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An offer for Cheektowaga to join a municipal gas utility that says it saves customers an average of 9 percent on home heating bills is being given the cold shoulder by Town Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak.

"I'm not at all convinced that government should be in the utility business," Gabryszak said, adding that he questions the savings figure promoted by the Sloan-Hamburg municipal gas utility.

Sloan Mayor Kenneth A. Pokorski asked Cheektowaga to consider joining the utility after the Town Board approved a resolution calling on state and federal officials to investigate this winter's skyrocketing costs for home heating.

Pokorski contended that some residents have to choose between paying their gas bill and buying food or medicine.

"I'm sure a 9 percent savings would help many town residents be able to buy food or medicine and pay their gas bill," Pokorski wrote in a letter to Cheektowaga officials.

The municipal utility, formed in April 1999, has about 850 customers in the Village of Sloan and about 1,200 in the Village of Hamburg, according to Pokorski.

Pokorski said an independent audit of the utility's first year of operation, beginning in April 1999, showed a savings of almost $60,000, or about 9 percent, in Sloan. This, he said, worked out to an average savings of $71 per household.

The prospects for additional savings are good as the utility grows, Pokorski asserted. "We float with the market, buy in bulk and get a better rate," he said. "The more volume we have, the better the prices for everybody."

Gabryszak said he has not been impressed by what he has seen and is not interested in becoming part of an expansion of the two-village utility, "at least not right now."

The supervisor said he met late last year with two representatives from Power Alternatives, Sloan's Long Island-based utility consultant, who were supposed to send him a sample contract and other technical information. "I never heard from them again," Gabryszak said.

"No. 1, that tells me they don't follow up, and No. 2, I just have some concerns about the gas savings they claim, which residents can get by switching to the other providers out there," Gabryszak said.

Pokorski countered that companies such as Iroquois Energy, North American Energy and National Fuel Resources "have gone bankrupt or stopped servicing residential customers." The Sloan-Hamburg utility "is the only successful program still available in which people can obtain savings on their gas bills," he said.

Gabryszak noted that two of Sloan's officials -- including Pokorski's mayoral challenger in the village election next month -- also have questioned the savings promoted by the new municipal utility.

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