Denenberg calls for sewer fund safeguards

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Saying that Nassau’s sewer system is “in a state of crisis,” County Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) filed a bill Thursday to ensure that sewer district funds are not used on general expenses.

The proposed local law would restrict any sewer and storm water revenues not already earmarked to pay down sewer-related debt from anything but “purposes related to the repair, renovation, maintenance and operation” of county sewer systems.

Denenberg cited the depleting sewer fund balance, down from $91.8 million in 2010 to a projected $15.2 million this year, as one reason to provide another safeguard on the money. He also expressed worry that revenues from a potential privatization of the sewer system – something Republican County Executive Edward Mangano has backed for several years – would be used to balance Nassau’s budget rather than improve facilities.

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“Without the oversight and added measure of accountability this legislation creates, necessary funds and revenue for our sewage treatment plants will continue to be raided and used for other county expenses,” said Denenberg, who has previously accused the administration of moving sewer funds for general purposes.

But Mangano aides dismissed Denenberg’s claims, and accused him of introducing his bill simply to gain attention. Denenberg is running for the state Senate vacated earlier this year by Republican Charles Fuschillo.

The administration added that the federal Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act prohibits the use of the nearly $1 billion in aid Nassau is receiving for sewage system repairs for any other purpose.

"Dave Denenberg is desperate to get headlines as he pursues the local Senate seat, and therefore suddenly forgets that the law already protects these dollars from being spent in any other fashion," County Attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement.

With Republicans holding the majority in the county legislature, Denenberg’s bill is unlikely to be called for a vote. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) responded to the bill’s filing by saying that it was Democrats, when they controlled the executive and legislative branches, who “raided the sewer fund to the brink of insolvency.”

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“We find his sponsorship of this law hypocritical and unnecessary,” Gonsalves said.

Denenberg, however, said that he will continue to pursue measures that ensure the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been earmarked for repairs at both the Cedar Creek and Bay Park sewage treatment plants are promptly and properly spent.

“Let’s do it right, with accountability and legislative oversight to protect the residents of the South Shore by ensuring that much needed sewer funds and revenue are used appropriately and not utilized as the county’s personal piggy bank,” Denenberg said.

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