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East Aurora is edging closer to turning over its debt-ridden sewer treatment plant to Erie County in the hope of significantly lowering sewer bills for residents.

The Village Board on Monday night approved a preliminary agreement with the county that ultimately puts the county in charge of operating the Mill Road plant for five years, beginning next June.

The village's action -- paralleling last week's Town Board approval of the county taking over town water districts as part of the agreement -- sets the stage for the county's takeover of the entire system.

"This is the right thing to do. It will save everybody money," Village Trustee Jerry Thompson II said. "The contract addresses light users, like seniors, and it will offer families drastically lower sewer rates."

Just what those projected new rates will be couldn't be pinned down late Monday, with village officials saying they would release projections to The Buffalo News today.

But in recent meetings with county officials, some projections pegged savings of nearly $400 for a household, depending on water usage. Under the county's operation, residents would see their sewer bill included as part of their county taxes.

Village officials are counting on a projected $450,000 annual savings, once a complete takeover is in place.

An independent study over the last several months of East Aurora's sewer plant woes led the county to lean toward the plant takeover option. As part of that scenario, the county plans to refinance the village's $7 million debt on the sewage treatment plant.

East Aurora residents are among those paying the highest sewer rates in the county. Plus, the sewer system needs major repairs.

"We are in big-time trouble here, and this is the light at the end of the tunnel," Trustee Heidi Potenza said.

Mayor David DiPietro said it's essential the village move forward with the eventual sale of the plant to the county. The village presently contracts with U.S. Filter to operate the plant, but that contract is due to expire Dec. 8. Village officials said they plan to extend the U.S. Filter contract through next May before the county would begin operating the plant in June.

Some trustees sought to table action on the interim agreement with lingering questions about its wording and whether public comment should be sought. In the end, though, the board signed off on the agreement after being assured it was tied just to the county's operation of it.

Village Attorney Robert Pierce said the interim agreement does not bind the village to necessarily sell or not sell the plant. The contract contains a buy-back provision if the village experiences dramatic sewer rate increases.

Trustees Patrick Shea and Elizabeth Cheteny had concerns about contract language and reference to a new sewer district that doesn't yet exist.

DiPietro pushed the board to make a decision on the issue. "We keep putting this off, and by holding up the process, it continues costing taxpayers more money," he said.


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