Massena village passes water rate increase for some customers; nursing home owner voices outrage
By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA — The village board on Tuesday night passed a local law raising water fees on village water customers outside the village but not in a water district. This led to a war of words between trustees and an outraged owner of a nursing home that’s located in the affected area.
Deputy Mayor Matt Lebire said they made the rate increase to encourage users in question to join a water district and to cover their liability so they can go after people who don’t pay bills.“We’ve worked with the town for quite a while in hopes we could have an agreement … unfortunately that has not come to fruition,” Lebire said. “There’s no incentive for them to go into a district.”
If the users affected by the law join a village water district, their rates would drop to what the users inside districts pay. Also, users in districts now pay a $174 yearly fee that goes into an account to fix water system problems, and Trustee Tim Ahlfeld said those outside the districts are not paying the fee.
Elizabeth Kaneb, who owns Highland Nursing Home, said she believes she is being unfairly singled out with the legislation and accused the board of retaliating for pending lawsuits against the village.
“A 25 percent increase seems to be a punishment for people who live in that district,” she said. “An area that has brought great development from Massena … seems like a vindicitve attempt to get us to pay for something numerous times … that we’ve paid for in the past with PILOT agreements.”
“This has nothing to do with increasing revenue,” Lebire said. “We would like you to be in a district that has a lower water rate. Go to your Town Council and encourage them to continue working with us.”
Kaneb said the village is trying to get back at her over pending lawsuits her business has against the Village of Massena, and she hinted at taking more legal action against the municipality.
“All you’re doing is opening yourself up to another lawsuit. We have three lawsuits open against the village,” she said. “You’re not going to tell me this isn’t a vindictive attempt to go after me.”
“It absolutely isn’t,” Lebire said.
“We aren’t going to comment on pending litigation,” Mayor Tim Currier said.
Trustee Tim Ahlfeld said they keep hitting roadblocks in conversations with the village
“The town keeps coming back with questions like ‘will that line in the ground fail?’ If I could tell that, I wouldn’t be sitting in a village board meeting, I’d be in the circus guessing weights,” he said. “We’re not trying to be vindictive to anybody … It’s the only way to push this thing forward and protect village assets.”
“We are trying to work with people. We’ve answered questions the town of Massena has asked us and they don’t like the answers. They won’t meet us halfway and unfortunately you’re stuck in the middle,” the trustee said.
Kaneb did say she would be open to joining a water district.
“Would the Highland Nursing Home have any opposition to joining a district?” Ahlfeld asked.
“As long as it doesn’t change our contract with the village. I’ve talked to [DPW Superintendent Hassan Fayad] about that,” Kaneb answered.
Former Massena Mayor Jim Hidy also spoke during a public hearing prior to the unanimous vote and said he supports the village’s decision.
“I don’t see it as an attack on the Kaneb business. I see it as a fairness … Unfortunately you own a business where you have to use more water,” he said. “I think the town is afraid of the wrath of Elizabeth going up there.
“I think you’re doing a tremendous job doing what you have to do.”