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Mystery phone company offers a free system

An unnamed telephone company is offering Amherst a free $400,000 phone system in return for the town's phone service business, Town Board members learned Monday.

And that's not all. Once the system is in place, the company estimates it could save the town more than $100,000 a year, computer services director Jerry Galkiewicz told lawmakers.

Nevertheless, while describing the offer as "one of those things you almost can't refuse," Galkiewicz said Amherst lawmakers must make up their minds to accept it within the next week or two at the latest.

Board members expressed cautious interest, with several saying they wanted to see a written proposal from the company.

"I think we have an obligation to try some of these things," Council Member Jane S. Woodward said after the meeting.

As it is, Amherst spends about $175,000 a year on phone service. In June, the board approved a plan to drop Verizon and switch about half the service to MetTel, a New York City company that has estimated it can save the town $70,000 over the next two years.

Galkiewicz also said Amherst must soon replace failing phone systems at the Waste Water Treatment Plant and at the Highway and Engineering departments.

Recently, however, he said he was approached by a second company that claims it can save even more by providing equipment and service for all of Amherst's 570 telephone lines.

From what he's been told, Amherst would be one of about 50 locations where the company plans to introduce its new system nationwide.

The offer by the firm, which has not yet put its promises in writing, includes phones with "all the bells and whistles," Galkiewicz said.

Several board members expressed concerns about the quality of free phones.

"I just say, put it in writing. I just remember my grandparents saying there's no free lunch," Council Member Shelly Schratz said.

But Galkiewicz said he has seen the system, which is now being used in all of the company's 53 field sites and will be offered publicly early next year. The company also has been providing service to schools and government agencies throughout the Rochester area for about three years, he said.

If Amherst chooses the company, it could wait until the new phones have proved themselves before getting rid of its present system, he said.

In any event, Galkiewicz said the company says it will stand behind its offer.

"This is their future, and they want this to work," he said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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