GENEVA — Some residents said it shouldn’t be the call of an outgoing City Council to make a decision that has financial implications for the government 12 years down the road.
But that’s what Council did Wednesday when it approved a 10-year pact with Hobart and William Smith Colleges that will provide the city nearly $2.4 million over 10 years to help pay for the cost of city services. The deal takes effect in 2022 and runs until 2031.
Resident Benjamin Allen told Council that he was “very leery of any 10-year agreement” approved by a Council that “you guys won’t be part of.”
That thought was echoed by former city councilor Jackie Augustine, who said approval of the pact, which was unanimous, was not a good “last act by an outgoing Council.”
Allen also said he felt the city was “being dictated to” when it came to the terms, while Augustine suggested there were no metrics to back up the dollar amount decided upon.
Under the proposal, HWS “donations” would go from $220,000 in 2022 to $258,000 in the 10th year. Under the previously approved plan, HWS paid the city $160,000 in 2012, with the amount gradually rising to about $191,000 in the last year of the 10-year pact, 2021.
The new agreement reflects a $25,000 increase from the last year of the current pact to the first year of the new one.
The original agreement was developed in the face of a potential legal challenge to City Council’s approval of a Transportation Benefit Assessment District, approved in 2011, which would have required all city properties, both taxable and tax-exempt, to pay a fee toward the $2 million cost of maintaining city streets.
In the face of a possible legal challenge by HWS and other not-for-profits, the plan was scrapped by Council in exchange for a settlement that provided the city with money from HWS and Finger Lakes Health over a 10-year period. Finger Lakes Health pays the city a much smaller amount under the current pact: from $40,000 in the first year, 2012, to nearly $47,000 in 2021. Finger Lakes Health and the city have yet to reach an accord on a separate deal.
Councilors denied HWS dictated the terms of the new pact.
“These are conversations we’ve been having,” said Second Ward Councilor Paul D’Amico, one of six outgoing councilors. “I like the relationship we have with the Colleges, and it started with Mr. Gearan (former HWS president Mark Gearan).”
Fifth Ward Councilor Jason Hagerman, who like D’Amico also declined to run for reelection, agreed that HWS is not controlling the city and that the Colleges have “shown some goodwill” by working on a new pact well before the current one ends.
Third Ward Councilor Steve Valentino, who will become the city’s next mayor on Jan. 1, likes the payment plan as well.
“It’s a positive agreement and a good decision for the city to make,” he said.
Valentino said other city not-for-profits should contribute as well.
“We are challenging other non-profits to do the same thing and provide the same benefits,” he said.
Fourth Ward Councilor Ken Camera, who will be returning to Council, didn’t necessarily like the payment plan but was worried that if it was rejected, the city could end up with nothing.
Many council candidates this fall noted the city’s large amount of non-taxable property — about 60 percent — and many times they singled out HWS as not doing enough for the city in return for services. In particular, they pointed to the large number of false alarms that draw city firefighters to the campus at a cost.
City Manager Sage Gerling said the city is continuing to address the issue and has noted that $25,000 of each of the payments under the new agreement goes directly to fire-protection costs.
HWS spokesperson Cathy Williams issued a statement to the Finger Lakes Times following the approval of the new agreement.
“Hobart and William Smith Colleges have voluntarily chosen to extend the 2011 commitment to the city of Geneva for another 10 years, and have added an additional provision to support the efforts of the city’s fire department,” the statement read. “The Colleges remain deeply appreciative of the very strong working relationship Hobart and William Smith have with the city of Geneva. This commitment … is one of the many ways in which our faculty, staff and students engage with the Geneva community.”
The pact first came before Council in November but was delayed for a month in light of Council and residents’ concerns.
The approved agreement ended up being the same one presented before Council in November.