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Jan 29, 2019 11:39 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Officials Wait To Hold Water District Vote Until Numbers Are Crunched

The Suffolk County Water Authority's Westhampton Beach location. VALERIE GORDON
Jan 29, 2019 4:28 PM

A majority of Hampton Bays homeowners who responded to a recent survey said they were opposed to a plan for the Suffolk County Water Authority to manage the Hampton Bays Water District, Southampton Town officials said this week.

The results of the survey, copies of which were mailed to residents in the district, contradict the results of a previous online survey, which showed overwhelming support for the water authority’s proposal.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman suggested that there has been some confusion about the financial impact of a proposed takeover, compared to the status quo, and said he plans to provide detailed fiscal information before a referendum settles the question.

The proposal was made to the Southampton Town Board in October after the district faced an onslaught of water pressure and contamination issues last year, according to Mr. Schneiderman. The SCWA offered to take over management of the water infrastructure in Hampton Bays and perform upgrades to the system, spreading the cost over all its customers.

Both surveys were intended to give the Town Board members, who act as commissioners of the water district, a sense of the community’s position on the proposal.

Of the 500 online survey responses, 50 percent were in support of the merger and 28 percent were opposed; in the mailed survey, 40.6 percent, or 452 customers, were opposed, while 30 percent, or 339 customers, supported the plan. Nearly 30 percent of those who responded, or 323 homeowners, were undecided—compared to 22 percent in the online survey.

“They’re not entirely consistent,” Mr. Schneiderman said of the results of the two surveys.

He noted that 54.6 percent of the 1,114 people who responded said they were buying bottled drinking water. “Which, if you think about it, they don’t think it’s safe to drink the water,” he continued. “The big question then becomes: What do we do now?”

In an interview last month, the supervisor said that the survey results would determine whether the Town Board would hold a public vote to decide the future of the water district. The vote would differ from a typical referendum, as it would be open to all property owners in Hampton Bays and not just registered voters in the hamlet.

Under the water authority’s proposal to take over management of the Hampton Bays Water District, the cost of nearly $14 million in infrastructure upgrades—including the installation of a $2.5 million iron and manganese filtration system—would be shared among the authority’s 1.2 million customers across Suffolk County. Jeff Szabo, the authority’s CEO, has promised that the entity would complete roughly $6.1 million of those upgrades within the first three years of taking over the district.

The district would continue to maintain ownership of the infrastructure. The Town Board, which acts as commissioners of the district, would continue to set the water consumption rate.

If the authority’s bid is rejected, and the water district continues to manage the water system, Mr. Schneiderman said the costs of the necessary upgrades to the system would require significant investment, to be borne solely by water district customers, and likely would result in higher water rates, or an increase in property tax bills.

Currently, Hampton Bays residents pay, on average, an annual fee of $132 to cover maintenance costs and debt service to the water district on their property tax bills, in addition to bills based on water usage.

Southampton Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese confirmed the supervisor’s suspicions on Friday: He noted that in order to cover the $14 million in upgrades, the district’s estimated 6,400 customers could see their water bills rise by roughly $300 annually for the average user.

Mr. Schneiderman said on Friday that the upgrades were non-negotiable. “We’re running a substandard system, and that can’t continue,” he said. “Business as usual is not a choice.”

Therefore, he said, the Town Board is faced with two potential options: enter into an operational agreement with the water authority, or provide the district with the proper resources to complete the necessary upgrades. The latter will cost significantly more, Mr. Schneiderman said.

Although the comptroller’s office is still crunching the numbers, he estimated that water district customers might pay roughly $300 more per year to cover the $14 million in upgrades. For just the $6.1 million in upgrades that would be done in the first three years, Mr. Marchese at a recent public meeting said that the district’s residents could see an $80 to $100 increase.

Based on the results of the online survey, Mr. Schneiderman explained that 68.7 percent of the hamlet’s residents believed that their water bills would increase if the SCWA takes over management of the system—and only 5 percent thought the cost would decrease.

“That is the more likely scenario,” he said, referring to a drop in water rates after an SCWA takeover. “To bring the infrastructure up to the same level under the proposal, I’ll never be able to match that. It’s going to require significant investment. …

“Clearly, they’re under the impression that going under SCWA will lead to higher costs,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think the opposite is true.”

According to Mr. Szabo, the authority’s in-house laboratory tests for 387 compounds—or 250 more than required by the state—whereas, in 2017, the water district tested for only 131 compounds.

Mr. Schneiderman said he wants to share detailed financial figures with the community prior to the referendum. If the majority of hamlet residents then votes in favor of shelling out the extra money to keep the district local, he would support their decision.

“If I were to say, ‘Let’s keep it local,’ I need to know what that’s going to cost the residents of Hampton Bays,” he said. “I think that will rise to a public vote. I don’t want to make their water bills go up by 70 percent without giving them the alternative.”

But the district’s superintendent, Rob King, argues that not all of the upgrades recommended by the water authority are essential or even necessary.

In a previous interview, he agreed that the $2.5 million iron and manganese filtration system is needed to prevent iron contamination, but he stressed that the district does not have a problem with the level of manganese in the water. He also concurred that several of the district’s tanks need to be resurfaced to prevent rusting.

However, installing booster systems, which water authority officials have said will ensure adequate pressure, as well as backup generators, electric meters, and the construction of a building around a previously installed $1 million carbon filtration system, are luxuries that are not needed, according to Mr. King.

A carbon filtration system, which was installed last year to remove chemicals perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, from three of the district’s 11 wells, was not built for year-round use. Mr. King explained that the three wells serviced by the filtration system are used only during the summer to meet demand, and has stressed that they have not been used for more than seven years otherwise.

