Excess nitrogen is blamed for algae blooms that deprive fish and other marine life of the oxygen they need to survive. Dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead in May 2015. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The State Senate and Assembly have passed budget resolutions that would establish a countywide wastewater management district in Suffolk and authorize a 1/8% county sales tax to fund water quality improvement projects, subject to a mandatory referendum.

The budget resolutions also authorize the extension through 2060 of the existing 1/4% county sales tax which funds the county’s drinking water protection program. The 1/4% sales tax is currently set to expire in 2030. The extension to 2060 is also subject to a mandatory referendum.

The proposal for an additional 1/8% sales tax is an amendment to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget, which would establish the Suffolk County wastewater management district but would not authorize an additional sales tax to fund water quality improvement projects in the district.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who has advocated for the creation of the wastewater management district, sought the change to allow an additional 1/8% county sales tax to fund water quality improvement projects.

The dedicated water quality fund would finance wastewater projects, including nitrogen-removing septic systems.

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

At least 75% of the revenues from the new fund will go to individual septic systems projects, including maintenance, Assembly Member Fred Thiele said.

The remaining revenues may be used for new sewage treatment infrastructure, he 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.

The governor’s proposal authorizes the countywide district, as authorized by the county legislature, to assess and collect charges, rates, taxes or assessments to pay for the costs of operating and improving the facilities of the district, including special ad valorem taxes and sewer rent.

The district, as authorized by the legislature, would have the power to establish “zones of assessment within the district based upon territorial boundaries, the method of wastewater collection, treatment and disposal, existing and proposed, or both.” Taxes collected within an established zone of assessment would be required to be kept segregated from taxes collected in other zones of assessment, except upon approval by the county legislature on the recommendation of the district board of trustees.

The governor’s proposed legislation requires the county to establish a 17-member wastewater management district board of trustees, which is charged with developing an implementation plan for achieving the goals of the county’s subwatershed plan, which the trustees would be required to update every five years.

The budget resolutions were passed by both chambers of the State Legislature on Thursday. Neither resolution amends the governor’s proposal for the Suffolk County Wastewater Management District except as concerns the addition of language authorizing the 1/8% county sales tax and extending the 1/4% county sales tax to 2060.

The State Senate and Assembly yesterday began a process called reconciliation, overseen by the General Budget Conference Committee. The conference committee, known as “the mothership,” met yesterday. It is co-chaired by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

Joint budget subcommittees — comprising legislators of both parties in both chambers — work to reconcile differences in the resolutions passed by each chamber. The goal is to reach an accord among both chambers and the governor by the April 1 budget deadline mandated by the State Constitution.

Joint budget subcommittees begin meeting this afternoon.

Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) is co-chair of the General Government/Local Assistance Subcommittee.

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) is a member of the Public Protection/Criminal Justice/Judiciary Subcommittee.

Assembly Member Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) is an alternate on the Health Subcommittee.

Democrats hold a supermajority in both the Assembly and State Senate.

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