Oak Beach residents are upset they are paying for a new water treatment system that will not be complete for another year.
Residents have already been taxed for a multimillion water system the Suffolk County health department has mandated due to the threat of contamination of three wells used by 56 homes. Residents, who said they have not gotten updates on the new system, have been advised since 2017 to not drink the water.
Residents have been billed the first installment of an annual 30-year tax of $1,500 for the new system in addition to paying about $500 a year for maintenance of the existing water system.
“My annoyance is the fact that I get a $2,000 tax bill but nothing is included that says ‘oh by the way we’re making this kind of progress and we hope to have your system in place by…,’ ” said resident Peter Xeller, 75. “I’d like to see something for my money.”
When the new system is operational, residents will no longer be billed for the old system, town officials said.
“If you took out a bank loan to build a new house, you would need to start paying down that loan immediately” and “still be living in your apartment and need to pay rent,” Joe Guarino, principal environmental analyst for the town, said as an analogy.
Babylon Town regularly tests the water for contamination. A 2015 report showed E. coli bacteria in the wells and a report in 2019 cited elevated iron levels. The health department threatened “tens of millions” of dollars in fines against the town if a new system wasn’t built.
Guarino said bacteria was found in the system last week and elevated iron levels have also been present.
The roughly 200 homeowners in the barrier beach community have $4,000 annual leases with the town, which owns the land. Town officials said, under state law, if five or more homes are on one well it is considered a public-regulated utility.
The town recently completed construction of the water treatment building. However, the Suffolk County Water Authority, which will run and maintain the new system, is still doing mechanical and electrical work, which will not be completed until the spring, said Jeffrey Szabo, CEO for the agency.
“For the first time, in quite some time, we have had a lot of progress,” Guarino said.
The town last year bonded for $8.8 million with $4.3 million in debt service, and residents are on the hook for $2.5 million of the total cost, Guarino said. The town received $1.8 million in state funding and is expecting another $1 million in federal monies, he said.
“It’s not really fair,” said 30-year resident David Dukoff, 78. “There’s a lot of people who can’t afford $1,500 more a year.”
Residents last year were told they would have to pay hundreds of dollars to connect from their homes to the water meters, but Kevin McCaffrey, presiding officer for the Suffolk County legislature, said the county will be using about $700,000 in federal American Rescue Plan monies to cover those costs.
Courtney Alexander, 57, whose family has lived seasonally in their Oak Beach home for 100 years, called the new system a financial burden.
“We still believe the expense of this system is a lot for families who have been here for decades,” she said.
New Oak Beach Water System
- 56 homes
- $1,500 annual cost to homeowners
- Expected completion 2024