Some Kings Park residents would pay hundreds of dollars more for sewer service under a plan to close decades-old operating deficits for the local sewer district, whose charges are now among the lowest in the county.
The plan was announced with a vote count still unannounced for a ballot measure, Proposition 2, that would authorize county officials to take as much as $44 million this year and another $12 million yearly through 2029 from a fund created to stabilize sewer bills and use it instead to plug budget holes.
With Smithtown Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim asking county officials Monday to moderate the fee increase, county spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle wrote in an email that "We agree with Supervisor Wehrheim’s request that the Sewer Agency should seek more community input before finalizing their proposal."
The plan, which could get a Suffolk County Legislature public hearing as early as Dec. 15, would impose a base charge of $92 and add a $115 service fee for a typical home in Sewer District 6 starting in 2022. The user fee would increase each year over five years, hitting $590 by 2026 and bringing the total charge to each residential customer to $694, just below the projected county average of $699, according to figures Deputy County Executive Peter Scully provided.
Average annual sewer costs for residents in the district is now $79; the county average is $585.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who represents the area, said in an interview last week that some residents would not be able to afford the increases and slammed the proposal as a budget gimmick by County Executive Steve Bellone.
"He can’t raise the taxes, so he’s going to add a fee," Trotta said.
Scully’s figures show the district already relied on the fund to bridge six-figure deficits for operating and maintenance costs over each of the past five years. In 2019 the district drew $875,328 from the fund.
A Nov. 24 county Department of Public Works report traced the origins of those deficits back decades. "Significant improvements" were made to the district in 1983, but fees were not increased to pay for them. The district lost major revenue sources in 1990, when the district stopped accepting waste from cesspool haulers, and in 1996, when the Kings Park State Hospital closed.
Scully wrote in a Nov. 25 email to Werheim that the increase was needed to "stabilize the District’s finances before it is expanded to include the Kings Park District." Expansion is expected to use $20 million in New York State money starting next year to add sewers to residential and commercial parcels along Main and Church streets in Kings Park, enabling development of restaurants, apartments and medical offices.
Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said Smithtown officials wanted to avoid any delay that could put state sewer money at risk of being clawed back, but in a letter Monday to county sewer agency chairman Joseph Brown, Wehreim urged Brown to "consider doing more to minimize the impact of a new rate structure on homeowners." He proposed consulting with community groups and residents.
Paul Sabatino, a lawyer who represented the Long Island Pine Barrens Society in lawsuits over such budget transfers, said the county had "illegally diverted" more than $200 million from the sewer fund and described the proposed increase in district charges as "the logical consequence of raiding funds to plug holes in the general budget."