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GARBAGE PICKUP FEE MAY RISE $13.87 PER HOUSEHOLD

The Town of Lancaster, allegedly overcharged by the company that disposes of its garbage and trash, apparently is being undercharged by the company that picks it up.

A proposed $13.87 per-household increase in the town's garbage tax for next year results from an audit showing that CID Refuse Service has underbilled the town on the number of collection stops it makes since 1996, officials said this week.

The hike in the garbage tax to $129.51 a year from $115.64 is contained in a tentative $4 million special district budget prepared by Lancaster Supervisor Robert H. Giza and David J. Brown, director of administration and finance.

Overall, the special district budget proposes raising $3,882,690 in taxes next year -- up $309,166, or 8.65 percent, over this year.

Special district taxes this year accounted for 37 cents of every dollar raised in town taxes.

The special district budget pays for street lighting, fire protection and water lines in the town outside the villages of Lancaster and Depew; garbage collection and disposal throughout the town, except in Depew, and sanitary sewer lines and sewage treatment in the small portion of the town that isn't in Erie County Sewer District 4.

Tentative budgets for Lancaster's general and highway funds are due at the end of the month. This year, those budgets accounted for 63 cents of every dollar in town taxes.

Ironically, as an audit revealed underbilling by CID Refuse back to 1996, Lancaster was claiming overcharges totaling as much as $1.7 million by the company that disposes of its garbage and trash, American Ref-Fuel, the trash-to-energy plant in Niagara Falls.

The towns of Cheektowaga, West Seneca and Lancaster last week said they plan to sue American Ref-Fuel to recover the alleged overcharges. But officials said that while it will be some time, if ever, before Lancaster gets any refund from American Ref-Fuel, the town will have to begin paying back money owed to CID Refuse as soon as the two sides can agree on the amount. Unresolved are the number of collection stops CID makes now, compared to 1996, officials explained.

"There are so many unknowns now that we thought we'd better take the conservative approach and put an increase in there for next year," Brown said Tuesday. But he added that even at $129 a year, Lancaster's per-household garbage tax is still one of the lowest in the county and less than it was several years ago.

Here's a summary of special district spending proposals for 1999, which now go to the full Town Board for review:

Garbage -- The $13.87 increase covers inflation, newly built homes to be serviced next year and making up for a current-year appropriation based on too few collection stops. Last year, $150,000 in surplus was used to keep the tax down. Next year's budget includes no surplus, accounting for $12.74 of the $13.87 increase. The tax levy is $1,524,450, 13.7 percent more than this year.

Fire Protection -- A tax rate of $1.88 per $1,000 of assessed valuation rises to $1.91 in the second of a three-year contract with the town's four volunteer fire companies because of inflation and new construction in their districts. An 8.7 percent contract increase is partially offset by a 4.5 percent increase in taxable value and a reduced contribution to the firefighters pension program. The tax levy is $1,852,473, 6.3 percent more than this year.

Street Lighting -- The tax rate stays the same -- 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation -- because the utility company isn't expected to have a rate increase next year and because of growth in the town tax base. A program to install cost-efficient high pressure sodium street lights on all new roads and on older streets as incandescent lights break will continue. The tax levy is $243,739, 3.4 percent more than this year.

Water -- An increase in debt payments on bonds issued for water line improvement projects results in a new tax levy of $114,254, 27.5 percent more than this year. The tax rate for the consolidated water district rises from $1 per single-family home and 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1 per home and 10 cents per $1,000.

Sewers -- For the relatively few residents who pay sewer taxes to the town, the tax levy is down 10 percent, from $164,397 this year to $147,774 next year. A typical home pays about $185 a year in town sewer taxes.

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