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An Amherst Town Board member says a colleague should have looked in the mirror before blaming others for a last-minute $250,000 increase in the cost of the Audubon Library expansion.

Council Member James P. Hayes criticized Council Member Penny F. Zeplowitz for claiming that the town Engineering Department and consultants didn't come up with complete project cost figures until a few hours before a Town Board vote last Monday.

As a consequence, Mrs. Zeplowitz said the $850,000 she had been telling the public the library expansion cost had to be changed to $1.1 million.

Hayes contends accurate cost estimates have been available since at least March 15, but that Mrs. Zeplowitz "rushed to gain public accolades before completing her homework."

Mrs. Zeplowitz could have stayed on top of the library project by attending any one of several job meetings, or keeping in touch with the town engineer, but failed to do either, Hayes charged Friday.

Mrs. Zeplowitz and Hayes are both first-term Republicans on the Amherst Town Board.

On March 14 and 17, Mrs. Zeplowitz made public draft resolutions seeking Town Board approval of a state grant application for a library expansion project costing $850,000. The March 14 resolution said the town's share would be $552,500; the March 17 resolution, $600,000. However, during a Town Board meeting with project officials last Monday afternoon, Mrs. Zeplowitz had to amend her resolution a third time -- total cost, $1.1 million; town share, $715,000 -- to include a parking-lot expansion and engineering, contingency and other fees.

A few hours later, the board unanimously approved the $1.1 million measure.

In moving for approval, Mrs. Zeplowitz talked about how much libraries had meant to her family when she was growing up and how hard and long she had pressed for the Audubon expansion. She didn't mention the $250,000 change in the project cost.

Asked about it after the meeting, the councilwoman said it resulted from "eleventh-hour" figures submitted that afternoon by the Engineering Department.

Mrs. Zeplowitz then sent out a memo critical of the Engineering Department and project consultants for not supplying costs "early on so the board and the public are fully aware of what (projects) will truly cost."

The explanation angered Hayes.

In a letter to the board last Wednesday, he said, "The Town Board liaison has the responsibility for informing the public about the anticipated cost and funding mechanisms for capital projects prior to Town Board approval, not after."

In a letter to Mrs. Zeplowitz on Friday, Hayes used much stronger language.

"I believe your criticism of the Engineering Department and its consultants is merely a smoke screen for your own unpreparedness on this important project," Hayes wrote.

"As a self-proclaimed full-time council member who collects full-time health insurance benefits and has 3 1/2 years of experience on the Town Board, I find it incredible that you would be "caught off guard" by the presentation of basic financial information at the work session on Monday.

"If you had attended any one of the job meetings . . . held on this project over the past several months, you would have certainly learned about the plans for a parking lot expansion and the need to incorporate engineering, contingency and other fees into the overall costs of the library's expansion. These items are a common part of all municipal construction projects," Hayes told Mrs. Zeplowitz.

"Even more unbelievable is why you didn't explain the funding . .. to the public at Monday night's public meeting session after receiving a detailed account of the project costs at the afternoon work session and insisting that the matter appear under your portion of the agenda, rather than under the supervisor's report.

"Is it possible, as has been rumored, that you didn't check with the town engineer to request a verbal status report on the project costs before you submitted your resolution to the Town Board and the public media?

Mrs. Zeplowitz today twice declined to answer if she attended any of the job meetings on the project. But she said the town engineer told her he had only received the final cost figures two days before last Monday's meeting.

"Jim Hayes had ample opportunity to voice concerns about the fiscal aspects and said absolutely nothing. This petty mean-spirited attack reflects a hatchet man-like mentality that obviously reflects his own political agenda," she said.

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