A July 2008 aerial view of the Bergen Point Sewage...

A July 2008 aerial view of the Bergen Point Sewage Plant in West Babylon. Credit: NEWSDAY/Newsday/Daniel Goodrich

To meet Suffolk County's short-term need for budget relief and its long-term need for sewers, groundwater protection and downtown revitalization, the executive and the legislature have reached a sensible compromise.

The county can take 37.5 percent of the surplus in the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund and put it in two different reserve funds used for budget-balancing. The stabilization fund was created, using an extra quarter-cent county sales tax, to protect ratepayers in the Southwest Sewer District and smaller districts from big rate increases. The other 62.5 percent of its surplus will go to build new sewers and replace inefficient cesspools and septic tanks.

The budget-balancing part of the plan will expire after fiscal year 2013. Legislators then will decide either to use all of the fund's surplus for sewers or to continue to set aside a portion for budget relief.

County Executive Steve Levy proposed the concept in May. But legislative analysts were not as optimistic as he was on future surpluses beyond the $140 million needed to hold rates steady. And some legislators, led by Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), were reluctant to keep using the fund for budget balancing.

What followed was rational negotiation and a reasonable compromise. Barring a lawsuit claiming that this change must be made by the voters in a referendum, the bill -- scheduled for a legislative vote today -- can help meet both pressing needs. hN