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Mayor wants to tap sewer revenues to repair water lines

Delphi Thermal and Interior is about to shut down its company sewage treatment plant, which Mayor Michael W. Tucker estimates will increase city sewer revenues by about $300,000 a year.

Tucker said last week he hopes part of that money can be used each year to replace some of the city's deteriorating water lines.

Director of Utilities Michael W. Diel said last week that about 41 percent of the water leaks out of the pipes before it reaches customers.

He also said some of the lines are so brittle that they can't stand up to the force needed to repair leaks.

Delphi was under orders from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to pretreat its industrial sewage, but company spokeswoman Deborah Ayers said Friday the need to do that has passed.

"Some of our processes have changed," Ayers said. She explained that some of the chemicals formerly used in the manufacturing of car radiators, heaters and air conditioners made at the plant have been removed, ending the need for pretreatment of sewage.

Because of its volume of usage, the city negotiates a special water rate for Delphi and is willing to do so for its sewage, too.

"Once we lock into that number, [we will] take a percentage -- $50,000, $100,000 -- and put it into a capital reserve account for repairs to the water lines," the mayor suggested.

City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney said sewer revenues are supposed to go into the sewer fund and aren't supposed to be shifted elsewhere.

Assuming a way around that legal stricture can be found, the city will have a dedicated funding source for dealing with its water lines, some of which are more than 100 years old.

Diel said some of the mains are so fragile that, when crews dig a hole to repair a major leak, they sometimes can't tamp down the crushed stone used to refill the hole, for fear of breaking the pipe again.

He said that scenario happened most recently Feb. 11 on Niagara Street, where a just-repaired water main burst again when the crew poured crushed stone into the hole in the street. Diel said a leak on Regent Street recently had to be repaired three times for similar reasons.

"It's a big problem. It'll take years and years to get it done," Tucker said.

Diel said the city's annual program of water rate increases isn't enough to keep up with the leaky lines or close the water fund's deficit, which now stands at about $500,000.

He said the rate increases are canceled out in part by nearly $300,000 in property taxes the city has to pay to municipalities and schools from here to North Tonawanda, which tax the city's water supply line from the Niagara River.

"It's almost 10 percent of Mike's operating budget," Gary M. Andes, outgoing superintendent of streets, parks and refuse, told a Common Council committee last week.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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