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Candidate says legislators rushing plans for Lewis County office building

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LOWVILLE — The proposed $11 million county building project is being criticized by a legislative candidate who says county officials are rushing the plans without letting the public decide.

Duane C. DeLair, a District 8 Board of Legislators candidate from Constableville, says he is not satisfied with the answers provided by County Attorney Richard J. Graham after submitting a Freedom of Information Law request this week for documents about the project.

“There’s a large amount of confusion,” said Mr. DeLair, citing a recent Times report stating legislators could award a contract as soon as Oct. 1 and work could begin by mid-October. “They’ve misled the public, making them think this is a done deal, when all they’ve really done is spent $800,000 on architectural plans and requested bids.”

Legislators voted narrowly in March to go out to bid on a two-story, 45,000-square-foot building on outer Stowe Street that would house the Department of Social Services, 911 dispatch center, Department of Motor Vehicles, Board of Elections, Office for the Aging and Highway Department administration after Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, designed the project. Bids will be accepted through Sept. 19.

Mr. DeLair in his FOIL request sought a copy of the finding of a State Environmental Quality Review Act for the project; a copy of the legislature’s resolution for funding; and a list of funding sources. He also wanted to know when a public notice was run in the newspaper allowing a permissive public referendum.

Mr. Graham replied that the SEQRA has not been performed yet because there has been no action by the county requiring it. The county so far has only hired an architectural firm. He also replied that no decision has been made on funding sources, although one potential source is partial reimbursement through the state Department of Social Services.

Mr. DeLair was not satisfied with Mr. Graham’s answer and cited the plan posted on the county’s website listing funding sources as: $4,685,000 reimbursement funds from DSS over time, $4,500,000 wind mill funds over a period of nine years and $2,700,000 from a levy increase over a 10 year period.

As for a resolution for funding, Mr. Graham replied that the board has not adopted one. He also stated the project is not subject to a permissive public referendum.

Mr. DeLair maintained that “if any taxpayer money is spent, they have to do a public referendum.”

However, that’s not exactly how the process works.

If the legislators choose to use taxpayer money for the project, they must schedule a public hearing and publish a legal notice. The notice affords the public a 30 day period to submit a petition requesting a permissive public referendum. That petition would require signatures from five percent of the last voting population. In this instance, that would be approximately 800 signatures, according to Mr. DeLair.

“I personally believe the public has the right to vote on this in November as a referendum,” he said.

Legislative Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, said after learning of Mr. DeLair’s FOIL request. “We are just taking the steps and doing our homework. By no means does this suggest we are moving ahead with the project. Rushing into this is not going to be our approach.”

The legislators will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the county courthouse.

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