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If The City, BPU Want To Gain, They Need To Give

It comes as little surprise that the debate over annexing substation property the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities owns in the village of Falconer has reared its head again.

We hope Jamestown doesn’t make the same mistakes it did the last time, though the process is starting out in much the same way. The BPU board last week entered into a lengthy executive session to discuss annexation, came out of executive session and passed a resolution. Annexation wasn’t on the agenda, with only a possible executive session for a current litigation issue listed. Color a lot of people shocked to find out the utility was asking the City Council to move ahead with annexation of Dow Street substation.

Taking such action before talking to Falconer, Ellicott and the Falconer Central School Board of Education helped to poison the public against annexation in 2017, and taking the same action as 2019 draws to a close is likely to poison the waters again. A vote Monday started the process, and both Mayor-elect Eddie Sundquist and new members of the Jamestown City Council will have opportunities moving forward to stop the process if they so choose. While they may not like the process, it is worth reminding council members and Sundquist that the annexation — if approved — is a benefit to the city residents and BPU ratepayers they represent. Some of the legal arguments made by both sides have been decided upon in the first annexation case, so one would hope that legal costs wouldn’t be nearly as high the second time around.

For council members, it is understandable to have cold feet over the amount of money to be spent in legal fees or to want to take a different public stance, but opposition for opposition’s sake is not in the best interest of city residents. Officials in Ellicott, Falconer and the Falconer Central School District will, and should, fight the annexation on behalf of their residents, but perhaps there is a way for this saga to end positively for everyone.

The 2019-20 annexation process is off to a poor start, but we hope the process can be more like the annexation between the Town of Granby and city of Fulton if it is decided by a court that the Dow Street substation is indeed contiguous to the city of Jamestown. Fulton, which was trying to annex a wastewater treatment plant from Granby, claimed that the boundaries between the city and town met under water, a claim a state appellate court agreed with. More importantly, in the course of the Granby and Fulton annexation process, common ground was found. While the annexation was approved, Fulton ended up giving Granby 8.3 acres of the annexed riverfront property for use as public space and put in an access road so Granby officials could develop the area into a park with a boat launch. Granby lost tax money but gained amenities. There are creative solutions that could result in tax benefits to Jamestown and benefits to Falconer and Ellicott too if all sides involved are willing to talk as adults rather than fighting as children with lawyers. A creative solution may also sway the referee panel. We note the first three-judge referee panel ruled unanimously the annexation wasn’t in the public interest; perhaps a better proposal from the city could bring a different result.

Ellicott, Falconer and the Falconer Central School District aren’t going to walk away from the tax payments they receive from the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities. If the BPU and the city want to gain something, they will likely have to give something. It’s something city officials should consider as this process moves forward.

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