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Proposed Suffolk bill would cut developer sewer fees

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) is seen in a

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) is seen in a file photo. Photo Credit: David Pokress / David Pokress

A Suffolk bill scheduled for consideration by the Legislature Tuesday would reduce sewer connection fees up to 100 percent for developers who set aside housing for those making 120 percent of Long Island’s median income.

Bill sponsor Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the discount would encourage developers to build affordable housing and increase the number of apartment and condo complexes connecting to sewers, rather than using less reliable sewage treatment plants. It would also clarify existing law and require affordable housing be built on-site, rather than at another location.

But the bill failed to get a majority earlier this month over concerns that waiving the fees — running $10,000 to $14,000 per unit — would put a burden on existing sewer district customers who have for decades been paying for infrastructure.

“We’re subsidizing through the sewer districts, where people have been paying for the infrastructure for over 30 years,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), who opposes the legislation.

Affordable housing advocates also said the income definition is too high to qualify as “affordable.”

Jim Morgo, a former chief deputy county executive and past president of Long Island Housing Partnership, said “using the maximum of 120 percent for rentals, you could designate as affordable, market-rate apartments.”

Long Island’s median income is $106,200 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the proposed definition, a family of four making about $127,000 a year would allow developers to qualify for the waiver.

The rate “is not affordable housing by any reasonable standard,” said Alexander Roberts, executive director of the nonprofit Community Housing Innovations. He said 80 percent of area median income is commonly used as a federal standard.

Calarco said while the law doesn’t set a cap for rents or sale prices, agreements between the sewer districts and developers, who work with local nonprofit housing agencies, typically restrict rents to 30 percent of household income.

Calarco said he expects the bill to pass Tuesday with the addition of members who were missing at the earlier meeting.

Mitchell Pally, head of the Long Island Builders Institute, which is pushing the bill, said, “if the county wants affordable units to be built, one way is by reducing the fees.”

He said the incentive is aimed at small or midsize developments of 40 or 50 units. While Pally said projects like the planned 9,000-unit Heartland Town Square in Brentwood wouldn’t qualify because it already has a sewer connection agreement, Calarco said it might. Heartland developer Jerry Wolkoff said he was unaware of the legislation.

Current law requires developers connecting to a sewer district from outside to set aside 20 percent of their housing as “affordable.”

That would be lowered to 15 percent under the proposed law.

There is no current reduction in sewer fees.

According to the proposed legislation, discounts of 20 percent for connection fees would start if 20 percent of units are designated affordable, climbing to a 100 percent reduction if 75 percent of units are affordable. Under current law, sewer fees are reduced 25 percent if 35 percent of units are affordable and 50 percent if half the units are affordable.

At 70 percent, the projects also qualify for special infrastructure assistance. Calarco noted that 100 percent of sewer fees for Wyandanch Rising were waived by the county.

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the administration had not taken a position on the bill and was weighing the impact it would have on current sewer district ratepayers. “For rentals, we’d like to see it lower,” he said.


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