Fight over Redwood’s water & sewer district goes to court

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 3:33 PM EDT
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REDWOOD, N.Y. (WWNY) - There are 2 completely different stories about how a town in northern Jefferson County is managing one of its water and sewer districts. People living there say there are major financial issues, the town says no, and the fight has now moved to court.

“Initially, the thought was, gosh, do they really even understand how bad the financials look,” said Eileen Kaleel.

She owns property in the town of Alexandria’s Redwood Water and Sewer District and has big questions about her bills.

Kaleel is not alone. At last week’s town board meeting, she and others spoke up, claiming people are over charged and the books are wrong.

“I think we will have a better community by having some empowerment behind them and some transparency in what we are doing and a population that is educated and understands it,” said Kaleel.

The fight is now in court.

Resident Dan Peterson took the case to state supreme court after the town increased Redwood’s sewer charges by 40 percent in 2019

Judge James McClusky ruled that audits needed to be done by both Peterson and the town.

Peterson’s was done by a Syracuse firm. It says the town owes the Redwood Water and Sewer District more than half a million dollars because fees were too high and sometimes not accurately collected or reported.

“207 customers, half a million dollars. That is, wow. So, you know, we need to address the problems that allow these type of discrepancies,” said Peterson.

Not surprisingly, the town’s audit reached a different conclusion. Its Syracuse firm reviewed the town’s independent audits performed from 2013 to 2016 and concluded the town handled water and sewer funds appropriately and reflected good financial stewardship.

“Our accountant said it in his affidavit and has told us that there is no corruption and there is no fraud on this town board’s part at all, one bit whatsoever and we have examined everything very closely,” said Brent Sweet, town supervisor.

Sweet says when it came to raising the sewer rate by 40 percent, the town needed to recoup the Redwood district’s debt.

He says the town board acknowledges that, in the past, funds were not managed correctly - sometimes over estimating revenues and sometimes over spending on town expenditures

But, Sweet says the current board has tried to right those wrongs by cracking down on expenses and hiring an independent contractor to check everybody’s water meter.

The two sides will meet again in a supreme court session in July with Judge McClusky to discuss what the next steps will be.

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