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Half a dozen Amherst Highway Department employees spent about 6 1/2 hours on a recent Sunday helping the East Amherst Fire Department put in a new concrete pad in front of the company's truck bay on Transit Road.

They worked for nothing, tearing out the old pad and hauling away the rubble with town-owned equipment they brought along -- one high-lift, one backhoe, one bulldozer and four dump trucks.

But some of the spoils from the job -- broken chunks of asphalt, stone and clay -- wound up behind a Clarence store co-owned by the brother of the town crew's supervisor, Deputy Highway Superintendent James Binner, who also is an East Amherst firefighter.

More and more, local governments are looking for ways to save money through cooperative ventures with each other, school districts and volunteer fire departments.

But the incident in East Amherst has some Amherst officials wondering if the approval level for such projects goes high enough up the chain of command to provide reasonable safeguards against the misuse of public employees and equipment and to make sure proper procedures are followed.

"You get a little nervous in situations like this, no doubt about it," Amherst Town Attorney Phillip A. Thielman said Friday.

The town's help saved the fire company at least $7,600, and the company "is certainly grateful," said Michael Morris, its president.

But Amherst Town Board members first heard about the town's involvement more than a week after the fact. In front of a large audience, a resident demanded to know what town highway trucks were doing dumping in Clarence on a Sunday afternoon.

No one had the answer.

In an interview last week, Binner's boss, Highway Superintendent Thomas A. Wik, insisted he had approved the town's participation in the East Amherst project in advance. But other officials said they didn't get that impression from Wik's brief comments last Monday, so the Town Board responded to the resident's questions by asking Thielman to investigate.

Thielman said Friday he will wrap up his inquiry as soon as he is satisfied the town workers volunteered their time freely -- without promise of pay, compensatory time off or any other workplace favors or benefits.

According to authorities, the fire company had approached Binner about three weeks earlier, seeking the town's help. Binner recruited the volunteers. Most or all also were volunteer firefighters, including three from other companies.

"No logs were kept of the trucks removed from the town facility," Thielman noted in a preliminary report last week. The fire company paid for the gasoline and insurance for the town workers.

About 60 truckloads of rubble were taken to the East Amherst Fire Department substation on Ayer Road for use as fill in a project there, officials said.

"When this site could take no more fill, and some fill was remaining, Mr. Binner directed that four to five loads . . . be taken to a place called the Kitchen Advantage located on Transit (Road) by Lapp Road, of which Carl Binner, brother of James Binner, is a one-half owner," Thielman said in his report. The store is located on the Clarence side of Transit. A neighbor who saw the work also requested and received two loads, the attorney said.

The workers, otherwise, would have had to haul the excess rubble several miles to the Highway Department or to a landfill, where fees range from $28 to $42 a ton, officials said.

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