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Suffolk Republicans say water surcharge not fair, plan to fight

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pictured on Sept.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pictured on Sept. 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

A group of Suffolk Republicans on Wednesday denounced Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone’s plan to put a water surcharge before voters in November, shortly before Bellone pitched the proposal at his annual State of the County address.

The surcharge — $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used — is part of Bellone’s plan to address the nitrogen problem in Suffolk’s waterways through tackling the sources of the pollutant, mainly wastewater from the 360,000 home septic and cesspool systems in the county.

Five Republican county legislators, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), gathered outside the William H. Rogers Legislature building on Wednesday to denounce what McCaffrey called a “money grab” by Bellone.

“We’re now being asked to pay more for our water to fund sewers in other areas,” McCaffrey said. “We don’t feel that is fair.”

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he was opposed to the measure for the fiscal burden it would put on county residents.

“While we all support our environment, if this is a priority — and we believe it is — we should reprioritize money in our county budget.”

Jon Schneider, deputy county executive for intergovernmental affairs, said earlier Wednesday that voters should be allowed to determine whether they want to pay the surcharge — which Bellone touted in his annual State of the County address Wednesday night.

“People who are against letting the people decide, I think, have some obligation to say what they would do to expand clean water infrastructure and to deal with nitrogen pollution,” Schneider said. “If there is a way they have thought of that at no cost we could do this, they should share that, too.”

The county is seeking state legislation to enable it to put the surcharge on the November ballot, and officials have been seeking support among Senate and Assembly members.

A spokesman for state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), the senate’s majority leader,

said Monday Flanagan was “unequivocally opposed” to the surcharge and declared the idea “D.O.A.”

Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who county officials hope will sponsor the legislation in the Senate, was traveling out of the state and did not offer comment this week.

Schneider said county officials will continue to press forward.

“As state lawmakers reconvene next week, we look forward to engaging in a dialogue with Suffolk’s state delegation, all of whom understand the importance of this issue to Suffolk County’s future,” he said.

State Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation committee, appeared earlier this week at a news conference Bellone held to announce the surcharge plan.

“We’re going to go to the people and ask them to place their faith in local government,” Englebright said. “I pledge to work with you to do that. Let the people decide our future.”

If the water surcharge appears on the November ballot and is successful, the county would spend next year creating a countywide Water Quality Protection District.

The funds raised would be directed to helping homeowners upgrade from cesspools, connect homes to sewers and assist municipalities with their wastewater needs, among other measures.

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