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When Is a Water District Not a Municipality?

The Court of Appeals held, for purposes of allocating costs of New York’s “one-call” system for locating underground pipes, cables wires etc. before excavating, a water district created by Town Law is not a municipality. In Jericho Water District v. One Call Users Council, Inc. the Court held that a water district is therefore not exempt from contributing to the cost of maintaining the one-call system.

General Business Law section 761 provides for maintaining the one-call system with cost being shared among operators of underground facilities, except “municipalities and authorities that operate underground facilities and any operator of underground facilities that provides water service to less than four thousand customers.” The Jericho Water District was created pursuant to Town Law section 190 with the commissioners elected rather than being appointed by the Town Board. The court noted that various statutes define municipality either narrowly to include only counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts, or more broadly to also include specialized government units like a water district. However, the provision of the General Business Law at issue does not include a definition of municipality.

The court found that both general usage and the General Construction Law (which defines “municipal corporation”) would apply a more narrow definition, which would not include a water district as a municipality. While the General Construction Law defines municipal corporation rather than municipality the court construed the terms as synonymous. It therefore concluded, absent a definition in the specific statute to be applied, the narrow definition in the General Construction Law applies as “exceptions to generally applicable statutory provisions should be strictly construed…”

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