Jerusalem, Penn Yan settle dispute

John Christensen

After years of disagreement and litigation, “cooler heads have finally prevailed,” in the words of Jerusalem Supervisor Patrick Killen, as negotiation teams from the Town of Jerusalem and the Village of Penn Yan have drawn up a modification for the Sewage Disposal Agreement. In a special meeting Jan. 28, the Jerusalem Board approved the modification unanimously.

Originally drafted in 1995 and signed by the supervisor of that time, but reportedly without the town board’s prior approval, the agreement called for Jerusalem to pay a 31 percent share of the Penn Yan Sewage Treatment Plant’s annual costs. A later supervisor investigated this and determined this was 8 percentage points higher than Jerusalem’s actual share for their maximum allowed 265,000 gallons per day.

After years of dispute and withheld payments resulting in legal action, a negotiation committee that included Killen, Councilman Mike Steppe, and Water & Sewer Clerk Carrie Wheeler met with Penn Yan’s Mayor Leigh MacKerchar, Trustee Willie Allison, and Treasurer Gary Meeks. Together, the teams worked out a plan to adjust the agreement to a compromise:

Jerusalem’s rate will decrease to 28 percent for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and it shall decrease by 1 percent each year after until in reaches the permanent rate of 25 percent in 2018-2019. An outstanding settlement of $42,000 will be paid to Penn Yan, and regular payment will be in monthly installments.

Former Jerusalem Supervisor Daryl Jones, now a board member, expressed his belief that since the town was overcharged for so many years, they shouldn’t need to pay the $42,000 settlement. Member Gary Dinehart agreed with Jones, but said compared to the millions of dollars involved, “We need to swallow our pride and get it over with.”

Steppe commended the Penn Yan team, saying they negotiated “in good faith.” Killen praised all the members on both sides for “keeping an open mind.”

MacKerchar called the discussions “amiable,” and plans to call a special meeting soon to get board of trustees authorization to sign the agreement, hopefully by April 5. “We all wanted to do the right thing,” he added.

Both Killen and MacKerchar praised Steve Griffin, CEO of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center, who served as mediator for the negotiation. “It was very nice to have him there. He kept us on track,” says Mackerchar. “He’s a real asset to the community.”