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Planned joint meeting between East Williston and Williston Park over water-rate dispute fails to take place

East Williston Mayor David Tanner with a three-dimensional

East Williston Mayor David Tanner with a three-dimensional model of the new water system being considered by the village board as an answer to a long dispute over water rates between East Williston and Williston Park. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Leaders of East Williston and Williston Park met in separate rooms Thursday night to try to resolve a long-standing water rate dispute, avoiding a planned joint meeting that a state official had called illegal.

The initial plan would have violated the 1977 Open Meetings Law, according to Robert Freeman, director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

Freeman said the law states that the mayors and a quorum of the board cannot meet to conduct public business unless the public is notified and permitted to attend.

The original meeting at East Williston Village Hall was planned by East Williston Mayor David Tanner, who last month said he was considering the creation of a separate water supply system because East Williston was paying too much for the water it receives from its supplier, Williston Park.

But Tanner said he preferred to again try to reach an agreement that would work for both sides.

Tanner and Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar said village attorneys had said the original joint meeting plan would not violate the law.

However, just before Thursday night's meeting was set to convene, East Williston Village Attorney Jeff Blinkoff said in an interview that the full boards planned to meet in separate rooms and go into executive session.

If there was something both sides needed to discuss, then the two mayors and two members of their boards would meet, "but not a quorum."

According to the Open Meetings Law, if a court determines that a public body failed to comply with the statute, any actions taken during that meeting would be void.

The villages' dispute has resulted in two lawsuits.

If East Williston had its own water well, it would stop using an average of 137 million gallons of water per year from Williston Park, which Tanner has said would increase rates for Williston Park customers by at least 33 percent.

Last summer, Williston Park billed East Williston about $600,000 for nonpayment and penalties after winning a three-year legal battle over rate increases.

After Thursday's separate meetings, which wrapped up shortly before 11 p.m., village attorneys had only brief comments.

"They seem to have had a productive discussion," said Blinkoff, the East Williston attorney.

"We had a good talk," Williston Park Village Attorney James Bradley said. "Everyone's hopeful."

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