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Town awaits state audit on pellet project

It could be another month before Amherst officials get their hands on a final audit report of the town's pellet project, a spokeswoman for State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi said last week.

Jennifer Freeman said state auditors are continuing to write their findings concerning the town's $16 million program to turn sludge into fertilizer pellets.

Auditors completed their field work last summer, so what's taking so long?

Apparently, the local responses overwhelmed them.

"We got five responses from the town, and we're trying to be responsive to all of them and all the concerns that they raised. Usually we get only one response," Freeman said.

Meeting with town officials before Christmas, state officials revealed their preliminary findings, including that Amherst officials failed to protect taxpayers' interests or to follow sound business practices in hiring Micro-Link as a consultant to oversee the town's sewage plant and the pellet project; and that the town should discontinue bagging pellets because of high costs.

Auditors also appeared to accept the town engineer's statements that Amherst benefits by making the pellets because they cost less to landfill. Nevertheless, higher energy prices or dramatic increases in landfill tipping fees could wipe out any future advantage to Amherst, they said.

That prompted one town lawmaker to complain that state auditors missed counting millions of dollars in expenses paid by the town in connection with the pellet project.

Council Member William L. Kindel, one of the five who responded, also complained that the state's audit report blamed him and other Town Board members for supporting the Micro-Link contract, but they actually opposed the pellet project for years.

Others responding to the state included: Supervisor Satish B. Mohan, Council Member Daniel J. Ward, Town Engineer Paul M. Bowers and Micro-Link's head, Thomas B. Watkins.

Freeman said auditors plan to respond to the five and their concerns.


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