Will my water district rates go up as a result of incorporation?
The short answer is: incorporation will not affect the price we pay for water. The water district, a special district under Town Law, supplies water to Edgemont and maintains Edgemont’s water-related infrastructure. It will continue to provide those services at the same charges in effect before incorporation.
A special district is a geographic area within a town established to address specific needs of the property owners within that district, utilizing fees and charges paid by users and taxpayers within the district to finance these services. A special district may constitute less than all of the property of the town as a whole and can include a combination of unincorporated areas and incorporated villages.
Here is the long answer: like most of unincorporated Greenburgh, Edgemont gets its water not from the Town of Greenburgh itself, but rather from the Greenburgh Consolidated Water District No. 1 (GCWD). That’s because the area commonly known as Edgemont is part of that water district. The GCWD was created in 1935 as a “special improvement district.” See the 2014 Town of Greenburgh resolution here.
Under New York law, these districts (known, interchangeably, as “improvement districts,” “special districts” or “special improvement districts”), may be formed within a town to provide a municipal service (such as water, sewer, parking, fire, etc.) that a town elects not to provide to the entire town. The special district is defined by a geographic area to serve residents who live within the borders of the district. Special districts are legal municipal entities, separate and apart from the towns within which they lie, the existing villages within the town, and any unincorporated areas of the town.
The boundaries of the GCWD are not the same as the boundaries of unincorporated Greenburgh, and the GCWD provides water to all residents who live within the boundaries of the GCWD, not to all residents who live within unincorporated Greenburgh.
What happens to the water district when Edgemont incorporates?
Our water district will not change upon incorporation. As an incorporated village, we have the right to remain in the water district and pay “in-district” rates for our water. All of the proposed Village of Edgemont is within the GCWD, and the water district extends to other parts (but not all of) unincorporated Greenburgh. New York case law is clear that the incorporation of a village within an existing water district gives the village the legal right to remain a part of the water district if it chooses to do so. The water district does not have the right to unilaterally restrict its service area, and the water district must continue to provide services just as it did before, unless and until the village decides that it wants to perform the services itself.
The rules governing what happens when a village incorporates within an area served by a special district are set forth in New York State Village Law Sections 2-252 and 2-258. Section 2-252 is entitled “Town and district services continued.” Section 2-252(1)(b) provides that any town improvement district partially located in a newly incorporated village which could cease to exist in such village [if the newly incorporated village elected to provide the service itself] shall, during the statutory transition period, “continue to perform and to render to and in such incorporated area all those functions and services rendered by it therein and therefore on the date of the filing of the petition for incorporation.” Section 2-252(2) states that the cost and expense of so performing and so rendering these functions and services “shall be budgeted, levied upon, assessed against, and collected” from the district “as if such village had not been incorporated.”
Section 2-252(6) provides that “[n]othing contained in this section shall be deemed to cause or require the abolition or diminution of such a town improvement district.” And Section 2-258, which is entitled, “Apportionment of property and obligations of a special district of a town upon the incorporation of a part in a village” governs what happens when a newly incorporated village decides, after the transition period, to assume responsibility for providing the district’s services itself.
The application of these rules to what happens when a water district happens to include territory in a newly incorporated village was addressed in two New York Court of Appeals cases. In Rinas v. Duryea, 278 A.D. 419 (1951), appeal denied, 278 A.D. 1029, affirmed 304 N.Y. 586. (1952), New York’s highest court unanimously affirmed a ruling that when “a village was carved out of a territory embraced within a special district, it in effect ceased to be a part of such district, except as to rights and liabilities already created” (emphasis added). The “rights and liabilities already created” were the rights of the village to continue to receive water from the district on the same terms on which it received water before incorporation, if the village elected to continue the arrangement. In Village of Mill Neck v. Town of Oyster Bay, 261 N.Y. 252 (1933), the Court of Appeals addressed the rights of a newly incorporated village to an apportionment of property belonging to the water district and the newly incorporated village where the village elected to provide the water itself.
Here, the entire incorporated Village of Edgemont would be within the territory served by GCWD. If the newly incorporated Village decided to continue receiving water from its water district, it would have the same right to do so as it had before incorporation. If the newly incorporated Village decided, however, that it wanted to assume responsibility for providing water to its residents, it would have the right to do so and negotiate an apportionment of property and debt between the water district and the Village.