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A few years ago, heavy downpours routinely triggered several hundred calls about sewage backups and related complaints to Cheektowaga's sewer maintenance department.

Tuesday's 1.3-inch rainfall only brought "six or eight" calls, Town Engineer William R. Pugh said Tuesday night.

The difference, he told a Town Board meeting, has been a special television camera that, for about 20 years now, has been pinpointing where storm water gets into decades-old sewer pipe so repairs can be made.

But Cheektowaga has about 185 miles of sewer pipe, much of it old, and the $300,000 a year budgeted for repairs doesn't keep pace with the workload, Pugh said.

The board Tuesday held a hearing on bonding $630,000 in sewer repair work in the Genesee Street area in the west part of town, including Roswell Road, Rosary Boulevard and Seton Road, then set another hearing for Sept. 20 because estimated costs have risen to $700,000.

"We once needed extra people to man the phones at the sewer maintenance department" after rainstorms, recalled Councilman Thomas M. Johnson Jr.

Johnson said the television camera, along with a new slip-lining technique in which a synthetic sleeve device is slipped inside leaky pipe, have been a boon to the town's efforts to keep storm water out of sanitary sewers.

Besides flooding sanitary sewers, causing backups into homes, storm water drives up sewer taxes. That's because when storm water infiltrates the sanitary system, taxpayers end up paying for the treatment of storm water -- as well as sewage -- at Buffalo's sewage treatment plant on Bird Island, Johnson explained.

Pugh said there are still about 200 places on about 50 streets in town where storm water gets into the sanitary system. Sewers are "like the human body -- the older it gets, the more attention it needs," he said.

In other matters, a list on the board's agenda of more than two dozen businesses challenging their property assessments this year didn't sit well with Alfred Piniarski of The Avenue. Tax decreases in the commercial sector increase the burden on the residential sector, unless government cuts spending accordingly.

Whatever assessment reductions are granted to businesses should be passed on to homeowners, Piniarski told the board.

"We homeowners don't have the resources to fight you people like (businesses) do," he said.

Piniarski, who attends board meetings regularly, had another suggestion: hold elections every two years instead of four.

"It seems like we get a tax reduction in election years," he said.

Councilmen Jeff Swiatek and Johnson said that the number of commercial assessment challenges this year is not unusual and that some will wind up in court and take years to resolve.

"We're fighting as hard as we can to maintain the integrity of our tax base," Swiatek told Piniarski.

In other business, the board:

Was told that five employees have asked to be added to a list of 18 who are interested in retiring by the end of the year under a state retirement incentive program The five include Ronald S. Marten, the town's supervising building inspector.

Approved the rezonings of 2911 William St. for an 84-bed assisted-living complex for senior citizens and 100 Gruner Road for a small bus company office and minor-repairs garage.

Asked that $150,000 in federal funds earmarked for housing rehabilitation be moved to the first-time home buyers program. Without the fund transfer, about 35 first-time home buyer applicants will have to be turned away, Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak said.

Changed the town investment policy in order to switch the town highway checking and savings accounts from HSBC Bank to Chase Manhattan Bank.

Scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 20 on a request to rezone 5074 Transit Road for a project involving senior citizens housing.

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