Water fees need more time

Water fees need more time


This week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed an idea that he hopes the residents of the county would endorse. The plan is for a fee that would be imposed upon public water bills in order to eventually bring all—or as many as possible—septic systems into the 21st century. The ultimate advantage is to reverse the effects of nitrogen pollution on our imperiled ground and surface water. And the voters will have the ultimate say on whether or not this plan can be implemented through a referendum on the November ballot.

That’s a good thing.

However, the problem is, the actual cost of the plan per property owner is already being disputed. The inequity of who would be paying into this plan has been mentioned and the uses of the funds garnered from the plan have also been questioned. In addition, in order for this resolution to be placed on the ballot this November, the county and state legislative bodies must make a relatively swift decision on this resolution before the end of June, which is when the state Legislature breaks for the summer.

That’s not a good thing.

It seems like a bit more work needs to be done on this legislation before it can be presented to voters.

Here’s the gist of the plan: Those who use public water, such as Suffolk County Water Authority, would pay $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used annually. The figure of $73 per household of four was mentioned, but some say it could be a whole lot more. Those who use well water are exempt from paying the extra fee even though they would eventually benefit from the money raised through it. 

The $75 million a year that would be garnered from the fee—which is separate from the money being raised through the existing quarter percent sales tax for water quality—is in part expected to go toward helping home and business owners switch to better septic systems. Only 30 percent is slated for sewering. That could be a problem for many, especially those who live in high flood areas on the South Shore, where sewers are the only option. 

Look, everyone is concerned about the very real nitrogen pollution in our water, which has risen by 40 percent—80 percent in the deeper Magothy aquifer. Something needs to be done about it sooner rather than later. However, this might not be the right time to ask taxpayers to take on another fiscal burden before this proposition can be fully vetted. 

The idea of improving water quality already has bipartisan support in both the state and the county. The solutions for it should have it, too. Still, it was important for the county executive to bring this idea forward and it’s admirable that he’d like the taxpayers to make the final decision on it. But, maybe it’s best to give them more time to better understand what they would be voting for.