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Riverhead officials say ruling in $2M sewer tax case will mean higher costs for ratepayers

Riverhead Town Hall in Riverhead on June 5,

Riverhead Town Hall in Riverhead on June 5, 2019. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk County Supreme Court judge has rejected Riverhead’s claim that Suffolk County pay the town $2 million in sewer tax stabilization money from the county’s drinking water protection program fund.

The county fund reimburses municipalities that have established sewer districts so taxes can be kept from rising more than 3%.

Riverhead officials requested in late 2016 that Suffolk County pay the town $537,140 for 2016 and $1.46 million for 2017 to keep taxes for local sewer users from rising between 78% and 400%. County officials told the town they would not be able to pay the money, prompting Riverhead to file its lawsuit in 2017.

A ruling by Suffolk Supreme Court Judge John J. Leo dated May 15 stated that Riverhead failed to “specifically identify any particular taxpayer” in its complaint and did not allege how it was being treated differently from other town or village or county-operated sewer districts among his reasons for dismissing the case.

Derek Poppe, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said in a statement Tuesday that the decision “is a clear victory for Suffolk County taxpayers.” 

“While previous town supervisors have chosen to engage in costly and unnecessary litigation, we encourage the town to drop this suit and to work cooperatively with the county to negotiate an equitable agreement for the sewer rates charged for county facilities by the Riverhead Sewer District,” Poppe said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“It’s very upsetting because that [sewer stabilization fund] was meant so ratepayers in the district would not see an increase,” Giglio said last week. “Without that money that we were entitled to under the fund, our ratepayers are looking at a 400% increase.”

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that she and Bellone were still in discussions on the matter. Aguiar said it “perhaps is still possible to remedy use of these funds to include stabilization monies for municipal sewer districts.”

“While desperate times may call for desperate measures, I am not sure these measures are the only alternative or best alternative for the taxpayers,” Aguiar said.

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