Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, addresses...

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, addresses the Suffolk County Legislature during a public hearing Tuesday. Credit: John Roca

Suffolk County lawmakers on Tuesday moved a step closer to allowing residents to vote in a November referendum on a proposed 0.125% sales tax increase to fund a sweeping expansion of sewers and high-tech septic systems throughout the county.

The county legislature voted 17-0 to close a public hearing on whether to allow the referendum, paving the way for lawmakers to vote on the proposal at their June 25 meeting in Riverhead. If passed by the full legislature and signed by Suffolk County Executive Edward P. Romaine before Aug. 5, the measure will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

If approved by voters in November, the sales tax hike — amounting to 12.5 cents on a $100 purchase — could fund a significant expansion of sewers and modern septic systems throughout Suffolk, where 75% of properties rely on cesspools. Such systems do not actively remove nitrogen from human waste before releasing it into the ground, which can fuel algal growth and lower oxygen levels in ground and surface waters.

“Today is the day where we make history in creating a cleaner, safer and healthier Long Island for generations to come,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said during Tuesday's hearing. “We long for the day that Suffolk County will no longer be known as the septic capital of the world.”

The Republican-controlled legislature delayed the referendum measure last year, citing concerns with the funding formula that have since been addressed.

Legislative presiding officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) has said putting the proposal before voters is the legislature’s number one priority this year.

At least one member, Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), has said he would vote against measure. He cited lawsuits alleging the county illegally diverted nearly $200 million in past sewer funding, and said Suffolk should use that money rather than raise taxes. 

Also Tuesday, the legislature heard from about a half dozen representatives of good government and voting rights groups who spoke against a proposal to replace Suffolk’s paper ballot system with touch screen-only voting devices.

Suffolk uses paper ballots that are fed into a machine and recorded. The county Board of Elections has requested $34.8 million in the proposed county capital budget to purchase new machines in 2025. The county has received a quote for 2,500 Express Vote XL touch screen-only machines from Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Nebraska.

The New York State Board of Elections last year approved the use of touch screen-only machines statewide.

Opponents of touch screen systems testified Tuesday that use of those machines can lead to longer wait times because votes take longer to process, and such systems don’t leave a hard copy if an audit is needed.

“Paper ballots are recognized as the gold standard around the country … as the best way to vote in a secure, trustworthy, reliable way,” said Susan Greenhalgh, an Amityville resident and representative of the national nonprofit Free Speech for People, which advocates for free elections.

The legislature will likely vote on the capital budget at its June 25 meeting. A vendor contract for new voting machines likely would require additional legislative approval.

The legislature also:

Held a public hearing on a proposal to ban eateries from distributing single-use plastic utensils and condiments unless customers request them, The legislation aims to reduce plastic pollution,.

Confirmed John Imhof as the county’s Social Services commissioner in a 17-0 vote. Imhof, a retired Nassau County Department of Social Services commissioner, will earn $196,376 in annual salary. He also receives a $69,580 annual state pension, according to the state Comptroller's office.

Correction: A proposed 0.125% sales tax increase to fund expansion of sewers and high-tech septic systems in Suffolk County would amount to 12.5 cents on a $100 purchase. A story on Wednesday misstated the impact on such a purchase.

Suffolk County lawmakers on Tuesday moved a step closer to allowing residents to vote in a November referendum on a proposed 0.125% sales tax increase to fund a sweeping expansion of sewers and high-tech septic systems throughout the county.

The county legislature voted 17-0 to close a public hearing on whether to allow the referendum, paving the way for lawmakers to vote on the proposal at their June 25 meeting in Riverhead. If passed by the full legislature and signed by Suffolk County Executive Edward P. Romaine before Aug. 5, the measure will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

If approved by voters in November, the sales tax hike — amounting to 12.5 cents on a $100 purchase — could fund a significant expansion of sewers and modern septic systems throughout Suffolk, where 75% of properties rely on cesspools. Such systems do not actively remove nitrogen from human waste before releasing it into the ground, which can fuel algal growth and lower oxygen levels in ground and surface waters.

“Today is the day where we make history in creating a cleaner, safer and healthier Long Island for generations to come,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said during Tuesday's hearing. “We long for the day that Suffolk County will no longer be known as the septic capital of the world.”

The Republican-controlled legislature delayed the referendum measure last year, citing concerns with the funding formula that have since been addressed.

Legislative presiding officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) has said putting the proposal before voters is the legislature’s number one priority this year.

At least one member, Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), has said he would vote against measure. He cited lawsuits alleging the county illegally diverted nearly $200 million in past sewer funding, and said Suffolk should use that money rather than raise taxes. 

Also Tuesday, the legislature heard from about a half dozen representatives of good government and voting rights groups who spoke against a proposal to replace Suffolk’s paper ballot system with touch screen-only voting devices.

Suffolk uses paper ballots that are fed into a machine and recorded. The county Board of Elections has requested $34.8 million in the proposed county capital budget to purchase new machines in 2025. The county has received a quote for 2,500 Express Vote XL touch screen-only machines from Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Nebraska.

The New York State Board of Elections last year approved the use of touch screen-only machines statewide.

Opponents of touch screen systems testified Tuesday that use of those machines can lead to longer wait times because votes take longer to process, and such systems don’t leave a hard copy if an audit is needed.

“Paper ballots are recognized as the gold standard around the country … as the best way to vote in a secure, trustworthy, reliable way,” said Susan Greenhalgh, an Amityville resident and representative of the national nonprofit Free Speech for People, which advocates for free elections.

The legislature will likely vote on the capital budget at its June 25 meeting. A vendor contract for new voting machines likely would require additional legislative approval.

The legislature also:

  • Held a public hearing on a proposal to ban eateries from distributing single-use plastic utensils and condiments unless customers request them. The legislation aims to reduce plastic pollution.

Confirmed John Imhof as the county’s Social Services commissioner in a 17-0 vote. Imhof, a retired Nassau County Department of Social Services commissioner, will earn $196,376 in annual salary. He also receives a $69,580 annual state pension, according to the state Comptroller's office.

Correction: A proposed 0.125% sales tax increase to fund expansion of sewers and high-tech septic systems in Suffolk County would amount to 12.5 cents on a $100 purchase. A story on Wednesday misstated the impact on such a purchase.

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