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TRUSTEES HAVE QUESTIONS ON VILLAGE'S GAS UTILITY

Sloan residents curious about the village's new gas utility could get an earful at a Village Board meeting Monday.

Or maybe not.

Village Trustees Dean M. Lach and Denis A. Sommerfield Wednesday invited residents to sit in on a work session of the board at 3 p.m. Monday in Village Hall, where they plan to ask questions about the Sloan-Hamburg Municipal Utility, which began operating last spring.

But as minority party members of the board, they may not get any answers. "It certainly won't be the first time we've been denied information," said Lach, elected along with Sommerfield last March.

"Nevertheless, residents with questions about billing and so forth are welcome to come and listen, although they aren't allowed to speak at work sessions," Sommerfield said.

Sloan Mayor Kenneth A. Pokorski said the first municipalized gas company in Western New York has about 900 subscribers in Sloan who will average 12 percent savings a year on their natural gas bills.

"This is the only program available from any local government that will actually keep money in residents' pockets. In addition, this unique program represents one of the first successful cooperative efforts between different municipal governments -- regionalism," Pokorski said.

Nevertheless, Sommerfield and Lach said they have trouble getting even the most basic administrative and financial information about the new utility.

The newcomers said they have asked that a representative of the billing company attend the board meeting to address complaints from residents about alleged billing errors and why bills don't specify actual gas usage like those from National Fuel.

The two newcomers said they also plan to question why there apparently have been no meetings of the gas utility's board of directors, on which they are supposed to sit as Village Board members. "When I asked for the minutes of board meetings, I was told none exist," Lach said.

The two said they had to use the state Freedom of Information Law to obtain copies of the utility contract and other documents -- but from Hamburg, not Sloan. They said they have been unable to obtain income and expenditure reports for the new utility's first few months of operation, which they said they have a right to see as elected village trustees and directors of the utility.

Lach and Sommerfield said they are denied access to all but the public areas of Village Hall and have never received constituent mail at Village Hall, although they believe some has been sent to them there.

They also complained that while all other village officials are reimbursed for expenses at out-of-town conventions, conferences and seminars, a board resolution last April requires them to pay their own expenses if they attend the same functions.

Lach on Wednesday showed expense vouchers totaling more than $2,800 for five Sloan officials who attended a state mayors conference in Saratoga Springs a few months ago. The five included Pokorski, the two majority party trustees, the village clerk-treasurer and attorney.

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