County Executive Steve Bellone and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory joined environmental leaders yesterday to announce support for a proposed referendum to be put before voters this November which will enhance clean water protection and focus the county’s efforts on addressing Suffolk County’s water quality crisis. The agreement will also help provide Suffolk County budget flexibility to hold the line on taxes
“This is another major step forward in our efforts to address Suffolk County’s water quality crisis,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “It’s a simple principle: voters created the drinking water protection program, they voted to reauthorize it, and therefore, we should go to the voters when we seek to amend it. I urge the Legislature to give the public the opportunity to vote on this referendum which will improve clean water protection and protect taxpayers.”
“I thank the County Executive for bringing all the stakeholders to the table and coming to a framework of an agreement,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. “One of our top priorities in the legislature is to enact policies that protect and preserve Suffolk County’s water quality and we hope to support this agreement that puts an emphasis on our environment.”
The referendum would authorize nearly $30 million to restore environmental funds in order to protect open space and support other clean water infrastructure projects including expanding sewers and installing improved onsite systems. The referendum will also allow the County to move forward with the $46 million Sewer Infrastructure Fund which is helping to advance critical projects to improve clean water infrastructure including combating red tide in Northport Harbor and reducing nitrogen pollution flowing into the Peconic Bay. Bellone is also putting forward a Charter Amendment which would resolve a longstanding fight by stating that any changes to any part of the Drinking Water Protection Program can only be accomplished via mandatory referendum.
“I think the people of Long Island are getting really good government and a really good deal out of this and I am really proud to be a part of this,” said Richard Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “We all agree that addressing our water quality is job number one. I want to thank the County Executive and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory for their leadership.”
“Suffolk County and environmental groups agreed that the focus must be how to move forward to address our water quality,” said Bob DeLuca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End. “What this settlement will do is suspend the on-going litigation and petition campaign so that we can all push together and move forward with more and better protection for our water quality.”
The referendum would also allow utilizing the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund (ASRF) to provide tax relief. The ASRF presently has a $140 million balance, which is far greater than its historic balances of approximately $30 million, which is used to stabilize tax rates throughout Suffolk County’s sewer districts at 3 percent. The referendum will allow Suffolk County to borrow from the ASRF’s surplus during 2014-2017 in order to preserve services and hold taxes within the tax cap, while mandating that the ASRF must be repaid beginning in 2018 in order to ensure the fund can meet all its current and future obligations.
“Government at its best can be and should be about finding solutions,” said Dave Calone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commission. “Today the county executive demonstrated how you get things done and these solutions is exactly what we need for the County’s future. Our health and economy depend upon clean water.”
“This has been a tremendous negotiation and I have to thank the County Executive for working together with us for the good of the public,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “This agreement ensures more water protection and fixing antiquated sewer infrastructure without one dime increase to the taxpayer.”
The proposed referendum is subject to a June 17 public hearing in Riverhead. The full Legislature would vote on July 29 on whether to put the referendum on this November’s ballot.