A lot of topics were covered in a four-hour meeting of the board of trustees for the Village of Corfu on Monday evening.
The board decided to move ahead with an upgrade to the sewer treatment plant in conjunction with the Town of Pembroke;
The board attempted to hire a new village attorney;
A former trustee wanted to know why newly elected Mayor Rosie Peterson called up his employer to ban him from the sewer plant (which he manages);
A current trustee said he received two written complaints from village employees about demands that they share their work computer passwords;
The trustee took up the topic of the police budget as part of an ongoing attempt to close a possible budget deficit.
So, we'll take these topics one at a time.
Paul R. Chatfield, president of Chatfield Engineers, made a presentation on the proposal to expand the capacity of the Corfu waste treatment plant in conjunction with the Town of Pembroke.
Peterson (inset photo) said he asked for the presentation because he didn't believe village residents were ever given an opportunity to learn the cost of upgrading the sewer plant without involving Pembroke.
The plant was built 30 years ago and needs upgrades, but it's also handling only 65,000 gallons a day when it was originally designed to handle 135,000 gallons a day.
The cost of building in conjunction with Pembroke is nearly $1.7 million. The cost of Corfu going it alone is nearly $1.5 million.
However, the Department of Environmental Conservation grant to help pay for the project is contingent on Corfu and Pembroke working together on the project. The grant covers $1.1 million of the cost.
Plus Genesee County Economic Development Center is providing a $75,000 grant to the project, contingent on the project getting the DEC grant.
Not factored into Chatfield Engineers' calculations is another $100,000 grant that has recently become available, but the village has yet to apply for it.
With the grants, the cost of the debt service for Corfu residents on a combined plant is 64 cents per 1,000 gallons, the cost of going it alone (and therefore no grants) is $4.66 per thousand gallons.
The cost of operations and maintenance also increases in the go-it-alone scenario from $286 per home per year to $397.
If the village were to go it alone, the average resident would pay $677 annually for sewer service while combining with Pembroke means an annual fee of $324 for that same household.
As Pembroke grows, the cost per household will decrease as the cost is shared by more property owners.
Pembroke High School is also facing potentially costly sewer upgrades, which the combined plant can help solve, but without the combined plant, the school district would need to raise district taxes to help pay for upgrades.
The trustees voted to have an attorney draft a resolution on issuing a bond to help pay for the Corfu/Pembroke project.
New Village Attorney
The trustees went into closed session with local attorney Kevin Earl to discuss whether to hire Earl as the new village attorney.
When the trustees came out of closed session, Trustee Keith Busch made a motion to hire. Trustee Art Ianni seconded the motion but said he wanted to discuss it. As soon as it was seconded, Peterson called the question and he, along with Busch, voted yes and Trustee Ken Lauer voted no.
Ianni then explained that he could support hiring Earl if former village attorney Mark Boylan was retained to handle the sewer project.
"I don't think having him jumping in when this all started four years ago is a good idea," Ianni said. "Writing letters and sending e-mails and going back and forth between two lawyers, that's a bad way to go."
Peterson said he agreed.
There was a little more discussion and then Peterson moved onto the next issue.
Ianni never cast a vote on the motion.
After the meeting Peterson and Sandra Thomas, village clerk, admitted the motion had not been properly handled and the issue will need to be on Thursday's agenda (when the board meets for further budget discussions).
Once the voting started on Busch's motion, it needed to be voted down before a new motion was made and it couldn't be amended at that point, plus Ianni never actually cast a vote on the motion.
Later in the meeting, former trustee Al Graham asked why Peterson wanted to replace Boylan. Peterson said, "One thing about this post, I do have some options available to me. This was a board decision and other board members voted also."
Peterson and Busch also said Earl's rates are lower than Boylan's.
Peterson's call to Al Graham's boss
The first topic raised during public comments was by former trustee Graham. He wanted to know why Peterson called his boss and told him Graham was banned from the sewer plant.
Graham's employer has the contract to run the sewer plant and Graham is a regional manager, overseeing the Corfu plant among others.
Peterson confirmed he made the call.
"I don't trust you," Peterson said.
Graham pressed the issue and Peterson repeated that he didn't trust Graham and said nothing more.
Tim Skeet, brother of former mayor Todd Skeet, asked, "so you're going to run the village on gut feeling?"
