The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to a crucial hookup to the Southwest Sewer District for the Ronkonkoma Hub project, after the resolution was changed to ensure district homeowners won’t subsidize the $26.4 million project.
Lawmakers voted for the plan after a dozen civic, business and labor leaders touted the sewer connection for the $538 million, 1,450-unit transit-related development. Witnesses also backed a similar sewer link to MacArthur Airport and the surrounding area.
The resolution for the project was revised after the original version last year indicated that a typical property in the Southwest Sewer District — which is located nine miles away from the hub — would have to pay $11.42 annually for the project.
Aides to County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, told lawmakers that a $4 million state grant, a $7 million contribution from developer Tritec Real Estate, as well as $12 million in connection fees would more than cover bond costs for a decade.
By that time, other connections from the nearby industrial area are expected to generate a long-term profit of $24 million for the sewer district, officials said.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), minority caucus leader, said he backed the resolution because of its potential to spur the economy and protect groundwater. But McCaffrey said, “I want to make sure that district residents aren’t paying for the privilege of treating others.”
Republican Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. said he was reviewing the project, particularly the county’s estimated cost impact for the typical property owner, which fell below the $12 threshold for scrutiny of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Kennedy said the estimate was based on unrealistic assumptions that $20 million will be borrowed for 20 years, when the cost actually will be $26 million that will have to be paid back in 12 to 14 years.
Also Tuesday, the legislature:
- Put off for a second time a proposal to raise traffic and parking administrative fees from $55 to $110, because the absence of Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) left Democrats without enough votes to pass the measure.
Critics including the AAA called the fee “legally questionable” because it goes far beyond the cost the cost of administering traffic rules.
- Voted 14-1 to retroactively confirm three promotions of Elaine Barraga, daughter of term limited Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip), as required under the county nepotism law.
Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) complained that Barraga’s most recent promotion to a $150,000 a year bureau chief came just after her father voted for County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposals to raise mortgage fees by $33 million.
“We’re not an elite class that can change the rules for ourselves,” said Trotta. “Taxpayers are going to find this disgusting.”
County attorney Dennis Brown took the blame for the lack of past legislative approval of Elaine Barraga’s promotions. “I didn’t do a good job,” Brown said. “The buck stops here.”
However, Democratic and GOP lawmakers expressed disappointment at Trotta’s comments. They cited Legis. Tom Barraga’s integrity and said his daughter is qualified for her position.
“It’s very unfortunate he would attack one of his colleagues,” Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said of Trotta.
Barraga did not take part in the debate and recused himself from the vote, but shook hands with his supporters after the vote. Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai) was not in the room during the vote and Fleming had and excused