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Trying to hook up Heartland
Nothing ever seems easy or straightforward when it comes to the massive Heartland Town Square project. That was the case again Monday when the Suffolk County Legislature’s Public Works Committee voted down a motion to send to the full legislature an agreement with the county to let Heartland hook up to the Southwest Sewer District, a hookup for which developer Jerry Wolkoff also is seeking a discount on fees.
The vote was 4-3 against, and Democrats and Republicans were on both sides.
Democrats Susan Berland, Tom Donnelly and Al Krupski joined GOP caucus leader Tom Cilmi in voting no, while Democrats Rob Calarco and Bridget Fleming and Republican Tom Muratore voted yes.
It’s worth noting that Berland, Donnelly and Cilmi represent areas close to, if not abutting, the Heartland site and have constituents worried about possible overflow impacts from the development.
Cilmi told The Point that his opposition “was a reflection on the way I feel about the whole project.”
Donnelly said that while he shares those concerns, his no vote was because he thinks that residents in his district in the Carlls River watershed should be given priority for hooking up to the Southwest Sewer District.
Krupski said his concerns were environmental; he worries about the impact on the water table and saltwater intrusion from pumping a projected 2.5 million gallons of water daily to the Bergen Point plant and from there to the ocean. More study, he said, is needed.
Berland, who said she testified against Heartland at every hearing on the project in her former role as a Huntington Town Board member, echoed Krupski’s worries, adding that data from the county and developers on water use did not agree and that some environmental studies were too old to reflect current conditions. Berland said Wolkoff should build a high-tech sewage treatment plant on-site and pump the discharge back into the aquifer.
The committee’s rejection is a big blow to Heartland and left Wolkoff saying, not for the first time, that he would continue to evaluate all options.
Meanwhile, some legislative sources are saying that labor continues to work its magic in opposing the project and will do so until Wolkoff signs a deal with the labor unions.
MTA board controversy
The MTA had an important board meeting Monday to discuss the unreliability of mass transit. But on Tuesday, Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the New York City Council’s Transportation Committee, didn’t focus on subway improvements. Instead, he blasted out an email from his official account criticizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro’s choice on the MTA board.
Calling the Dutchess County executive’s recommendation of James Vitiello to the MTA board “cronyism at its worst,” Rodriguez claimed that “[o]nce again, Molinaro is more than willing to trade favors for his wealthy friends and donors all at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.”
Vitiello, a software systems executive who has served on the MTA board (an unpaid position) since 2016, was recommended by Molinaro and appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. He also served as best man at Molinaro’s wedding and has donated to Molinaro’s past campaigns, which the Daily News covered this week.
He’s not the only board member who donates: Real estate developer Scott Rechler is a big Cuomo donor.
But criticism of MTA board members might ring a bell: Molinaro ripped Cuomo last week for putting Larry Schwartz on the board. Schwartz is a Cuomo campaign adviser who signed off on a controversial mailer to Jewish voters during the primary, and he also works for an airport concessions company with business that stands to gain from state projects.
Cuomo has started the general election campaign by hitting Molinaro with corruption allegations, an offense-as-best-defense strategy given that Molinaro has made large-scale corruption in state government a key part of his campaign.
Was Rodriguez doing Cuomo’s bidding?
Rodriguez didn’t return requests for comment, but the Manhattan Democrat endorsed Cuomo’s bid in August. Seen as a bit of a wild card in city politics, he lost his bid for council speaker, is term-limited from the council and might be looking for work. Back in 2016, he had his own flirtation with an MTA board position, nominated by Mayor Bill de Blasio. It fell through after questions were raised about whether someone can serve while also being an elected official.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran released her proposed 2019 budget Monday, and so far it’s not causing much of a stir, not least because it doesn’t include a proposed property tax increase. While the county is chronically short on revenue, Curran campaigned saying she would try not to raise taxes. And with a county legislature in complete opposition to a hike, she couldn’t now even if she wanted to. Her Republican predecessor, Edward Mangano, hiked property taxes just twice in his eight years.
But the county regularly runs annual budget deficits of $100 million and is beset by property tax refund troubles, so how much more revenue would be in the till if the county had raised taxes each year to the maximum level permitted by the property tax cap law since it was enacted in 2011?
According to the county, it collected $925 million in property taxes in its six major funds in 2011. The number in the budget proposed last week for 2019 is $956 million.
But if the county had raised taxes annually to the limit of the cap, it would collect about $1.05 billion in 2019. And the average homeowner’s county tax bill would be about $94 more next year.