HERKIMER — The Herkimer County Legislature last week approved an amendment to a contract with LaBella Associates to ensure the Rochester-based firm will work with the county during an ongoing lawsuit with the village of Herkimer.
The state Supreme Court Appellate Division, Fourth Department, previously ruled the county and the village must return to Supreme Court to provide more detailed documentation on whether the county’s interest in building a jail at the former P&C site on state Route 28 trumps the village of Herkimer’s interest. This is due to the village amending its zoning laws to prohibit construction of a jail.
County Attorney Robert Malone said last week the “balancing test” ordered by the Appellate Division would determine whether or not the county is exempt from the village’s zoning ordinance, and Legislature Chairman Vincent Bono, R-Schuyler, said LaBella Associate’s services are needed to prepare and carry out the process.
In addition to preparing necessary documents, the amendment to the firm’s $2.4 million contract with the county will also allow LaBella Associates employees to testify in court.
Legislator Helen Rose, D-Herkimer, questioned the increase.
“The information they are being asked to prepare and provide are documents they should already have available,” she said. “If we pay them to render services under their contract, shouldn’t they already have all this? Why should we have to pay them more to obtain information and documents they should have given us under their contract?”
“This is information and documents they should already have in house,” said Legislator Gary Hartman, D-Herkimer. “There shouldn’t be a need to pay them extra for something they should already have on file or for something they should have already done.”
County Administrator James Wallace previously said the documents would include information the county currently does not have and LaBella Associates would have to prepare. “That (information) would depend on what the attorney would ask for,” he said.
Wallace also previously said he was unsure how much the increase to the contract will be, but estimated it would cost the county between $10,000 and $15,000.
Rose motioned for the resolution to be amended to put a limit on the increase to the contract with LaBella Associates at “up to $15,000,” but her motion was defeated.
“Even if the county is successful in clearing this latest legal hurdle, which I don’t think it will be, how much more taxpayer money will be spent to clear the next hurdle? How much more will the county spend on eminent domain proceedings to take this parcel from a landowner who does not want to sell? This all has to stop somewhere,” said Hartman.
The vote to approve the resolution was 10-6, with Hartman, Rose and Legislators John Brezinski, D-Frankfort, Raymond Johnson, R-Ilion, Dennis Korce, R-Mohawk, and Robert Schrader, R-Herkimer, casting the no votes.
Page 2 of 2 - Legislator Leonard Hendrix, R-Ilion, was absent.
Last month, the Legislature approved hiring outside legal counsel - The West Firm out of Albany - to pursue the lawsuit against the village. The cost of the firm depends on who is doing the counseling and could range from $100 to $350 per hour.
In other business, the Legislature approved a contract to provide assessment services to the city of Little Falls, at a cost of $10 for each parcel on the city’s final assessment roll.
Wallace said the contract is for four years, beginning Dec. 1, with the county and the city having the right to cancel the agreement after two years, upon giving written notice at least 90 days in advance.
GateHouse New York reporter Amanda Fries contributed to this article