County officials announce deal on 1/8% sales tax hike to fund septic systems and sewer expansion

A bill has been introduced in both chambers of the state Legislature to amend the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act to create a 50-50 split of revenue from the new Water Quality Restoration Fund between wastewater treatment plants and individual wastewater treatment plant projects.

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Fred Thiele and State Senator Monica Martinez, will amend legislation enacted last year that allowed Suffolk County to increase its sales tax rate by 1/8 cent to fund the new water quality fund.

The sales tax increase is subject to a mandatory referendum, which is expected to go before voters in November.

Proponents say the tax increase will generate an estimated $3 billion in revenue by 2060.

In its original form, the law, signed last April by Gov. Kathy Hochul, required that the revenue generated by the new sales tax, after administrative costs, be divided 75% for the installation of modern wastewater treatment plants and 25% for the expansion and improvement of wastewater treatment plants .

That ratio did not attract the support of the Republican majority in the Suffolk County Legislature, which last year rejected local legislation proposed by the Bellone administration to establish the water quality fund and place the sales tax increase on the ballot. Republican lawmakers argued that state law required too much of the revenue raised by the new 1/8-cent tax to be spent on modern wastewater treatment plants and too little on wastewater projects.

MORE COVERAGE: Republican county lawmakers block a November referendum on a 1/8% sales tax increase to fund modern wastewater systems and sewer expansion

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine said Monday that an agreement between county and state lawmakers to restructure funding distribution “is a historic deal that will transform water conservation in Suffolk County.”

The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act also authorized the county to extend an existing 1/4 cent sales tax that funds the county's drinking water conservation program through 2060. The 1/4 cent sales tax is currently scheduled to expire in 2030. Expanding this tax also requires voter approval.

The state's pending legislative change would set aside 25% of quarter-cent sales tax revenue to protect wastewater taxpayers. It also requires that a portion of the amount allocated to protect wastewater taxpayers be transferred to the Water Quality Protection Fund and used “exclusively to finance individual wastewater treatment plant projects.” The amount to be transferred to the Water Quality Protection Fund will increase year on year from 5% in the first year of the fund to a possible 50:50 split in the eighth year. It will rise to 70% in the ninth and tenth years and fall back to 50% in the eleventh year and beyond.

The amendment was introduced in the state legislature on February 1 by Thiele and Martinez.

“I thank Chairman Kevin McCaffrey, Rep. Fred Thiele, Sen. Monica Martinez and all of our environmental and labor leaders for their work that got us to this day,” Romaine said at a news conference in Hauppauge announcing the deal , which will move the water to promote quality restoration. “Today we begin rewriting the environmental history of this great county.”

The initiative grew out of the Suffolk County Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, which was unanimously approved by the county Legislature in 2020 after a years-long development and environmental review process. It was embraced by a strong group of environmental, civic and business leaders who, in lengthy public hearings last year, pushed county lawmakers to enact the local laws needed to create the fund and put the sales tax measure on the ballot set.

The county's bills were blocked after a sometimes heated debate between Republican and Democratic lawmakers who disagreed over the 75-25 percent allocation of the Water Quality Protection Fund, which is enshrined in state law and prioritizes advanced individual wastewater treatment plants over wastewater treatment plants .

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