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Former St. Lawrence County legislator to sue village of Massena over sewer connection

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MASSENA — When R. Shawn Gray had his home at 56 E. Orvis St. hooked up to the village’s sewer system, he was expecting to pay about $3,000 for the work. A few months after the work was completed, though, he received a bill for nearly twice that amount.

Mr. Gray, a former St. Lawrence County legislator, who has not paid the bill, has filed a notice of claim against the village, seeking to pay only $750 for the work. Also named in the claim, filed Dec. 31, are the village’s water/sewer committee, Mayor James F. Hidy, the village treasurer, the Department of Public Works, DPW Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad and the Real Property Department for St. Lawrence County.

According to court documents, Mr. Gray received an estimate of “as much as $3,000” from DPW employees Paul Russell and Scott Castignier in April 2009. In September 2009, he contacted Mr. Russell, who serves as a foreman for the department, to schedule the installation, which took place Oct. 13, 2009. The documents say the installation was completed by 1 p.m. that day, the affected area of the street was patched up and the employees left the scene.

Three months passed and on Jan. 25, 2010, Mr. Gray said, he received a bill for the work that came in the form of two invoices, one for $3,829.24 and another for $2,108.84.

The larger of the two bills was described as “New 6” Sewer Lateral on 10/13/09.” The second was described as “Blacktopped Sewer Ditch & Stripped Forms 10/29/09.”

Documents indicate that Mr. Gray contacted Mr. Fayad to ask why the bills were nearly twice as much as his $3,000 estimate. Mr. Fayad reportedly said they were in line with what was submitted by Mr. Russell.

Following that meeting, nearly an entire year would pass before Mr. Gray received a letter from then-Deputy Treasurer Laura L. Gagne. The letter, a copy of which is included in the file, reads:

“At the direction of Mayor James F. Hidy, following further consultation with legal counsel, it has been determined that the Village cannot legally alter the bill as it was originally submitted to you on Feb. 3, 2010, for the installation of the new sewer lateral and blacktopping work at 56 East Orvis St. on Oct. 13 and Oct. 29, 2009, respectively. The amount of $5,938.08 is still due and should be paid by March 31, 2011.”

Mr. Gray did not pay the bill and said he received an amended bill Feb. 11, 2011, for $5,299.48, with the invoices being lowered to $3,251.09 and $2,048.39, respectively.

Mr. Gray said he has yet to pay the bill, which has since been added to his taxes.

“I tried to address this through the board and was unable to get anywhere, so the only other recourse was legal action,” Mr. Gray said Monday. “The village refuses to even discuss it, so obviously it will be a judge that decides.”

At one point, Mr. Gray said, he offered to pay $3,000 for the hookup, which was the estimate originally quoted to him. But now, he said, he is looking to pay $750 for the hookup, in accordance with village law.

“After I filed a grievance with them, they decided to change the law because they realized their law was in error,” he said.

According to court documents, the law was changed in September 2010 to bill property owners either $500, $750 or $1,000, depending on the location of the sewer connection.

Mr. Hidy said in his eyes, the new law is irrelevant.

“That is a formula that we came up with after this,” he said. “The fact remains the work was done prior to this change. It’s just like buying gas. If a gallon of gas is $5 one day and $4 the next day, you’re not going to go back to the gas station and get your money back.”

When asked if the village was planning to fight the potential lawsuit, Mr. Hidy said he would like to see the village fight it, even if it ends up costing it more than it would be giving up. “It’s based on the principle, too,” he said. “We’re confident that we were right in our billing and he should pay.”

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