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Suffolk closer to starting $48M sewer project

A Suffolk committee is expected Wednesday to recommend a final screening process for those seeking to tap nearly $48 million to begin building new sewers and repair failing ones.

Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said he hopes the selection process, more than a year in the making, can get quick approval from the county legislature and that applications for funding can go out in the next month.

"We're the only game in town at this point," said Horsley, though he said he hoped the new county funding could be leveraged to spur grants and loans from the state or federal governments to kick-start a new growth in sewers."

Officials say about a dozen projects could be helped by the new county funding. They include the Ronkonkoma Hub, planned to have 880 housing units and up to 200,000 square feet of retail space. The project has received a $1 million state grant to help with sewers, and the county has authorized $21 million in borrowing to build a sewage treatment plant.

Existing facilities that could receive funding include the Northport and Riverhead sewer systems.

The $48 million will come from the sewer assessment stabilization fund, which is financed from a portion of the county sales tax and was created to limit tax increases to 3 percent in the Southwest Sewer District.

Two years ago, then County Executive Steve Levy proposed using money from the fund's surplus to help pay for new sewers to spur economic growth. Lawmakers scaled back his request after budget analysts warned the surplus was far less than the $300 million Levy had projected.

Surpluses available for immediate use total $33.3 million, and another $14.5 million will come in this year, according to budget analysts.

Those seeking funds will be rated based on a number of factors including the public health need, economic development potential and regional impact. Applicants will be graded higher if they have other funding sources.

"This program is more about those looking for a partner rather than seeking a handout," said Jon Schneider, a committee member and an aide to County Executive Steve Bellone. The legislature will have final funding approval. The committee includes representatives of the legislature, the departments of planning and health and the county executive's office.

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