Two Suffolk County lawmakers have filed a bipartisan bill to require public hearings and legislative approval before the health department can impose fees or fines after the agency on its own just put nearly $1 million in new levies into effect Jan. 1.
The county health department administratively put new and higher fees and fines into effect in nearly 150 categories without any public discussion or hearings, as permitted under the county sanitary code.
Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and William Lindsay III (D-Oakdale) will formally lay their proposal on the table Tuesday, in advance of a public hearing Feb. 1 in Riverhead.
“Government cannot treat our taxpayers like an ATM,” said Cilmi. “When it comes to fee increases the public deserves a voice, which is why nearly every other fee in Suffolk County is subject to legislative approval.”
Revenues from the new fees were included in County Executive Steve Bellone’s 2016 budget, which ran 1,024 pages. The executive’s budget narrative made no mention of the hikes.
Cilmi said legislators first became aware of the fees when the health department announced them last month.
Cilmi’s and Lindsay’s bill will affect future fee increase proposals. It does not rollback the new fees because that would require lawmakers to come up with other cuts to make up for the $1 million revenue loss.
Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird Streeter, said the administration has not yet seen the bill and needs time to review details before taking a position
Many of the increases range from 8 to 13 percent. There also is a 50 percent increase for a three-day food managers course, from $50 to $75, a new $250 fee for modifying existing swimming pools and a $385 fee for approval of pool plan amendments.
“It’s a good thing because it will give the legislature oversight it is supposed to have,” Lindsay said of the proposed legislation. “The bad thing is that the health department doesn’t always consider the economic impact of their actions.”
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said “ it’s good for us to take a look at any increase in fees to measure its purpose and impact on residents.”