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No new sewer tax, Suffolk says, despite resolution

An architect's rendering of what the intersection of

An architect's rendering of what the intersection of Hawkins and Railroad Ave. would look like upon the completion of the Ronkonkoma Hub project. Photo Credit: TRITECH Development Group

A Suffolk resolution for linking the $538 million Ronkonkoma Hub to the Southwest Sewer District has confused some legislators who say the wording makes it appear that Babylon and Islip residents are on the hook for at least part of the hook up at least seven miles away.

Aides to County Executive Steve Bellone conceded the resolution is poorly drafted, but Babylon and Islip sewer district taxpayers will not have to pay any sewer costs for the 1,450- unit transit-related Brookhaven hub.

The resolution calling for a Dec. 20 public hearing states “The annual cost to a typical property within the . . . Sewer District No. 3 Southwest is $11.42 for the project.” The resolution also states a $4 million state grant, $7 million contribution from developer, Tritec Real Estate, as well as their $12 million in connection fees “are expected to lower these costs” for the $26.4 million project.

When Deputy County Executive Peter Scully read the resolution language, he conceded the authors “could have done a better job” to make clear there would be no tax impact.

“What’s key here,” Scully said, “is there is no need for the county to pass costs off to the residents of the district. That would be unacceptable.”

Some county lawmakers expressed concern about the language in the measure because it also indicates costs would be lowered, not eliminated. Critics said the confusing language could also spell new legal trouble for the county already facing a sewer-related class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of residents.

“I’m going to be very vigilant about impact on sewer district taxpayers,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, a GOP caucus leader who represents sewer district areas. “We should be paid for taking their effluent and not have to pay to receive it.”

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory, who also represents district areas, said he flagged the measure and wants an explanation because he’s “never seen” this kind of language in a sewer resolution before.

He added a vote may be delayed, unless it is spelled out that sewer district residents will pay nothing.

Originally, 400,000 gallons in daily sewage from the hub project was to be handled by an on-site $25 million treatment plant, financed through a newly created sewer district made up of housing units and 575,000 square feet of the planned construction of retail and office space in the next decade.

Public works officials later called for connecting the hub, by contract, to the Southwest Sewer District, the county’s largest sewer plant. Officials said hooking up the hub to the sewer plant would be less costly at between $20 and $22 million. That cost has escalated $4.4 million, higher than cost of a plant on site.

Critics say forcing sewer district residents to pay would set a dangerous precedent and be a violation of state and local laws.

“If this precedent were to hold,” said Paul Sabatino, an attorney and former chief deputy county executive, “it would open the flood gates for really huge projects like Jerry Wolkoff’’s 9,000 unit Heartland Town Square, which would seek similar subsidies.”

Sabatino represents sewer residents in a class-action lawsuit, claiming the county has created an illegal $288 million sewer district surplus and refuses to return the money to taxpayers.

Plans for the hub hook up project also include a second sewer line for the possible creation of a MacArthur Industrial sewer district to handle an additional 1 million gallons of wastewater, Suffolk officials said. That connection could allow Islip’s town airport, nearby industrial areas, as well as possibly the Village of Islandia, to connect to the Southwest Sewer District.

By construction’s end, officials said, it would “not fully recoup the cost of construction . . . but will generate a surplus.”

Robert Coughlan, a Tritec principal, said the firm is donating land for the pump station, and the project is expected to generate $33 million in connection fees for businesses beyond what the hub is paying, generating a net profit of $24 million for the sewer district. Their project, he added, will generate 10,000 construction jobs and full-time employment for 5,000.


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