Officials representing libraries, fire districts and school districts in Nassau County joined Democratic county legislators Friday to oppose a plan that would impose a new fee for sewage service on local governments and nonprofit organizations, including hospitals and colleges.
County Executive Edward Mangano said the fee of up to 1 cent per gallon would generate $38 million annually when fully implemented in 2012 and was necessary to balance the sewer budget. He said it was in line with other jurisdictions in the state.
However, the affected groups and Democratic legislators said the fee amounted to a new tax and said it contradicted Mangano's campaign promise not to increase property taxes.
The proposed fee was detailed in the county's 2011 budget that was unveiled last month. The budget is to be debated Monday by the Nassau legislature.
Mary Jo O'Hagan, president of the Baldwin School Board, said that based on last year's water use, a 1-cent-per-gallon charge would cost the district almost $132,000 a year. "And that would equate to the salary and benefits of two full-time staff members," she said. "So this is really a two-teacher tax and that money would come right out of the pockets of the taxpayers in our school district. So I don't see where the savings is."
Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) invited O'Hagan and others to a news conference Friday outside the North Merrick firehouse on Camp Avenue to demand that Mangano pull back the proposal. "Passing along taxes to the districts is not freezing taxes," Denenberg said.
The districts and nonprofits, including colleges and some hospitals, currently pay a fee for water usage to a local water company or water district, as do the owners of private homes and businesses. The county does not provide water.
However, these districts and nonprofits, which officials say account for about 25 percent of all county sewer use, do not pay for sewer service - a mostly county-provided function.
Home and business owners pay a sewer fee as part of their county property tax bill, but nonprofits and other government taxing districts do not pay property taxes.
Mangano said Democrats "are complacent with charging homeowners and businesses higher sewer rates than they should be paying. My reform will lower rates for homeowners and businesses, while ending the practice of providing free sewage treatment for just a select few at the expense of all."
The $38 million raised by the new fee would cover the cost of the Nassau County Sewer and Storm Water Finance Authority's $28 million deficit, and the balance would be "returned in the form of a lower rate" to homeowners and commercial property owners who pay for sewer service, Mangano said.
O'Hagan, who is also vice president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, said the proposal "was just an attempt to offload his own responsibilities by shifting costs." And equating water use with sewer use was unfair to schools, she said, because "a substantial amount of our water use is to irrigate [athletic] fields."
The new fee would not apply to religious groups but would apply to buildings owned by town and village government, said a Mangano spokesman.
Town of Hempstead spokesman Michael Deery said the town has not calculated how much it would affect its budget.
Aides to Mangano said fire districts would not be charged for water used for fighting fires, but Denenberg said it was impossible for anyone to determine what part of a firehouse water supply went to fill the tanks on trucks and how much was used for firehouse operations.