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Brightwaters changes way it collects sanitation fees

Brightwaters Village Hall, shown on Aug. 4, 2012,

Brightwaters Village Hall, shown on Aug. 4, 2012, houses the village court, board of trustees meetings, vehicle and traffic department, and more. Credit: Brittany Wait

A challenge to how Brightwaters collects sanitation fees from residents has resulted in a last-minute change to the village's $2.87 million proposed budget.

Citing past opinions issued by the state comptroller's office, resident Carmine Chiappetta wrote a letter April 26 to the board questioning the sanitation fee structure. Trustee Jack Riordan has also raised the issue at budget meetings.

"The village is not compliant with the comptroller's office guidance on how to charge for use fees," Chiappetta wrote. He said Brightwaters' fees were not "reasonably related" to the actual cost of the service.

The proposed budget, which raised taxes 7.5 percent, included more than $560,000 in revenue from sanitation fees, while the projected cost of the service is $400,000.

Mayor Joseph McNulty has said at previous board meetings that he didn't know that the village couldn't use the excess sanitation fees for other village services, and past audits did not uncover this practice.

The board agreed to reduce the fees in next year's budget at a meeting Thursday, the last day the budget could be changed.

"We're going to give back the $100,000 to the village residents," McNulty said. "We're correcting a wrong."

The sanitation fee revenue was amended to $459,000. The $100,000 shortfall was then taken from the village's contingency fund and used to balance the budget.

McNulty, Deputy Mayor Denise Gibson and trustee John Lawlor voted in favor of the changes. Riordan and trustee Joe McDermott were absent.

Resident Joan Manahan said she opposes using contingency funds to balance the budget, and suggested the village instead use money set aside for road and lighting improvements.

"You could put off fixing the roads for a while," she said. "The people are sick and tired of raising taxes for everything."

After the meeting, Chiappetta said he was surprised the board didn't act sooner on the sanitation fees.

"It was obvious when it was first raised at a board meeting. I don't know why it had to come down to the last minute," he said. "[The budget] . . . was prepared incorrectly and not until the last minute was it corrected. That's not a positive reflection on the budget process."

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