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George Maragos to review sewer hook-up fees in Nassau

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos during a press conference

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos during a press conference in Mineola on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos has begun a formal review of county Department of Public Works’ fees to connect to the county sewer system after a report found a change in the fee formula sharply lowered costs for a several recent sewer applicants.

In a Sept. 27 letter to the Shila Shah-Gavnoudias, commissioner of public works, Maragos’ office said it will be launching a “limited review” of the department’s calculation of the sewer connection and permit fees.

“The major objective of the review is to perform an independent evaluation of the methodology used in the determination of the sewer connection fees, permit fees and related charges,” the letter states.

Newsday reported last month that Nassau changed the formula in the past several years in a way that lowered the cost to connect to the county sewer system for at least three recent developer applicants.

Public works spokeswoman Mary Studdert said the department would cooperate.

“The Department of Public Works is gathering the information that Comptroller Maragos has requested and we are awaiting the call from his auditor to set up the meeting as indicated in his letter,” Studdert said.

Joseph Davenport, chief public works sanitary engineer, told Newsday the county changed the formula for the connection fee “so as not to be such a burden that it would hinder future development, but to still protect the interests of those who had contributed towards the capital construction costs of the wastewater facilities.”

Davenport pointed to a 2012 letter from developer Glen Harbor Partners, proposing the change in the formula. Shah-Gavnoudias ultimately made the change “in consultation with the Office of the County Executive,” Davenport said.

The fee is now based on the predevelopment value of the projects, rather than the projected value of the projects when completed. The effect is to markedly lower the charge for more recent applications.

Among those benefiting was Cold Spring Hills Development, a proposal by Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius to build 191 condominium units at his facility in West Hills in Suffolk County. Melius in an interview said he simply paid the fee that was billed and had no part in the decision to change it. “They didn’t do that for me,” he said.

Committees of the Nassau Legislature had been scheduled to vote on the Cold Spring Hills request for a connection last month, but they tabled the measure hours before the vote. Maragos said he was “pleased” the legislature tabled a vote on the Cold Spring Hills connection plan, and he urged lawmakers “to hold off” until his audit is completed.

Maragos said the formula change will “lock in a much lower rate for years and will have no bearing on the actual usage and make it unfair, compared to what other residents are paying on their taxes.”

Former State Sen. Jack Martins, the Republican candidate for Nassau County executive, said he welcomed Maragos’ review. Because Suffolk developers don’t pay taxes in Nassau, Nassau residents bear the costs of treating sewage from developments that hook up to the county sewer system, Martins said.

Maragos’ inquiry is the second involving the sewer connection fees since Newsday began reviewing the matter in August. Nassau Legis. Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate for county executive, sent a letter to the public works department in August requesting information about the calculation and fees.

Maragos on Monday said his office has yet to hear back from the department, and he noted his office can resort to subpoenas if necessary.

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