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Criminal justice, sewage treatment get fiscal focus in Amherst

Criminal justice and sewage treatment are two big financial priorities for the Town of Amherst heading into next year.

The town wants to borrow more than $16 million for capital projects, which includes a $1 million addition to the Town Court building on John James Audubon Parkway and another year of major repairs at the wastewater-treatment plant on Tonawanda Creek Road.

The Town Board is expected to vote today on the proposed capital-improvement program and adopt a $117.8 million preliminary operating budget for 2014, as well.

The wastewater-treatment plant – which covers more than 60 acres and treats an average of 25 million gallons of sewage a day from Amherst and parts of Clarence – was rebuilt and vastly expanded in the 1970s, thanks to federal money from the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

When that work was completed in the early 1980s, everything in the plant was brand-new, said Jeffrey D. Angiel, assistant municipal engineer.

Now, Angiel said, everything is breaking down at the same time.

“This plant is a huge place,” Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said. “It’s over 30 years old, and its life expectancy was 30 years. It’s breaking apart one piece at a time.”

Problems at the plant came to a head last year, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation fined the town for polluting Tonawanda Creek with high levels of ammonia and oxygen-depleting water from the plant. Besides a fine, the town was required to complete a top-to-bottom assessment of the plant and come up with a long-term plan for fixing its deficiencies.

As a result, nearly $20 million has been allocated for the plant since 2011, with an additional $6.9 million proposed for next year, Angiel said.

Funding for the plant is scheduled to continue for the next several years.

The entire project will cost the town about $47 million by 2018, when the improvements are to be completed, Angiel said.

As for the Town Court building, the proposed $1,030,500 would go toward adding 2,000 square feet for more holding cells, officials said.

“Basically, we need the addition to accommodate our increase in prisoners,” said Maria P. Kondziela, court administrator. “The town has grown, and the amount of prisoners has grown. We have seen a definite increase.”

The proposed capital plan also calls for more than $960,000 in improvements to town park and recreational facilities. That includes replacing fencing and repairing picnic shelters, upgrading the Cantalician Center playground and facilities at Bassett and Dellwood parks, replacing the liner at the Clearfield swimming pool and replacing the floating docks and roof of the restroom and shelter at Veterans Park.

Other projects include: $2.3 million for sanitary sewer upgrades, $1.9 million for waterline improvements on Muegel Road, Meadowview Lane and Presidents Lane, $1.2 million for vehicles and other equipment, and $1 million for paving and curbing.