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Northport reconsidering sewer bill calculations after resident complaints

Northport Village Hall in Northport is seen on

Northport Village Hall in Northport is seen on Dec. 27, 2014. Credit: Ian J. Stark

Northport Village officials are reconsidering the way they calculate appeals on sewer bills after some residents complained the final bills were arbitrary and unfair.

Annual sewer bills are calculated based on a property's water usage at a rate of $4.07 per 1,000 gallons. But after an appeal, the reasoning behind the final charge can be a bit fuzzy, residents complain.

"I just think they roll the dice," said Ralph Mormile, 71. "It's not 'maybe' arbitrary; it's definitely arbitrary."

The village will reduce what officials call a sewer "rent" when a property owner can prove that a large portion of their water isn't going into the sewer system, such as that used to water lawns or gardens.

Residents said they're frustrated because they have valid reasons to expect a lower bill after the appeal process. Mormile said he and his wife spent about six months in Florida last year, so it is "baffling" that his rent was $1,021.99 for 2014.

He also noted that he has a swimming pool and hot tub that do not feed into the sewer system.

The village cut his bill by nearly $300 after he appealed, but Mormile said it's not enough, given the half year the house was empty. "We cannot flush the toilet this much," Mormile said.

Mayor George Doll said the village created the rent system in 2010 when it lowered the village-wide sewer tax.

"The concept is so simple," Doll said. "You pay according to how much water you use. But then [with appeals] it's becoming so complicated that we're starting to search for possibly a different way to figure it."

The rent plan pleased residents with cesspools and septic tanks who argued they were overpaying for a system they didn't use and in the process subsidized those whose homes were connected to the sewer.

Those on the sewer line "were getting a near-free ride," said Elizabeth Koerner, 76, who had long complained about the old system.

Doll said the village does not plan to drop the rent system, but officials are soliciting ideas from others, including Greenport and municipalities in Rhode Island and Connecticut that use the same method. In Huntington, all residents living within the town's sewer district pay a district tax, whether they are connected to the system or not, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

Peter J. Nolan, a funeral director for Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home and former Northport mayor, said he was shocked that his sewer bill last year was $2,879.96.

The year before, his $2,958.76 bill was reduced to $875.87 -- a 70 percent reduction -- after he explained to village officials that the funeral home uses an enormous amount of water on the property's lawn.

"There's no justification for how they got to the number," Nolan said.

Some business owners and residents argue they're going to be paying for those who somehow manage to get the bigger reductions -- and people who don't appeal will be stuck with an even higher burden.

Northport attorney Edward Yule is studying the process on behalf of resident Frank Cavagnaro.

"How do you determine the proper amount of sewage tax when the village has no formula" for determining reductions based on appeals, Yule said. "That leaves the work nothing more than a guessing game, which often leads to people being treated differently."

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