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Johnstown Water Board, once again, survives referendum

JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Water Board is getting closer to not being abolished.

The Fulton County Board of Elections today reported all the votes — including the absentees — have been counted for the proposition Nov. 3 before city of Johnstown voters about whether to abolish the Water Board.

Republican Election Commissioner Lee Hollenbeck said today the still “unofficial” count is 1,600 opposed to abolishing the board and 1,560 in favor — a margin of 40.

But he said the vote is still unofficial until all Fulton County’s votes are certified, a process he hopes will be done next week.

“We’ll try to get it done by Thanksgiving,” he said.

The Board of Elections had to this month count hundreds of absentee votes that had the potential to impact the Nov. 3 unofficial vote in which city voters initially rejected abolition of the Water Board initially by 109 votes. The Nov. 3 count on the proposition for city voters to abolish the Water Board and turn all its duties over to city government initially failed 1,176 to 1,067.

Hollenbeck said that by Nov. 6, the count had to be changed again. He said there was influx of more votes due to an issue with a memory card being pulled out during the early voting process — votes that never hit the 2,500 point. Votes had to be recounted, he said.

The added votes, Hollenbeck said, put the tally prior to the counting of absentees at 1,360 no and 1,282 yes — the Water Board proposition failing by 78 votes.

But now with the 550 absentees counted, Hollenbeck said all votes are now counted.

Water Board President Michael Capparello said today, “I want to work with the city.”

He said that as the vote comes closer to being certified, he hopes this count provides a pathway to future cooperation.

“We’re just moving forward as normal,” he said.

Capparello said the Water Board is in the process of formulating its budget for next year. He said the board had a productive meeting recently with city officials,

He said. “As a resident, I want to provide the best possible water at the lowest rate. That’s been a goal of mine the last 18 months since I’ve been on the board.”

Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson couldn’t be reached this morning.

The Common Council on Aug. 17 had passed a resolution introducing the local law to abolish the city Water Board and transfer its powers and duties to the council.

On the ballot for city voters was a proposition that stated: “Shall the city of Johnstown abolish the city of Johnstown Water Board and transfer its powers and duties to the Common Council in accordance with Local Law No. 1 of 2020?” The local law — carrying 14 sections — would have amended the City Charter.

The Johnstown Charter Review Commission in 2015 proposed a similar voter referendum that the city Water Board be abolished, and city government oversee Water Department operations. That recommendation was part of a larger attempt to change the charter in several ways, but that referendum was defeated that year by voters.

In more recent years, Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown convened a county grand jury to hear complaints between city government and the Water Board that were fielded by the Johnstown Police Department.

Following a three-month investigation by the grand jury, on Dec. 31, 2019, Fulton County Court Judge Polly A. Hoye signed an order accepting the report and allowing it to be made public. The report mainly centered on two issues — how city Water Department employees report their work duties and are paid, and an issue involving a Linden Avenue property owner who was trying to tap into city water.

The grand jury report on an investigation into the Johnstown Water Board made public Jan. 7 didn’t call for indictments. But the report made four main recommendations for the board and city government for the future, including hiring a new superintendent.

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