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Bristol Harbour Village preparing to sue town

Bristol Harbour Village preparing to sue town Photo: Julie Sherwood, Messenger Post Media.

October 05, 2017 06:53 AM

SOUTH BRISTOL — The South Bristol Town Board unanimously approved a sewer rate increase for Bristol Harbour Village homeowners of more than 64 percent. An average homeowner will see a jump from $504 to $893 a year in the sewer fee, according to the association representing the development’s 347 households.

It’s a rate hike villagers are ready to fight. Contending the increase is unjust, unfair and unreasonable — and a violation of rights — Bristol Harbour Village Association (BHVA) put the Town Board on notice it is prepared to file an Article 78 proceeding, challenging the decision in court.

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“The South Bristol Town Board’s approval of this fee increase, we contend, was irrational, arbitrary, and capricious, and in violation of the rights of BHVA’s members to due process and equal protection, among other things, under the United States and New York Constitutions,” stated PhillipsLytle LLP, the firm representing the association, in a Sept. 25 letter to the Bristol Sewage Disposal Corporation, owned by Todd and Laura Cook. The film noted that all BHVA members’ payments on or after Sept.12, 2017, of sewer fees charged by the corporation “are made under protest, until further notice.”

The proposed increase was controversial for months. Villagers objected to the dramatic spike in their sewer rate, along with a proposed 116 percent water rate hike. The water rate hike, involving the water works also owned by the Cooks, remains under review by the state Public Service Commission, which will have the final say.

Reached Monday, Town Supervisor Dan Marshall declined to comment citing the pending lawsuit. Messages left for Todd and Laura Cook were not returned.

Attorney Mark Moretti with PhillipsLytle LLP, in a Sept. 13 letter to Marshall, contended the Town Board passed the sewer rate increase “without sharing with the ratepayers the financial information that was apparently recently provided to the Town by the Cooks or the prior shareholders. Without this financial information, the ratepayers could not do a review nor could comment be made.”

Moretti further contended that the resolution to raise the rate was passed at a meeting “without reasonable notice, and some residents had been told that action on this application would probably be deferred until December.”

A number of issues are in play over the sewer rate hike. According to Moretti, who is also a Bristol Harbour Village resident, one major question is what happened to more than $300,000 “that magically disappeared.”

Those funds were built up with the collected payments of the ratepayers over a period of years, according to Chad Flansburg, partner with PhillipsLytle, in an Aug. 9 letter to Marshall, stating that asset “was on the books when the Sewer Corporation was owned by the prior owner and has disappeared when Mr and Mrs. Cook acquired the stock of the Sewer Corporation, and they now request funds in their rate case to replace that which has disappeared.”

Moretti said a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request was submitted to the town for a full accounting of the funds. The FOIL asks for all documents and other materials pertaining to the sewer rate hike. Included are agendas, minutes, and any transcripts or audio or visual recordings of Town Board meetings, along with all correspondences and other communications.

“Hopefully this will reveal some of the documents that have been cloaked in mystery,” said Moretti, who talked about the matter in a conference call with several Bristol Harbour Village residents who got together Monday at the village’s Community Center: Joe Kohler III; James Bachman, a former South Bristol Town Board member; John York, retired Livingston County sheriff; and Fred Sarkis, who founded Bristol Harbour in the late 1960s.

“We want this to be fair and equitable,” said Bachman.

The residents also demand transparency. “Too much has been going on behind closed doors,” said Moretti.

Also at issue: Who benefits from the rate hike? An expansion of the sewer district, which is under consideration, should not penalize ratepayers, according to the BHVA. On the contrary, adding ratepayers should lower rates, not generate a 64 percent rate hike, they contend.

The town should be scrutinizing these matters, they say, to ensure that the owners of the sewer corporation are not just acting in their own self-interest.

“The town should be on our side,” said Sarkis.

York said he recognizes the Cooks have made tremendous personal investment in Bristol Harbour. “They have spent millions of dollars of their own money to upgrade both the facilities and golf course which improve it for all of us living here,” York said. He added he recognizes the need for upgrades in the water and sewer systems.

“I just feel the rate increase proposals were too high and could have been better handled by open dialogue and an increase over time,” he said. “Now we are mandated by the town to comply with a 64 percent sewer increase for 5 years and a pending 116 percent increase in water.”

“We are not asking for anything unfair,” added York. “Just reasonable and open accountability.”

Credits

Julie Sherwood, Messenger Post

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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