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Aug 6, 2019 4:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Hopes To Boost Septic Upgrades With Changes To Incentive Program

Melissa Winslow and Chris Clapp presented the Town Board with recommended changes to the town's septic replacement program on Tuesday.
Aug 6, 2019 4:55 PM

East Hampton Town is looking at changes to its septic upgrade incentive program, hoping to boost the sluggish pace of the replacement of outdated systems that contribute to nitrogen loading issues in local bays and ponds.

A committee that advises the town on water quality issues has recommended that the town increase the amount of money it makes available to homeowners to as much as $20,000 or more. It also suggested that the town lift income caps on who can receive town funding support, abandon the need for building permits to install the systems, and start paying the bulk of the money directly to the system installers to reduce tax impacts on homeowners.

Chris Clapp, the chairman of the town’s Water Quality Technical Advisory Committee, told the Town Board on Tuesday that the committee recommends that the town retool the funding support to allow two checks to be cut for each septic replacement project: one to the installer, for the costs of the new system, and a second to the homeowner, to cover the costs of whatever additional work is required to prepare or restore the property.

Paying the installers directly would get payments for installations into the vendors’ pockets much faster, which would increase the number of willing installers participating, Mr. Clapp said. Currently, it can take up to four months for the payments to be received, and the committee has found that some installers are forced to do a handful of projects and then stop until the payments clear months later, because they can’t afford to carry the additional debt of a new project.

“It’s a cash flow issue,” he said. “A vendor will do four to five jobs and then not take on any more, wait to be paid, and then come back into the program.”

The committee also said that the town should increase the amount of money available for replacing septics from $16,000 to $20,000 for homes in designated harbor protection districts, and from $10,000 to $15,000 for all other homes.

It also suggested that the town set aside a certain amount of money each year for a second round of funding support to homeowners whose projects end up costing substantially more than the average because of logistical complications or special circumstances.

Melissa Winslow, an environmental analyst for the town who oversees the replacement program, said that the average total cost of the installations has been about $31,000, but that projects at some houses have been as high as $64,000 for very complicated installations.

Most homeowners have ended up paying about $6,600 out of pocket for the replacements after receiving rebates and grant funding from the town, Suffolk County and New York State — but some have had to shell out as much as $28,000, she said.

The steep costs and confusion over taxable income issues — which Suffolk County officials are still at loggerheads over, as they await an IRS ruling — have depressed participation in the replacement program. Since December 2017, the town has seen just 54 of the nitrogen-reducing systems installed, with another 10 approved and waiting to be installed.

There are some 7,000 homes within the town’s harbor protection districts — areas that have been prioritized for replacing septics, because the groundwater flowing beneath them will reach tidal waters within two years — and many of those use only cesspools.

Mr. Clapp said the committee is also recommending that the income cap be lifted because some of the houses of the highest priority to have their septics replaced are on waterfront properties owned by affluent residents. Some have been unwilling to participate simply because applying for the grant requires them to submit copies of tax returns to prove income eligibility, he said.

Similarly, the current requirement that a homeowner receive a building permit for the installation has retarded participation as well, because of concerns that other issues at a property will get caught up in the review of the new septic installation.

The committee has recommended creating a “registry” for the new systems that would not require a visit by a building inspector.

“Similar to the solar program … we want to increase participation and not turn away those whose shed might be 2 feet closer to their fence than it should be and they don’t want to trigger [certificate of occupancy] review,” Mr. Clapp said. “And it would greatly reduce the amount of paperwork the building department has to manage.”

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It's a farce
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 8, 19 10:13 PM