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Republicans, environmentalists urge 'no' vote on Suffolk sewer fund proposition

Suffolk County Legis. Robert Trotta held a news conference in Kings Park on Wednesday to urge voters to vote no on Proposition 2. If approved, Trotta said, the proposition would allow tax dollars previously designated to protect drinking and surface waters to be used for county bills. The county has said the proposition will save taxpayers money and has nothing to do with water quality programs. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Suffolk County Republican legislators joined with the Long Island Pine Barrens Society on Wednesday to urge residents to vote against a ballot measure to take money from a county sewer fund.

They said the proposition would violate a court order and reduce funding for sewer infrastructure projects.

Proposition 2, which is on the ballot Nov. 3, asks Suffolk voters to approve the transfer of $44 million from the sewer fund to a taxpayer trust fund this year.

The measure seeks approval to divert another $145 million from the fund through 2029.

County Executive Steve Bellone proposed the measure, calling it necessary to help close a budget gap of as much as $1.5 billion over three years caused by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said Suffolk would be "stealing money" by tapping the sewer fund and risk more legal action.

"It’s going to cost us more money in lawyers, that’s it. Vote no," Kennedy said at a news conference on Main Street in Kings Park.

Bellone aides said passage of the proposition would help avoid an increase in county property taxes, cuts in services and employee layoffs while maintaining adequate funding in the sewer reserve.

"Voting yes on Proposition 2 protects taxpayers and the critical services needed to fight COVID-19," Bellone spokesman Derek Poppe said.

The sewer assessment stabilization fund is a component of the county’s drinking water protection program. The program uses a .25% sales tax to fund sewers, land preservation, property tax stabilization and water quality.

The county took $29.4 million from the sewer fund to balance the budget in 2011 under former County Executive Steve Levy.

The Pine Barrens Society sued and a state Supreme Court justice last December ordered the county to repay the money "immediately." The county is appealing the court order and the money has yet to be paid, Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Cohen has said.

The ballot measure also seeks to repeal requirements in a legal settlement with the Pine Barrens Society that the county repay $171 million it borrowed from the sewer fund from 2014 to 2017.

The proposition calls part of the $35 million balance in the sewer fund "excess funds."

But Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said, "if these were excess funds, we would have sewers on Main Street in Smithtown and Oakdale, Mastic and Shirley."

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully said even if the proposition were to pass, the sewer fund would have enough money to stabilize sewer taxes, and fund some low-nitrogen septic system installations.

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