Suffolk lawmakers passed a new $300 fee on mortgage recordings for 2017 at their meeting Tuesday night, as supporters lashed back at industry criticism that increases are driving people off Long Island.
“Anyone making that accusation should look at fees they’re charging before coming into here and blaming us,” said Legis. Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon), a real estate attorney. “It’s a red herring.”
D’Amaro said closing costs can run about $12,000 to $15,000, of which the county portion is about $500.
The bill passed 10 to 7.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he understands that people feel like they’re being hit by repeated county fee increases but they aren’t high enough to drive residents away from Long Island.
“I don’t think anyone is moving to Florida, Virginia or North Carolina or anywhere else because of $300,” he said.
Opponents of the bill said the increases are part of a pattern by the county to raise fees — $46 million in 2016 and $42.7 million in 2017.
“People are tired of being razor cut,” Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said. “These fees are adding up.”
Republican Legis. Thomas Barraga of West Islip joined the majority of Democratic lawmakers voting for the fee. He said the $33 million a year expected to be raised by the fee is needed to address the county’s ongoing budget deficit.
Democrats Sarah Anker of Mount Sinai and William J. Lindsay III of Bohemia, as well as Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) voted against the fee. Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) was absent.
More than a dozen residents and real estate professionals spoke against the mortgage fee.
Bill Pearson, of North Patchogue, noted lawmakers killed a bill that would have frozen automatic pay increases they get.
“I don’t understand how you can look at yourself,” he said.
Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he planned to introduce a bill next year that would exempt first-time home buyers.
Suffolk legislators also passed a bill Tuesday that reduces sewer connection fees for developers who build housing for those making up to 120 percent of average Long Island income.
The bill had failed to get a majority in a vote earlier this month, but passed 14 to 3 after lobbying by the Long Island Builders Institute.
“This is another carrot to help incentivize the creation of affordable and workforce housing opportunities in Suffolk County,” bill sponsor Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said.
Calarco said he would work on legislation next year that lowers the county’s definition of affordable housing. Housing advocates said renting to those making up to 120 percent of average Long Island income, equal to $127,000 a year for a family of four, is too high to meaningfully provide cheaper rentals.
McCaffrey said waiving the fees for larger projects puts a burden on existing sewer district ratepayers. Southwest Sewer District members have already paid for a $60 million expansion of the Bergen Point Sewer Treatment facility.
But McCaffrey voted in favor of the bill because he said there were planned projects dependent on the legislation.
Calarco said he was unaware of what projects McCaffrey was talking about.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration would sign the bill.
The new law sets an escalating discount for sewer fees — which normally range between $10,000 and $14,000 per unit — depending on the percent of units set aside for affordable housing. Developers would get 20 percent discounts in sewer fees for setting aside 20 percent of units as affordable rising to 100 percent discounts for developments with 75 percent of units as affordable.
The 9,000-unit Heartland Town Square Project would qualify for the fee reduction under the legislation if they increased the number of affordable units planned there, Schneider said. Currently, the project plans to have 10 percent of units set aside as affordable housing.
In other action:
n Lawmakers approved a title increase for top police spokesman Justin Meyers to an assistant commissioner for strategic communication. The move makes the position exempt from the Civil Service system and appointed at the will by the police commissioner.
Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said he and future commissioners need to have the ability to appoint someone he trusts in the position. The move wouldn’t cost taxpayers any money. Meyers’ salary of $144,594 will remain the same and rise to $151,119 on July 1 — the same increase he would get under his current title. His salary would then be frozen.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he was disturbed that Meyers listed his experience as a political campaign operative on his resume. Meyers has served as a spokesman to County Executive Steve Bellone.
Sini said the department would stay apolitical.
n Lawmakers also passed $7.5 million in economic development projects, including $1.6 million to help relocate roads in Patchogue for the move of the Blue Point Brewery, $1.5 million for the Ronkonkoma Hub, $1.25 million for a customs facility at Long Island MacArthur Airport, and $1.25 million for the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, which hopes to move into a third building planned at Wyandanch Rising.
n Suffolk Legislature also passed a last-minute bill that granted the owner of the Ridge Motel 60 days to pay $232,000 in back taxes. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and the local civic association had advocated the county take the property, which they called a blight on the community.