Amherst says the Erie County Water Authority missed by 12 months the deadline to renegotiate the agreement for the water district that covers much of the town.
In the town officials' view, that means the current deal — including when the authority can bill the town for extra repair work — must remain in place for another decade.
"I think that they blew their responsibility to give us notice a year prior to the expiration of the 10-year period," said Stanley J. Sliwa, the town attorney.
Not surprisingly, Water Authority officials disagree.
They say the agreement gives the authority the right to reopen the negotiations anytime within the year leading up to the end of the contract. In their mind, the contract now runs month to month until the two sides hash out a new deal.
"The Erie County Water Authority legal department disagrees with the town's interpretation and believes that the language of the agreement permits them to notify them of our intent to renegotiate within the year prior to the end of the agreement," said Michael Caputo, a spokesman for the authority.
The dispute is likely to end up in court.
At stake is the agreement that sets out the responsibility for repairs for the miles of water pipes and mains in much of Amherst. The town pays about $430,000 annually to the authority in a flat fee for basic repairs, plus $100,000 to $150,000 each year for more extensive repairs the authority performs on the town's behalf.
It's unclear how much the town believes it would save if the contract remains unchanged for the 10 years, Town Engineer Jeff Burroughs said, because Amherst doesn't know what exactly the authority would want to amend.
The town is divided into three main water districts. One covers the Village of Williamsville. The second, which is directly owned, operated and maintained by the Water Authority, covers the Snyder and Eggertsville sections of the town. The third, which is owned by the town, covers the remaining portion of Amherst.
The town contracts with the authority to maintain and make repairs to the district it owns. That agreement was signed in 1997 and initially ran for 10 years, with an option to renew for additional 10-year periods.
The contract last expired in July 2007 and it renewed automatically until July 28 of this year, Sliwa said.
The town attorney said, in his opinion, the authority was supposed to inform the town by July 28, 2016, if it wanted to reopen the contract for renegotiations. Instead, Robert Anderson, chairman of the Water Authority, sent a letter to the town dated July 27, 2017 — one day before the contract's expiration — informing the town of the authority's intentions.
That's too late, Sliwa said.
The original contract says the agreement automatically renews for another 10 years unless one of the parties gives notice to renew or terminate it "within one year prior to the expiration" of the deal, authority officials said, putting emphasis on the word "within." Anderson's letter meets the language of the contract, authority officials said.
Sliwa has responded with a letter to Anderson offering his view on the contract deadline, and he said as of Tuesday he hasn't received a reply from the authority. That's probably because the authority still is dealing with the aftermath of a massive leak from its Sturgeon Point Water Treatment Plant in Derby.
Water Authority officials say they plan to seek a meeting with the town attorney soon.