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Village planning to collect back water bills from Massena town residents

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MASSENA - Despite a resolution “forbidding” them from doing so, Mayor James F. Hidy said the village is planning to retroactively collect water usage and capital recovery fees from customers in the town it feels should have been paying them for the past several years.

Quoting section 11-118 of Village Law from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, Mr. Hidy said the town cannot forbid the village from collecting the fees.

“A village may bill a property owner for water rents which it failed to bill for a period of up to six years,” Mr. Hidy said, reading from the law.

“It’s water that has been used and should have been billed for. They are no different than anyone else,” Mr. Hidy said, referring to the owners of the three properties in question. “The village is planning to collect the back fees. Whether or not the town collects their portion is up to them.”

His comments came in response to a discussion on the issue at Wednesday night’s Massena Town Board meeting. The village supplies water to the water districts located in the town outside the village boundaries.

Village of Massena Accounts Clerk Lisa Tyo said the village discovered the discrepancy after cross-checking a list provided to her by the town’s assessor of all the multiple unit properties.

“We compared that to how we were billing for all our water accounts and these three homes were discovered,” Ms. Tyo said, adding at no point were firefighters sent to inspect the homes and determine whether they were multiple family dwellings.

“Our water foreman goes out to the property and you can tell if they are multiple dwelling units,” she said. “You don’t have to go inside.”

Mr. Hidy said for town officials to even suggest firefighters were sent to investigate those properties is “irresponsible.”

The mayor also said Councilman John F. Macaulay should know that fire inspections of multiple-dwelling units aren’t only allowed but required by law.

“For (Councilman) John Macaulay to say we can’t go in and inspect multiple dwelling units is wrong. By law we have to,” he said. “For obvious reasons, it’s for the health and safety of the people living there.”

Mr. Hidy also addressed comments made by Councilman Albert N. Nicola about whether he owners of these properties are aware of the discussions taking place.

“To address Mr. Nicola’s concern on whether or not the residents were made aware of these discussions, the answer to that is absolutely,” he said, even adding they “understand” the situation.

Over the past several years, Mr. Hidy said homes in similar situations have also been discovered in the village, with those situations being handled in the same manner.

“People have to understand that with rental units some of the time landlords try to circumvent the system,” he said. “This is not untypical in Massena with MED, which falls under the guise of the town, to receive a report from code enforcement about a landlord operating rental units with only one electric meter. The fact of the matter is a majority of landlords know the laws upon turning a single-dwelling home into one with multiple units in regards to utilities.”

Mr. Hidy said those laws require both water meters and electric meters for each dwelling on a property.

Using one of the three properties as an example, Ms. Tyo said the village stands to gain $135.95 for water usage and $168 in capital recovery fees. Should the town collect the fees they are entitled to, she said they would receive $547.87 in capital debt fees and $106.10 in maintenance fees.

Mr. Hidy said if the town had questions on the matter he wishes they would have tabled the discussion, rather than passing a resolution that “they had no right to pass.”

“I think had the conversation at the town board been tabled so further information could have been gathered, then the town board would have been better education on how this process works.

As for Supervisor Joseph D. Gray’s claim that the village was doing this because it “needed money,” Mr. Hidy said that is not true.

“This is money that goes directly into the water and sewer fund and cannot be used for anything else,” he said.

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