Suffolk eyes using water tax funds to pay down deficit

Suffolk County is proposing to restore millions of dollars in next year's budget to social service agencies by transferring the money from an environmental fund.

Environmentalists worry that the reduction in funds could jeopardize the Island's drinking water and coastlines.

Environmentalists worry that the reduction in funds could jeopardize the Island's drinking water and coastlines. (11/4/13)

SMITHTOWN - Suffolk lawmakers are looking to plug a huge hole in the county's budget, but they're under fire for a plan that would use taxes earmarked for water protection to do it.

The funds would come from a .25 percent sales tax approved by Suffolk voters that is currently used to protect drinking water. Specifically, the money would come from a part of the Drinking Water Protection Program, which is supposed to help keep sewer taxes low.

A bipartisan group of Suffolk legislators wants to transfer nearly $33 million from the fund to use toward paying down the deficit.

Suffolk Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley says the Legislature would be well within its rights to dip into the money. He says the transfer is needed to balance the county's budget, and the fund would begin to be restored in about five years.

Horsley says taxpayers don't need to worry about a sewer tax hike. "At the end of the day, we are still going to have $102 million to stabilize any rate problems that we have throughout our sewer system," he says.

But environmentalists are crying foul. Adrienne Esposito, of the Citizens' Campaign for the Environment, says it's a "backroom deal" to balance the budget.

Some groups claim the plan is illegal and might consider legal action if it is enacted.

Suffolk lawmakers are expected to vote on the budget Wednesday.

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