Environmentalists Consider Lawsuit Over Suffolk County Sewer Fund Raid

A controversial ballot proposal in Suffolk County to use sewer stabilization funds to fill holes in the budget is still too early to call. Now, an environmental group says the proposal could lead to a lawsuit.

County Executive Steve Bellone declared victory Wednesday on the measure he introduced months ago to redirect about $180 million away from the sewer fund and use it to help plug pandemic-related budget shortfalls.

“Our COVID relief measure, proposition 2, passed. And I want to thank the people of Suffolk County for passing this common sense measure,” Bellone said.

The measure didn’t pass yet. The “yes” votes are up by about 38,000, but over 100,000 absentee ballots still have to be counted.

Still, Bellone criticized Republicans in the County Legislature and environmental groups like the Pine Barrens Society for opposing it.  He says the money will help avoid more layoffs.

Republican Legislator Rob Trotta says he’s looking for a wealthy benefactor to help finance a lawsuit. He says the ballot proposal was misleading and poorly worded.

“People had no idea. I defy you to read that and tell me what it says. ‘Transfer excess sewer funds.’ Meanwhile, it’s not excess, because it’s not there — they used them already,” Trotta says.

“It’s incomprehensible and the law says that you can’t put something on the ballot that the average resident cannot understand. And they can’t,” Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Pine Barrens Society, said of the ballot wording.

Amper has sued the county twice before for taking money from the fund. He says if the measure is approved, it might violate past court orders that directed the county to reimburse $175 million already taken from the fund.

A report from the State Comptroller’s office found Suffolk to be in significant fiscal stress before the pandemic hit.


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