About 300 Kings Park households paying among the lowest sewer charges in Suffolk County would owe much more over time under a bill legislators are scheduled to vote on Tuesday.
Phased in over nine years, the plan would raise the amount Sewer District 6 households pay from about $79 a year to $740 in 2030, near but still below the $585 county average, projected to be $787 by 2030. District 6 serves single-family homes west of Old Dock Road and nearby medical and apartment complexes.
Part of that increase would come from a user fee added to the familiar property value charge. The fee would be flat for homes, which generate little wastewater, but meter-based for businesses including restaurants that can generate much more. County and Smithtown officials have said that change is needed before planned sewering of downtown Kings Park.
Proponents said the plan would correct a decades-old taxation error that left the district in a deficit ,with customers essentially subsidized by others in the county. Lengthened phase-in — an earlier version of the bill had called for it to be done in five years — helped win the support of Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim, who called the plan "fair and equitable" in an April 9 letter to Robert Calarco, the legislature’s presiding officer.
But Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Ft. Salonga) and some of his constituents in the Old Dock Road area said the county could have avoided the increase by better managing clean water funds.
"Residents are going to suffer," Trotta said.
Historically, rates were low in the neighborhood because when the district was formed it had a major customer — the Kings Park Psychiatric Center — and the district raised additional revenue by accepting waste from private haulers for a fee.
But rates were not raised to compensate after the hospital closed and the practice of accepting outside waste ended in the late 1990s. The district has for years operated at a deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars, running as high as $875,328 in the red in 2019, according to figures provided by Deputy County Executive Peter Scully.
"Extending the timeline to bring rates up to the county average seems like a responsible thing to do," he said.
Paul Sabatino, a lawyer who represented the Pine Barrens Society when it sued the county a decade ago for balancing its budget with money from a sales tax-funded sewer fund created to stabilize rate increases under the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program, wrote in an email that the rate change "appears to be a clear violation" of that program.
He said that county charter limits aggregate sewer rate increases to 3% annually, an interpretation county officials said was incorrect.