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SEWER DEBT DISPUTE MAY GO TO COURT

East Aurora's dispute with the Town of Aurora over a $419,000 sewer debt from the Center Street Sewer District appears headed to court.

The Village Board is poised to take action next week that would lead to suing the town over the sewer district that serves Center Street and the high school.

The six-year dispute stems from the town's paying just a portion of what it owes, since it argues that the district's sewer bills are higher than they should be because of water from runoff and rain that has leaked into the sewer system and gets treated by the village's sewer treatment plant.

During its work session Tuesday, the Village Board formalized plans to seek a declaratory judgment to resolve the issue. The latest development has been building for months as village officials threatened to take the town to court, but held off until now in the hope of resolving the dispute.

Essentially, village taxpayers have lent money from the general fund to support the costs of the plant. As a result, the village's sewer fund owes $419,000 to the general fund.

On top of that, the Center Street sewer line continues to need repairs that could cost as much as $500,000 to correct a long-term water infiltration problem.

Mayor David J. DiPietro stressed that "the village has gone out of its way" to work with town officials on the issue, but has gotten nowhere.

The board Tuesday backed plans to seek a declaratory judgment in the sewer dispute if the town, after it is notified of the board's intention, still refuses to pay the village what is owed.

A court would then interpret the contract regarding the sewer service and billing between the town and the village, but a court would not determine how much money is owed, said Village Attorney Robert J. Pierce.

Trustee Patrick Shea argued that it is not right for other taxpayers in the community to be asked to shoulder part of the debt repayment. "It's not fair to put it on the backs of people in other sewer districts or the village residents," he said.

As a last-ditch effort to try to avoid litigation, Trustee Jerry Thompson II prepared a two-page proposal that, in part, called for the village's forgiving the $419,000 in debt in Sewer District 3. In turn, Thompson proposed that the town forgive $137,000 in fire and ambulance debt in District 1.

Thompson's proposal, which did not get a response from the town, also called for setting up a new standard out-of-district sewer contract that would allow the village to equalize all "out-of-village" contracts.

The board praised his efforts but did not embrace the proposal.

By seeking a declaratory judgment, the village hopes that the dispute will be remedied more quickly.

Shea said he doubted whether Thompson's plan would pass muster with state auditors, who late last year criticized the village's sewer debt issue.

"The problem I have is that it's playing games again with the funds. It's the old 'wink of the eye' and back-door agreements that got us in trouble in the past," Shea said. "You try to sell that to taxpayers: forgiving a $419,000 debt."

Thompson, however, argued that his plan would have equalized all contracts. He also said the 77 people in that sewer district cannot afford to pay all that debt. "We'll never get the money. That district would go bankrupt," he said.

"We have a bill, and it hasn't been paid," Shea said. "Let's get the money. We're owed it."

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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