Peterson said he felt like he had been verbally punched in the mouth a few times by Graham and that's why he didn't trust him.
"This village board was elected by the people of the community and the board is who actually makes the decisions," Peterson said. "The mayor is the manager of the organization, so when we talk about actual management of the village, the mayor is the manager. The board makes all of the decisions."
During public comments, it was noted that there will be a change in how disposal of large items will be handled in the village from now on. For years, residents could drop off items at a roll-off container once a month. With the new budget, the expense is being trimmed, and the roll-off will be available only once a year, in June.
Lauer said in the absence of the deputy mayor, who is out of town, village employees Thomas and Deputy Clerk/Treasurer Denise Beal, filed written complaints with him about Peterson demanding the passwords to their work computers.
Obtaining the password, it was noted, would allow Peterson to alter files without being detected.
Peterson said he was merely trying to learn as much as he could about what has been going on with the village and why it's in the shape it's in.
"All I'm trying to do is find out what's going on this village," Peterson said. "I get criticized for not knowing anything, but then when I try to figure out what's going on I get criticized. It's one of those things where I'm learning. I guess some people are born with all the knowledge they need to know when they need to know it at that point in time. Unfortunately, I'm not that gifted."
Multiple sources have confirmed with The Batavian that earlier, after Peterson began trying to obtain passwords to village computers, officials from the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct had seized the village court's computers. The commission is conducting an investigation into the conduct of former Village Justice Robert Alexander, who presided over the court when at least $10,000 in court fines and bail money allegedly disappeared.
As to the possible connection after the meeting between Peterson trying to obtain passwords and the seizure of the court computers, Peterson said it was the first he was hearing about the seizure and he had no comment.
When the former mayor asked during this portion of the meeting what was going to be done with the employee complaints, Peterson told him the time for public comment was over and he couldn't speak.
It was the only time during the entire meeting in which a specific member of the public was told he or she couldn't speak.
With the election of a new justice, Peterson must appoint an acting justice. The acting justice is required by village law so there is a justice is available to fill in when the elected justice is not available.
The acting justice, if the person has no prior experience, must take a state-mandated class. That class is being offered this week.
Peterson said he needs more time to think about it.
Some village residents expressed concern that Peterson is delaying so he can appoint Alexander to the acting justice position.
The bottom line is the police budget is being reduced from $170,000 to $137,000.
After a long discussion about the budget, in which Officer Gene Nati and Peterson discussed how to make the police department more profitable, the board went into closed session -- even though the closed session wasn't previously announced on the agenda -- with Police Administrator Sgt. James Meier.
After the closed session, Peterson announced that Meier had offered to take an $8,000 annual cut in pay.
Meier receives a salary to work 20 hours a week overseeing the part-time village police force.
After the meeting, Meier, who is employed full-time with the Sheriff's Office, confirmed he made the offer because he does have a full-time job and other village employees need their present jobs. He hopes by taking a pay cut it will help protect those jobs.
During the meeting Nati pressed the board to eliminate the administrator position.
He provided a break down of revenue for the village from traffic tickets and said the number of tickets written from 2008 to 2012 declined, and so did revenue. Nati believes the police department has gone from a revenue generator to a money loser in that time frame.
"The giant elephant in the room when you look at the village numbers and do the cost comparison from 2008 to now is that one officer accounts for 23 percent of the patrol budget but generate's zero dollars in revenue," Nati said.
Peterson asked Meier if he would be willing, in addition to his administrative duties, to go on patrol and write tickets and Meier gave a one word answer, "no."
Nati pushed for more patrol hours.
"Keep in mind," Nati said, "that every hour an officer doesn't work he doesn't generate any revenue."
Peterson said what he would like to do is cut patrol hours, but then concentrate those hours during times when traffic is going to Darien Lake.
If the patrols generate a profit, then the additional revenue can be used to fund more hours for officers.
At the start of the budget discussion, Peterson said the village still had a $211,000 budget deficit to close.
The village anticipates $530,000 in revenue with current expenses, before additional budget talks, at $741,00.
If those numbers were to hold, the village would need to raise property taxes from $2.90 per thousand to $7.19 per thousand.
Peterson said it's up to village residents to decide if they want to make the expense cuts necessary to balance the budget or accept a tax increase.
The trustees will discuss the budget again on Thursday and on Friday.