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Village Board Wrestles with Water/Sewer Rates

By Jann Wiswall 

The new water and sewer rates for the Village of Ellicottville continue to be a source of controversy, and the Village Board is considering whether or not to revise the law.

At a protracted meeting on Monday, August 12, the board again heard from a small-business owner, Bridget Ward of The Holiday Shoppe, whose business is in a newly established commercial class. The new class of businesses — defined as those with 5/8-inch or 1-inch meters and low water and sewer usage — previously were being charged at the residential rate. The new classification brings their minimum water/sewer rates up to $256.30 per quarter, approximately $150 more than the new minimum residential rates.

Mayor Charlie Coolidge, along with Jim Campolong, who developed the new rules, regulations and rate structure through engineering firm Nussbaumer & Clarke, explained the rationale behind the new law, saying that the intent was to establish equitable billing regulations that addressed issues identified by the state — one of which was to establish the new commercial classes. During the planning process, the board decided that the fairest way to define the new classes was to base them on the size of their water/sewer meters.

Ward said she understood the need for the new classifications and the “Uniform Billing Practices” the board had instituted. However, she felt strongly that the new minimum rates for the new commercial class are unfair.

“It’s a lot of money,” she said, and “it’s not fair to the small businesses on Washington Street. “We’re struggling,” she said, and the minimums “are just too high.”

Following Ward’s departure and throughout the rest of the meeting, the board continued to discuss the topic. At the end of the meeting, the board voted on a motion to change the law — which would require the board to rehire consultants to revise the policies, rehire the lawyer to rewrite the laws, vet revisions with the board, advertise and hold public hearings and so forth. Two board members, Greg Capelli and Sherman Wilkens, voted against the motion to change the law. Two others, Patra Lowes and Bob Brogcinski, voted for it. Mayor Coolidge chose not to break the tie, asking instead to reconsider the motion next month.

Coolidge also asked the board to decide how to treat homes and businesses that are closed or unoccupied. In the past, these addresses were considered inactive, so were not billed for water/sewer services at all. However, Coolidge felt they should continue to be billed the appropriate minimum rate since they are still benefitting from the village water/sewer infrastructure. The board agreed, and moved to bill such properties until they change hands.

Fall Festival Planning

Lowes, chair of the Village’s Special Events Committee, said her committee is not yet ready to present the full plan for Fall Festival for board approval as discussions are still in process. However, she did present a proposal for a small portion of the event that needed a decision in order to allow business owners to plan accordingly.

As she explained, Balloons and Ellicottville Brewing Company would like to proceed with hosting outdoor bar tents. The committee worked closely with the owners and Town Police Chief Don Auge to come up with policies they think will avoid some of the issues related to the tents at last year’s event, so she asked the board to consider approving staggered bar closing times and limits on outdoor music — live music would end at 11 p.m. on the Saturday of the event, and sound-system music would end at 1 a.m.

Coolidge strongly objected to extending the music beyond 11 p.m. Lowes and Capelli, a member of the committee, felt that the extension was a good compromise considering that the rest of the bars in town will be open and music-filled until 2 a.m. The board recommended a further compromise — sound-system music would be permitted to continue only until midnight. The board approved that motion, with Coolidge in dissent.

The next meeting of the Village Board will be held on Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Village/Town Hall.

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