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Nassau Dems warn of sewage plan's possible $3B cost

Civic leaders gathered outside the Nassau County Executive

Civic leaders gathered outside the Nassau County Executive Building to demand hearings on the county's efforts to privatize its sewage treatment plants. (Aug. 6, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Democrats in the Republican-led county legislature on Monday called for immediate hearings on the privatization of the Nassau sewage-treatment system, which has been proposed by County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican.

A sewer operator has been selected, and the Mangano administration "is now examining 13 responses from investors interested in giving Nassau County $700 million to lease our . . . plants for the next 50 years," said David Denenberg (D-Merrick), adding that the plan will cost taxpayers $3 billion.

Mangano selected a firm in May to manage and operate the county's sewer system if a proposal to privatize the system is approved. Subsequently, residents and businesses for the first time would pay for sewer service based in part on how much water they use, instead of solely on property values, under a plan by county officials. Property owners also could be subject to a "surcharge" for unexpected capital expenditures.

The plan would have to be approved by the legislature and by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), the state watchdog of county finances. In May, NIFA rejected a contract to pay Morgan Stanley -- its financial adviser on the plan -- $5 million to manage the sewer deal.

County officials, though, said sewer bills wouldn't increase and the capital surcharge would be only for repairs after extraordinary events such as natural disasters.

Katie Grilli, a spokeswoman for Mangano, said Monday that three public hearings already have been held.

"A public hearing should be held on the failure of Legislator Denenberg to properly oversee the sewage plants when he was chair of the Public Works Committee," she said.

She also dismissed Denenberg's $3 billion figure. The county executive has previously stated that sewage fees "will be capped at the rate of inflation and may not go up at all."

With Denenberg at the rally on the steps of county headquarters in Mineola were three other Democratic legislators, minority leader Kevan Abrahams of Freeport, Delia DeRiggi-Whitton of Glen Cove and Carrié Solages of Elmont.

Most of those who stood with Denenberg, though, were members of the Nassau County Coalition of Civic Associations.

One was Claudia Borecki, president of the North Merrick Civic Association and a former aide to Denenberg.

"If they choose an investor, they could actually vote on this plan with just one hearing on the day of the vote," said Claudia Borecki, president of the North Merrick Civic Association and a former aide to Denenberg. "Mangano has mortgaged our grandchildren's future."

Denenberg also distributed a letter he sent to the legislature's presiding officer, Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) requesting a hearing on the issue. But Schmitt said he would not hold a hearing on a plan until he knew what it was, and no plan has been submitted to the legislature.

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