Republican County Executive candidate James O'Connor said Suffolk County should return the $150 million surplus in the Southwest Sewer District to taxpayers, accusing the county of keeping taxes high as it paid off construction costs.
"The people of this district worked hard for the money and are entitled to it," O'Connor said at a news conference at Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant in West Babylon Wednesday. The Southwest Sewer District serves 340,000 residents in Babylon, Islip and a portion of Huntington.
County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, has proposed reducing Southwest Sewer District taxes by 12.5 percent in 2016, after holding the tax flat in 2015. Even so, the surplus in the fund will grow by $33 million by the end of the year, to $150 million, according to the budget. In 2013, the fund balance was $46 million.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the money is needed for future capital projects, including a $207 million replacement of the outflow pipe from Bergen Point. Construction is scheduled to start next year and the county has secured about $40 million in low or no-interest loans from the state.
Schneider said use of the reserves would reduce borrowing costs, saving taxpayers money in the long run.
"Four weeks before the election, this is what a desperate politician does -- panders," Schneider said of O'Connor.
O'Connor was joined at the news conference by legislative Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).
The Republican position echoes allegations in a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in February.
The suit, filed by Paul Sabatino, who was the chief deputy to former County Executive Steve Levy and also a longtime legislative counsel, seeks refunds of sewer district taxes of about $1,500 per resident.