An installation of an advanced septic system. Courtesy photo: Wastewater Works Inc.

Legislation authorizing a county-wide wastewater management district in Suffolk and an additional 1/8-cent sales tax to finance a water quality restoration fund was enacted this week in Albany.

The implementation of the additional sales tax is subject to a mandatory referendum. The ballot measure would also include the extension of the county’s existing 1/4% sales tax, which is set to expire in 2030, to 2060.

The bill was part of the budget package passed by state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The additional 1/8% sales tax will finance a dedicated water quality restoration fund to provide revenue for projects to protect and rehabilitate groundwater and surface waters in Suffolk County. The sales tax increase will generate an estimated $3.1 billion in revenue from 2024 through 2060, officials say.

Revenues from the new fund will finance individual septic systems projects, including maintenance, Assembly Member Fred Thiele told RiverheadLOCAL in March.

MORE COVERAGE: New water quality fund and 1/8-cent sales tax hike eyed to address nitrogen pollution in Suffolk

The Bellone administration has worked to transition homes and businesses from conventional septic systems that are not designed to remove nitrogen to the new advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems, known as innovative/alternative (I/A) systems that are designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater before it is discharged to groundwater.

In 2021, Suffolk County began requiring I/A systems for new construction in unsewered areas. But there are an estimated 360,000 homes — more than 70% of all homes in the county — and 11,800 commercial properties that rely on conventional cesspools and septic systems. The cost of the I/A systems — upwards of $20,000 installed for a residential system — has slowed the transition. The new revenue source would address that.

Revenues from the sales tax increase can also be used for new sewage treatment infrastructure, Thiele said. The legislation would allow Suffolk County to consolidate its existing 27 sewer districts into one district. This would not affect sewer districts owned and operated by towns, such as the Riverhead Sewer District and Calverton Sewer District, or those owned and operated by villages, such as the Greenport Sewer District. There are no county sewer districts in the five East End towns, Thiele said.

The countywide sewer district would also take in all areas in Suffolk County that are not within a town or village sewer district.

It’s now up to the County Legislature to establish the district by local law, authorize the district to collect charges, rates and taxes, create a 17-member wastewater management district board of trustees to manage the district and implement the county’s subwatersheds wastewater plan, and adopt a resolution putting the sales tax increase and extension on the ballot in the general election.

The establishment of the district, like the sales tax increase and extension, is subject to a mandatory referendum.

The legislation was part of a package “necessary to implement the state transportation, economic development and environmental conservation budget for the 2023-2024 state fiscal year,” which includes amendments to a multitude of state laws for various purposes. The package of bills, collectively bill numbers A. 3008 and S. 4008 passed the Assembly 110-39 (Assembly Member Jodi Giglio voted yes) and the State Senate by a vote of 42-21 (Senator Anthony Palumbo voted no.)

Palumbo on Tuesday issued a statement explaining his reasons for voting against the state budget generally, citing what he said is its failure to provide “needed relief to combat rising costs, high taxes and historic inflation, the budget places additional burdens on families, seniors and small-businesses at a time when they can least afford it.” He also said the budget “failed to address the state’s skyrocketing crime rates and rejected attempts to give judges greater discretion when setting bail.” Palumbo predicted the budget “will only precipitate New York’s mass exodus, while making the state more dangerous and unaffordable for residents who stay.”

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