Lake District Update: March 2020

The Chautauqua Lake Rehabilitation and Protection Agency held a workshop yesterday in lieu of a regular meeting.  The purpose of the workshop was to gather input that its consultant can take into consideration as it develops a public opinion survey regarding the possible formation of the potential Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District.  CLA President Paul Stage and I were privileged to be among the approximately 30 persons who were invited to attend.  Other attendees came from county and town governments, lake related organizations and the general public.

The County Planning Director along with the consultant’s facilitator opened the workshop with a briefing of Agency and consultant activity to date.  In summary, the consultant related that from her outreach to date she had heard expressions about having (a) a clean, healthy, viable lake and watershed; (b) a sustainable funding source; (c) long-term rehabilitation actions; (d) creating better resident experiences; (e) maintaining economic productivity; (f) maintaining environmental quality.

Concerns that she had heard centered around (a) the health of the lake – HABs, macrophyte issues; (b) current funding is not sustainable; (c) the effectiveness of past activities.

In regard to a District, factors that she had heard to date included (a) what should be fair fees?; (b) the current high cost of owning lake property; (c) distrust of government in implementing programs; (d) unease about possible district governance; (e) lack of information about the District Plan that the Agency is charged to develop and has been developing; (f) fear of the unknown.

The Planning Director reported that the Agency must present a District plan to the county legislature that includes (a) district boundaries, (b) an evaluation of lake rehabilitation needs, (c) an estimate of projected implementations costs; (d) a recommended district governance structure.

He next noted that the legislature is tasked to (a) accept/reject the Agency’s District Plan; (b) hold public hearings; (c) determine the district’s governance structure; (d) annually approve the District’s budget; (e) from time to time make any amendments to the District’s work as may be needed.  The legislature will also need to appoint the members of the district board – they will not be elected.

He reported that District powers will include (a) sponsoring research/surveys; (b) planning rehabilitation projects; (c) contracting with governments/agencies for lake services; (d) implementing rehabilitation projects.

While noting that no decisions have been made to date, fee options under consideration have included (a) a flat fee structure; (b) a tiered fee structure; (c) fees based upon assessed values; (d) fees relating to parcel size; (e) some type of formula.  Fees that were being focused upon are options that would in the end produce a $1.5 million revenue.  For example, a flat fee scenario would have an annual fee of $162.50.  The tiered structure fee schedule for a Tier 1 Lakefront Property comprising ~2500 parcels would be $250 while the flat fee for the Tier 2 Away-From-Lake Property comprising ~6,500 parcels would be $125.  The assessed valuation scenario would result in a fee of 86 cents per thousand.

This writer needs to emphasize that the dollar projections are not final and, frankly, are based upon assumptions that will likely change.  For example, to date it is presumed that the district boundaries will, with minor exception, fall within the 394/430 beltway.  Should the boundaries change, the number of parcels will change.  Additionally, we here at the CLA believe that the $1.5 million dollar predicted annual budget will fall far short of need and that therefore a much higher – perhaps double or more – budget will be required which will then have a direct impact on the level of fees.  A workshop attendee asked for a detailing of how the $1.5 million amount was calculated and it was not disclosed.

During the discussion of district fee possibilities – which necessarily included a discussion of district boundaries – the Director emphasized that legal counsel has advised that any parcel that will be assessed a fee must receive a “direct benefit” from the lake.  Given this requirement, suggestions that the whole be county included within the district will face a challenge that the NYS Office of State Controller may not approve.  He noted that aside from local approval that the creation of the district must also be approved by the State Controller’s Office before it can be implemented.  He related how one district had undergone three approval reviews before being approved.

The workshop then moved to a participant interaction mode wherein the group self-divided into four groups that rotated among four topical tables to discuss four key areas: (1) district boundaries (2) fee structure (3) Lake management activities and (4) governance structure.  Identified to date aspects of each topic where listed and the participants were asked to comment on each along with adding aspects that might additionally come to mind.  Suggestions were written down and will be codified by the consultant.  The consultant will then utilize the workshop’s input when developing the community survey document.  It is anticipated that the survey’s development could take a month and a half.  The survey is expected to be available in both on-line and paper forms.  How it will be distributed has yet to be identified.

Since this writer rotated among the tables and thus was not at every table at every stop, I cannot provide a thorough report on each topic.  I can report that, for example, lake management activities started with a listing of harvesting, herbicide treatment, lake studies, dredging, lake levels, HABs and nutrient level.  I heard attendees add nearshore clean-up, create a full-time science center and watershed projects.  Regarding governance, the topic started with a notation that there be 7-9 district board members.  I interjected the CLA’s position that any district board be larger in size to represent the multiple lake interests (see previously distributed CLA Talking Points).  A two-tiered district boundaries map was provided which evoked considerable discussion.  For example, all of Chautauqua Institution parcels were included although not all other lakeside villages parcels were included.  This inconsistency created some discussion.  The fact that the map designated that essentially only parcels within the beltway as being within the district also created discussion. 

If you have any thoughts about what you think should be a survey question or addressed in the survey, please pass such along to me (doug@chautauqualakeassociation.org)  by March 10 and I shall pass your thoughts along.

The Director and consultant concluded the workshop by identifying some of the next steps that will be involved in the Agency’s work.  They include (a) researching having a boat sticker requirement, (b) continuing public outreach via the survey that will be developed; (c) hosting a public meeting.  Concurrently, the Agency Board will work to better identify lake rehabilitation needs, a district organizational structure and district boundaries/costs/revenue.

There was no discussion about a public referendum being held in regard to the district’s formation.  We here at the CLA would like to hear from you about your thoughts on the matter.  Do you think that a referendum should be held once details are finalized?  If so, who should be allowed to vote?  All district residents?  Only district property owners?  One owner per property? Only locally registered voters?  When should a referendum be held?  Should absentee ballots be allowed?

A date for the next Agency meeting has yet to be announced.

I realize that this has been a lengthy report.  I hope that it has been helpful and not too lengthy.  We appreciate your asking us to keep you informed about this important matter.

Douglas Conroe

Executive Director