In Suffolk, if a development project wants to hook up to the county’s sewer system, there’s a fee.
It’s $30 multiplied by the number of gallons estimated to be generated daily, which was set into place by legislation after Suffolk funded a study examining sewer district infrastructure costs. “It’s a set fee,” Gil Anderson, the county’s public works commissioner, told Newsday. “We don’t have any discretion with it.”
Contrast that now with Nassau’s Department of Public Works, which at some point three years ago — no one, apparently, could specify a date to Newsday reporters Sandra Peddie and Mark Harrington — decided to change its sewer hookup formula.
There was no legislative action on the change. And instead of a study, the change came at the request of one developer — and ultimately approved by the public works department “in consultation,” officials told Newsday, with the office of outgoing County Executive Edward Mangano.
There’s still a formula on which connection costs are based, but some aspects of it now appear to be negotiable, including when the fees are paid.
And here’s where things get even curiouser: The change ended up significantly LOWERING the cost of sewer hookups — in a county that for years has been all but shaking out the sofa cushions looking for revenue.
Last week, Mangano, who is fighting federal corruption charges, released his final budget. It includes a small tax increase in the total property tax levy — and $60 million in fee increases for traffic tickets and real estate transactions.
The proposed increases drew immediate fire from both county executive candidates, Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Jack Martins. And Republican Maureen O’Connell, who is running for re-election as county clerk, called a news conference during which she labeled proposed increases in common real estate transactions “outrageous, punitive” and “immoral.”
Why then, would Nassau public works department — in consultation with Mangano’s office — change a formula in sewer hookup fees to negotiations that, thus far, would bring the county less revenue than before?
And why wouldn’t Nassau lawmakers, who are up for re-election in November, ask the same question before considering approval of any cross-county hookup under the change?
Last week, three Nassau legislative committees had been expected to review a six-year-old proposal for a cross-county sewer hookup for a condominium plan at Oheka Castle, which is owned by Gary Melius, who told Newsday that the change in formula, which was recommended by another developer, had nothing to do with him or with the condominium project.
As it was, the item ended up being pulled by the body’s GOP majority after a Newsday report by Peddie and Harrington — which detailed the hookup fee change, and also raised questions about the project’s campaign finance disclosure forms — was posted online.
A GOP spokesman said last week that the matter would be reconsidered after the disclosure forms were updated and resubmitted.
Would that be before, or after, a new administration comes in?
“The optics of this is exactly why we need more scrutiny and transparency that is long overdue,” Curran said in an interview Wednesday.
“There has to be a moratorium” on cross-county hookups, Martins said in an interview. “The taxpayers of Nassau County are entitled to know that every dollar is coming to them, especially when we are dealing with developers in Suffolk County.”