The Nassau County Legislature has moved to standardize the costs for out-of-county developers who connect projects to its sewer system, following a comptroller’s audit and a report in Newsday that outlined inconsistencies in how the fees were applied.
The Republican-controlled legislature voted unanimously on Monday to approve a series of fees and formula to calculate theso-called equalization charge, which seeks to partly recoup the county’s prior investments in the system from new users. The bill awaits final approval by County Executive Laura Curran. Her spokeswoman, Christina Geed, called the new policy a "fair way to work with developers" across county lines.
"Nassau County needs to ensure that we are able to get our fair share for their usage of our resources and these fees are consistent with Suffolk County’s fees for out-of-district sewer connections," Geed said.
The pending standardization of the fees followed a report in Newsday in 2017 that a proposed condominium project at Oheka Castle in West Hills paid an equalization charge of $425,000, while a smaller nearby project paid nearly double to hook into the Nassau system, even though the smaller project would produce a third of the wastewater.
In 2018, Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman’s office completed a review of the out-of-county hookup fees and found the Department of Public Works used a “convoluted formula” to negotiate equalization charges and “differing methods” to calculate property values on which the fees are based.
“Depending upon the method chosen, developers can save thousands and possibly millions of dollars at taxpayers’ expense,” the report found, noting that the county in 2015 approved two out-of-district sewer contracts on the same day using two different methods for calculating the costs. Schnirman’s report, noting the county stood to lose upward of $2.6 million using an inconsistent fee structure, urged the legislature to approve a standardized fee.
Brett Spielberg, a spokesman for Schnirman, said the county has not approved the Oheka condominium permit, which requires legislative approval. “That legislation was tabled and never was approved by the legislature,” he said.
Under the new system, the county Department of Public Works would convert to standardized fee calculation that examines how much waste a proposed project would inject into the system on a single day and apply a uniform $36 per gallon.
The law also standardized a permit fee for hookups at $120, a sewer permit inspection fee of $399, an engineering report at between $160 and $800, an industrial discharge permit of $213, a dye-testing fee of up to $800 and an inspection charge of 2% of certain sewer construction costs.
Schnirman in a statement called the legislation an example of “public policy that makes our government operate in a fairer and more impartial way and provides greater accountability.”
Correction: Brett Spielberg is a spokesman in Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman's office. An earlier version of this story misspelled his last name.