The water district’s superintendent did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday; however, he has previously said that he supports a public vote.

In fact, a public vote is becoming highly likely. Town Attorney James Burke said that the Suffolk County Board of Elections may be willing to hold the vote, which, in turn, would lift a significant burden off the town’s employees, as well as save the town “thousands of dollars in staff hours,” according to Mr. Schneiderman.

He referred to a recent vote, held by the elections board, on the creation of a sewer district in the Mastic-Shirley area. “It’s very similar,” he said.

Relying on the Board of Elections would also speed up the process. Earlier this month, the supervisor estimated that the earliest a potential vote could be held was May, or even June. However, with the BOE’s assistance in creating a voting roll—property owners who are eligible to vote—it could be as early as March. “The early sign is, yes, they may be willing to do this for us,” he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Schneiderman stressed that he would support whatever the community wants to do. At recent meetings in the Hampton Bays High School auditorium, the supervisor was accused by multiple Hampton Bays residents of pushing his agenda to dissolve the water district entirely.

“The only thing I care about is that they have good quality drinking water,” he said. “I want the people of Hampton Bays to know that it’s okay to drink the water coming out of their faucets. That’s the only thing that’s important.”

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WHY is the question of a vote still being debated? Have the vote and let's move on. As for survey which was supposedly mailed, I never received it. I had responded to the survey online though. As for the items which are being deemed as "luxuries" by the HBWD superintendent, SAFE DRINKING WATER is NOT a LUXURY. Frequent, extended vacations in tropical climates, however, ARE.
By MrsD (53), Hampton Bays on Jan 30, 19 9:29 AM
I didn't realize that the staff's personal life was what we are debating here. Obviously you have a problem with them. Have you vetted the SCWA personnel so that you won't be upset by their personal lives?
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Feb 13, 19 11:33 AM
The survey was mailed during the prechristmas mail rush.It did not look offecial and could be mistaken for garbage mail.Please Town Council Members do your job make a decision.I want to be able to turn on the faucets and drink a glass of water at the least cost .Hampton Bays Water is NOT providing this service.How many votes are you going to have?hope you are not putting our health at risk to secure your seat on the board next election.I dont think any member would be that callous.Do your job and ...more
By watchdog1 (543), Southampton on Jan 30, 19 10:35 AM
Is the town going to keep crunching the numbers until the numbers are what the board wants?
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Jan 30, 19 11:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hope an audit of the Hampton Bays Water District. Let's see who's been getting free water for an under the table payment. The laundromat in the strip mall by Bar Boy has so much business they need a special pipe to flush their contaminated water into the bay. What's their monthly water bill?
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Jan 30, 19 1:56 PM
I don't know, what is is? You must have a clue since you are discussing one business in HB. Who is getting free water? Please share!!
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Feb 13, 19 11:35 AM
SCWA will provide safer water at a lower cost. Councilwoman Julie Lofstadt has not done enough to get the facts out. She knows that the HBWD leadership has been intentionally misleading the public, and she has said nothing. Councilwoman Lofstadt, please speak up.
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on Jan 30, 19 2:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
While holding a vote on the water district, HB residents should hold a vote
on incorporation. Let’s have our own government and control.
By Jimion (129), Hampton Bays on Jan 30, 19 7:26 PM
Great call Jimion. All towns should break away from the corruption over at town hall It would be great to see East Quogue and Hampton Bays break away because that would speak wonders of how this town supervisor is looked at. You know you are doing a horrible job to the people when two towns in the town of Southampton are trying to incorporate. And when Schneiderman sells the HBWD to his buddies at SCWA it will be complete political suicide. Good luck Jay I hope you get crushed in November. You have ...more
By watchoutnow968 (56), Southampton on Jan 31, 19 8:32 AM
In listening to today’s work session, Christine cannot get a word in as everyone who seems to be for scwa is interrupting her, just my observation.
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Jan 31, 19 1:34 PM
2 members liked this comment
Christine is term-limited, wants to be supervisor, and is intentionally hurting the people of Hampton Bays to give herself talking points for a campaign. The town comptroller said our rates would go up 70% if we stay with HBWD. She kept stating it may be less, never providing any rationale. The rest of the town council and comptroller all said it is much more likely that the costs would be even higher if we stay with HBWD. She just ignored that, and kept repeating "it may be less", "it may be less". ...more
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on Feb 1, 19 9:55 AM
Are you kidding me? You seriously have not followed the Town Board. Jay is a professional politician and the others, except for Christine, seem to be going along with whatever "Jay" wants - maybe he is their meal ticket for the salary and benefits. He just wants problems to go away and kick the can down the road. The repairs need to be done and the home owners need to pay for it - that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Feb 2, 19 5:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Agreed HB Proud. Bayman it seems from your posts your either a Partisan shill or ignorant of this Town Board. Ms. Scalera has consistently been the only one on that Board that fights for Hampton Bays despite the will and IMO bullying by the other four, Bel-aire cove just an example. Resident tax, I saw it the same way. If you listened to the video with less of a bias you would have heard that Ms. Scalera was asking for facts so that the People of Hampton Bays got the best information available. ...more
By Roughrider28 (80), southampton on Feb 4, 19 7:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
Roughrider: I just read your past posts, you have been a relentless shill for Christine for over 5 years. I could try to persuade you with facts, but clearly you and HB Proud have no interest in facts or in ever changing your mind.
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on Feb 6, 19 9:07 AM
That bottled water question was BS everybody buys bottled water it’s not that we fear to drink the water it’s just easier to bring it with you if it’s in a bottle Duh
By Bigjackson (2), Westampton on Feb 1, 19 12:09 PM
1 member liked this comment