The Village of East Williston sent a letter to the Village of Williston Park last week, requesting that the board of trustees for both villages meet to discuss the ongoing three-year water rate dispute between them.
But Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar said he was uncertain how Williston Park would respond.
“We haven’t come to a decision yet,” Ehrbar said in an interview with Blank Slate Media.
The Williston Park board sent East Williston trustees a letter this week stating that the Williston Park trustees will consider the meeting request during an executive session on Dec. 15, according to a source close to the discussions.
The letter, dated Nov. 25, provides Williston Park with a set of dates in which the East Williston trustees is willing to meet with Williston Park trustees.
“No one can ever say that at the end of the day we didn’t try out best to negotiate,” East Williston Mayor David Tanner said of the letter.
The meeting dates proposed by East Williston include: Jan. 6, Jan. 7, Jan. 8 and Jan. 15 of the upcoming year.
East Williston sent the letter to Williston Park 12 days after a hearing was held in East Williston to discuss a proposed $7 million well project in Devlin Park, a project 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.
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 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 the two rate increases after 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.
“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.”
“I thought that we should have possibly facilitated a year and a half, two years ago.” Thomann added. “Unfortunately not everyone liked my idea.”
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.”
Tanner said that the well project, which consists of a 70’ by 50’ water system built partially below grade along East Williston Avenue with no overhead or elevated water tank, 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,” Tanner said.
Tanner said that East Williston is looking at other methods of negotiating with Williston Park.
“I’m absolutely optimistic about the letter,” Tanner said. “We’re also considering an informal committee of citizens to speak with their citizens.”
He said that this plan is still being discussed.
“We’re looking for a solution where everyone wins,” Tanner said. “Williston Park is our sister village.”