Amherst and Williamsville are exploring whether to consolidate the town and village sanitary sewer systems.
Leaders from both communities have raised this possibility for years, but the town and village boards over the past two weeks took the first concrete step toward this goal by approving an agreement to formally study the merger.
Village officials have said the cost of operating and maintaining their system is rising too fast and taking up too great a share of Williamsville's budget.
The town is open to taking on the village's sewage – which already flows through the town's system to its wastewater treatment plant – as long as the cost of consolidating isn't disproportionately borne by Amherst taxpayers, Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said.
Both Kulpa, who served as Williamsville mayor until December 2017, and his successor, Daniel DeLano, have said it makes sense to combine the two systems.
The town and the village separately operate their sanitary sewers – the systems that carry water and waste from sinks, bathrooms, kitchens and other connections in houses and businesses through to a wastewater treatment plant for filtering, treatment and discharge.
But the village system is connected to the town system, which carries village wastewater to the town treatment plant.
Both systems are in need of costly repairs to limit inflow and infiltration, Kulpa said, referring to groundwater and stormwater entering the sanitary sewers through improper connections – inflow – or leaks in the pipe – infiltration.
Too much of this water entering the sanitary system can cause sewer backups or overflows in case of heavy rain.
The town already is under a consent order with state environmental regulators to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, and problems in the village system have led to overflows in the town's network, Kulpa said.
A panel reviewing shared services projects in Erie County that had the potential to save money and avoid duplicate services in 2017 recommended the town and village consider sanitary sewer consolidation.
Discussion of the sewer merger goes back even further than that, said Deb Rogers, who took over as Williamsville's mayor on Monday. She said she was going through the mayor's office this week and found documents in a manila folder, possibly from the 1990s tenure of Mayor Basil Piazza, labeled "Sewer consolidation."
The Village Board on June 24 and the Town Board on Monday agreed to study the financial implications of consolidation and how a sanitary sewer merger would work. The village, for its part, must conduct tests to determine what upgrades are required for Williamsville's network.
A key question is whether the village and town can obtain grants to help offset the costs of consolidation and performing the repairs to the Williamsville system.
Kulpa said the town and village likely will apply for a state grant that would pay for 75% of the overall cost of the village repairs, leaving Williamsville to pay the remaining 25%.
The resolutions approved by both governments don't commit them to consolidating, but instead they agree to work in good faith to plan for that possible outcome.
To that end, the Village Board on June 24 voted to borrow up to $6.45 million to pay for sewer system capital improvements that include slip lining about 85,000 linear feet of sewer main and replacing about 2,000 linear feet of sewer pipe within the village. The village's cost would be offset by any federal, state, county or local funds and is expected to be one-quarter of the total project cost, Rogers said.
She said the village needs to find out if it makes financial sense to consolidate with the town, given the work the village needs to perform on its own system.
"We have to get our house in order" before turning the village's sanitary sewer system over to the town," Rogers said.
She noted the village already has gotten out of the water business, turning over those operations to the Erie County Water Authority in 2014.