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Residents air concerns over refuse proposal

An overflow crowd of about 250 residents crammed into Clarence Town Hall on Monday, and most were there to oppose a plan that would, as one resident put it, put the town in the garbage business.

The informational meeting came eight days before residents are scheduled to vote on a proposal to create a townwide refuse collection district.

Balloting will be held from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. next Tuesday in Town Hall, One Town Place, off Goodrich Road. All owners of taxable single-, double- and triple-family houses in the town -- including spouses, if both names are on the deed -- are eligible to vote.

Homeowners in the town individually contract with a company of their choosing to pick up their curbside trash. The result has been varying charges for refuse collection from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even household to household.

Town officials Monday hoped to convince residents that most homeowners will save money if the Town Board receives competitive bids and negotiates a single rate for the town.

But the reasoning didn't seem to fly for many at Monday's informational meeting. Some who spoke said they were happy with the status quo.

"All I want to know is why do you people want to be in the garbage business?" Ralph H. Fink of Candlewood Lane asked town officials.

But town officials and members of a committee appointed by the Town Board to investigate the efficacy of a single, townwide garbage district tried to assure residents that they were not making a unilateral decision. Whether the town pursues plans to go to a single garbage collector will be up to residents.

Councilman Bernard J. Kolber explained the impetus for the idea came from former Town Highway Superintendent Ronald Wittnauer, who was worried that the volume of heavy garbage trucks on residential streets was causing considerable wear and tear on roads. Officials have since estimated that by going to a single refuse district, the number of trucks using town streets every week would be reduced by a third.

Town officials also have argued that fewer garbage trucks would mean less pollution and noise. And, they said, the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods would be raised because garbage would no longer be visible at curbside for up to three days a week, as everyone would have the same garbage collection date.

Residents on Monday mostly focused on the proposed cost savings. The town currently has a five-year, nonbinding contract with NEI Waste Services to begin collections starting Jan. 1, 2007. That contract would become binding only if voters approve the referendum next week.

According to that contract, single-family homeowners would be charged $160 annually. The only yearly increase allowed would be the Consumer Price Index, up to a maximum of 4 percent.

While some homeowners are paying close to $300 a year, town officials said the rate the town has negotiated compares favorably with the lowest annual subscription rate of about $172 for senior citizens.

However, Thomas N. Brem of Shady-side Drive said he already is paying a lower rate at $166.12 annually and questioned what would happen to his contract with Waste Management.

"How can the Town of Clarence or anybody else take the contract that I currently have in place with somebody . . . and have me out of the running for that long-term contract? I don't understand how that can happen," Brem said.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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