,” Ehrbar said in his affidavit.

Bradley said Williston Park officials gave East Williston officials ample opportunity to negotiate the rates, but the East Williston officials would only consider the rate they had paid in the past.

“They want the discount they think they’re entitled to,” Bradley said.

Williston Park officials noted the $3.83 rate – an increase from $2.99 –  is the same rate it’s charging its commercial customers.

In a Dec. 8 reply to Williston Park’s first response to its lawsuit, East Williston included an affadavit from John Guastella, president of Guastella Associates LLC, which produced an engineering report for both villages when they were trying to negotiate new water rates in 2006.

Guastella said Williston Park didn’t conduct a rate study prior to raising East Williston’s rate and incorrectly included East Williston in a category with commercial users. Guastella said that East Williston should be classified separately as a “wholesale service” water user.

“East Williston fits the definition of wholesale service perfectly,” Guastella said in his affadavit. He added that Williston Park “failed to use generally accepted cost allocation and rate design principles and methodology.”

Blinkoff noted that the $2.85 per thousand gallons rate Guastella recommended – at a 78 percent discount from the $3.65  commercial rate – was accepted by Williston Park at the time of the 2006 study.

Bradley objected to the Guastella affadavit in his letter to the court, stating that Guastella had gone beyond the information contained in the study he undertook for both villages. Bradley told the court that Williston Park has not been given ample chance to reply to the merits of Guastella’s latest statements.

Affadavits from East Williston Mayor David Tanner and Trustee Michael Braito also were filed on Dec. 8.

Tanner reiterated East Williston officials’ claim that Ehrbar had not received board approved approval before raising East Williston’s rates, repeating that East Williston officials consider his actions “arbitrary and capricious.”

Braito also noted that Guastella’s 2006 report recommended that Williston Park charge East Williston a rate of $2.85 per thousand gallons.

The East Williston rates agreed upon in 2006 were adopted by Williston Park officials, who passed a local law in setting the rates at the time.

Braito said East Williston should be classified as a wholesale water user by its neighbor village. He said Williston Park “does not have any rational explanation” for classifying East Williston as a commercial user.

Bradley said Williston Park acted within the parameters of its existing local law in resetting the rates after unsuccessfully attempting to reach a deal with East Williston officials last year.

“What we maintained is that a public hearing is not necessary for a change in rates,” Bradley said.

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