By Lauren Zaepfel
At Tuesday's North Tonawanda Common Council meeting, council members voted in favor of authorizing Mayor Arthur G. Pappas to sign an agreement between the city and school district to reimburse the district for overcharged water services.
This agreement came after the council and district found that, from approximately 2005-16, the district was overpaying for water due to the malfunction of water meters at school buildings.
Pappas said there was no way to determine exactly how much money would be owed.
With the proposed agreement, the city would provide the district with $2,500 in credit against its current charges for the next 59 quarterly bills, until reaching a total credit of $150,000 over a 15-year period.
School Board member Ann Finkle, who spoke on behalf of the School Board, said Superintendent of Schools Gregory J. Woytila already signed off on the agreement, but the board still has to give the final approval. She said the board may sign it at its upcoming meeting next month.
Pappas said the dialogue between the council and School Board on the water payments has gone on for many years, "And there's enough blame, probably, on both sides for whatever (took) place or didn't take place, because, at the time, there were water meter problems. There was lack of ... having access to the meters, and it went back and forth in terms of who's to blame for what."
After many meetings, Pappas said the Common Council and school district have worked out this possible resolution.
However, some residents said they were not provided enough information on the agreement.
Austin Tylec, who recently announced his candidacy for alderman-at-large on the Common Council, noted a copy of the proposed agreement was not included with the agenda posted on the city's website. He asked if the council would postpone the decision to sign the agreement until residents had more time to review it and provide comment. However, Common Council members said the information has been reported on in the past, discussed in meetings and is public knowledge.
Resident Sonya Dusza also said there was not enough discussion on the agreement and that she would "like to see transparency."
She later added, "We want to know what are we buying for our tax dollars."
On the contrary, resident Bill Paton congratulated the Common Council for coming to terms with the School Board. "There is transparency, if you listen, if you go to the School Board," said Paton, former North Tonawanda Republican Committee chairman. "This council has been transparent and they will continue to be transparent."
Pappas said, "The transparency has been there. ... It's been in the paper over the years, too. This is not something that has just come up."
The information about the agreement is public knowledge, he said.
"Nothing has been hidden, because both sides are accountable to the same people," Pappas said. "So there's no reason for any side to hide anything. So it's kind of putting the money from taxpayers here, back over here, because that entity (the school district) was overcharged for something. By who's fault? We can go back and forth and that's been debated for several years."
Common Council President Eric M. Zadzilka said, "We thought it went on long enough, so we tried to ... resolve it. ... It had gone on (for) many administrations for no reason and we said, 'Let's fix this.' "
In his closing comments, Zadzilka also said, "You can point the fingers for a few more years and let that go and let that money just sit in limbo, or we can do something about it and we can solve the problem. And we will continue to solve the problem and we will defend what we need to defend and will explain what's not understood."
He added that, if someone is not able to attend meetings, information addressed can still be discussed, "and can be reiterated, and it can be disclosed, and the facts can be revealed."