Suffolk Ballot Propositions on Using Drinking Water Funds, Legislator Terms

Pictured Above: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone favors using the county’s sewer stabilization funds to make up for a major budget shortfall. Environmentalists disagree.

While the top of your ballot this election contains many much-publicized races, two ballot propositions in Suffolk County this election season will prove to be consequential as well.

The propositions can be found on the back side of this year’s ballot.

Proposition One would increase the term length for Suffolk County legislators from two to four years, beginning with the legislators who take office in January of 2022 after the 2021 elections. County legislator term limits would remain at 12 years total.

Proponents of the measure say it gives legislators more time to govern without having to devote energy to being re-elected every two years, while opponents of longer terms say they reduce accountability for legislators who currently know they will face the voters every two years.

Proposition Two is more controversial. It would allow Suffolk County to borrow $15 million from its Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund, which is part of the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program that is usually used to protect ratepayers from in sewer districts from major increases.

The Drinking Water Protection Program, funded by a quarter cent sales tax, has long been seen by environmental groups as crucial to water quality protection programs, though the sewer stabilization portion of the program, 25 percent of its revenue, is not used for other water quality programs.

Suffolk County is under dire strain from lost sales tax revenues during the pandemic shutdown, expecting a $320 million budget shortfall this year. County Executive Steve Bellone has repeatedly pleaded for Congress to pass a second coronavirus relief bill that would help state and local governments, but no deal had been reached as of press time.

The county’s plan would transfer funding from the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund to the Suffolk County Taxpayers Trust Fund.

This is not the first time Suffolk has borrowed from the Drinking Water Protection Program — the county currently owes the program $144.7 million, and this resolution would cancel that debt. In the past three years, the county has already paid back $26.5 million that it had borrowed from the fund dating back to 2011.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone calls the proposal a “common sense measure,” but environmentalists disagree.

“Our first responders, healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and all other essential workers carried us through this crisis and should not now be forced to bear the burden of the financial hardships this pandemic has caused,” said Mr. Bellone after the proposition was approved by the county legislature in July. “While we need federal disaster assistance to recover, we must also adopt common sense budget mitigation measures like this one to protect taxpayers and county employees from the damage of this unprecedented financial emergency.”

“Suffolk County residents created and paid for this fund for the sole purpose of protecting our drinking water, which is already seriously compromised and is getting worse by the day,” said Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Richard Amper. “The water quality crisis on Long Island is only getting worse, we cannot afford to cut the Drinking Water Protection Program.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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