By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
At a special meeting this morning called hastily by the Fredonia Village Board of Trustees, it was announced an unexpected purchase of water from the City of Dunkirk is necesary - to the tune of $99,000.
The board learned the water plant had been purchasing large amounts of water on behalf of the village about two weeks ago, and has been holding lengthy, closed-door executive sessions before and after board meetings during that time.
When asked about rumors over the summer about large purchases being made which prompted calls to board members by OBSERVER staff, Trustee Joseph Cerrie said he told the OBSERVER what he had been told by Rob Lancaster, supervisor at the filtration plant: no unusual purchases were being made other than to cover incidentals such as water main breaks like one which occurred on Newton Street at that time, and a leak discovered at the college which resulted in an unusal purchase.
"Lack of communication" was cited as a reason for the surprise, but Mayor Stephen Keefe added, "This meeting is premature. ... We're still investigating. ... I'm not sure all of my questions have been answered yet."
Lancaster has been at the plant for 35 years and has submitted his resignation, effective Dec. 29.
In a statement, Keefe said, "The water plant supervisor is working on a a comprehensive plan to avoid similar situations in the future. He does realize that clear, honest communication with the village administrator and the board of trustees is of paramount importance."
The board passed a resolution to take $95,000 out of reserves to cover the unexpected expense.
"This is a tragic situation for the village administrator and elected officials after the difficult budgetary process in which necessary items were put on hold to ensure a very frugal budget," Keefe said. "This kind of expenditure, without prior knowledge, is unacceptable."
In a phone call after the meeting, Lancaster told the OBSERVER, "Saying (issues) snowballed over a period of time is a good way to describe it."
He said a list of problems grew over the summer, from filters clogging with algae and bacteria, possibly due to heat and drought, which forced the filters to be washed after 10 to 25 hours of service instead of every 150 hours. That problem lasted for about two months, while other problems arose, including an intermittent mechanical problem at the Webster Road tower, contractors flushing lines at the college and using large amounts of water without alerting him or the town, drought and other issues.
"I was running myself ragged," over the summer with all of the issues, Lancaster said. "I was spending time at the plant and at the tower and getting calls in the middle of the night," he explained. "I've never seen anything like it in 30 years."
Lancaster also said communication was an issue.
"I was focused on making sure people had water," he said, and he wasn't watching the billing aspect, but the mechanical and operational issues. "There should have been more communication and I take full responsibiity for that," he said.