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Jan 8, 2019 2:49 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Public Vote To Determine Fate Of Hampton Bays Water District Would Be Final Say

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman at a recent public meeting to discuss the SCWA proposal to manage the HBWD. VALERIE GORDON
Jan 8, 2019 2:49 PM

A public vote to determine the fate of the Hampton Bays Water District—if one is held—could potentially be scheduled for as late as May, or even June, according to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

On Monday, he said that the vote would differ largely from a typical referendum, as it would be available to all property owners and not just registered voters in the hamlet. The vote would give the Town Board a sense of the community’s position on whether the Suffolk County Water Authority should take over management of the locally owned district.

A public vote would be binding and would be the final action to determine the fate of the water district, according to Southampton Town Attorney James Burke.

However, whether the Town Board decides to hold a public vote at all is still an open question. Mr. Schneiderman said last week that the determination to do so would ultimately be based on the results of a survey that was mailed to residents last month.

At a recent work session, Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone explained that paper surveys were sent out to the district’s estimated 6,400 customers, asking whether they supported or opposed the potential merger.

“That will give us a sense of how they feel,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Based on that, the board will decide if there is significant number of people looking for different operation. Then we would move to put it up for public vote.”

The results of a previous online survey, still available on the Southampton Town website, showed that out of the estimated 500 responses, 53 percent were “not satisfied” with the district’s current operations.

“That does indicate that we have some work to do,” Mr. Schneiderman had said at a public meeting held at the Hampton Bays High School auditorium last month.

At that meeting, opponents of the merger argued that those results could have been easily tainted, as there was nothing stopping someone from filling out the survey multiple times. The mailed survey, which is due back on January 14, aims to eliminate that concern.

However, there are still more pressing concerns at hand—such as what to do in the interim, between now and a potential public vote in the spring.

At a previous public meeting, Suffolk County Water Authority CEO Jeff Szabo said that the district needs a $2.5 million iron and manganese filtration system installed as of “yesterday.”

Mr. Schneiderman referred back to the pending survey, calling it the “first step” in determining which entity would complete the upgrades, and when.

Under the water authority’s proposal to take over operations of the district, the filtration system, along with an additional $3.6 million to be spent on infrastructure upgrades, would be completed by the water authority within the first three years of entering into an operational agreement. Those costs would be shared among the authority’s 1.2 million customers across Suffolk County, rather than just customers within the hamlet.

Under such an agreement, the Town Board, which acts as the water district commission, would continue to maintain control of the district’s infrastructure, as well as continue to set the water rate for Hampton Bays residents.

If the Town Board opts to maintain the district as it is, taxpayers in the hamlet would likely see an $80 to $100 increase in their annual property tax bills to cover the costs, according to Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese.

That is unless the Town Board is awarded grants to complete the work. HBWD Superintendent Robert King noted last week that district officials have already started applying for applicable grants to cover significant costs associated with installing the iron filtration system and the resurfacing of several water tanks.

Water authority officials have recommended that the district enclose the year-old carbon filtration system, which was installed last year after Mr. King was forced to shut down three of the district’s 11 wells due to contamination. The $1 million filtration system, which has been successful in eliminating all traces of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, known as PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is not built for year-round use. An enclosure is estimated to cost close to $1.5 million, Mr. Schneiderman said.

However, this upgrade is not immediately necessary, according to Mr. King. He explained that the three wells serviced by the filtration system are only used during the summer to meet demand, and stressed that they had not been used for more than seven years otherwise.

He did, however, agree that the iron filtration system and resurfacing of the tanks was a priority.

“We know we need to invest millions of dollars into modernizing the utility,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “If we do that now, that will be borne by the residents of Hampton Bays. The first step is to see what the appetite is among users.”

The consensus among Town Board members, however, is to hold a public vote.

“I believe in people's voice in government,” Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said on Thursday, January 3. “If the public voted a certain way, we honor the vote—I certainly do.”

At the same time, he admitted that there were several “compelling reasons” why the Town Board should consider entering into a management agreement with the Suffolk County Water Authority. He referred to the water authority’s in-house laboratory, as well as the list of capital improvements proposed to be tackled by the entity in the first three years. “That, to me, is a compelling reason to look at the SCWA as a management group for the water district," he said.

Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said she would also support the results of the vote. “If 70 percent say they want HBWD and 30 percent say they want Suffolk County, then 70 wins,” she said.

However, she noted that she would like to see a comprehensive list of pros and cons be constructed by the Town Board prior to a vote.

“For me, the bottom line is we need to provide healthy water to everybody,” she said. “I think, in the end, everyone wants the same thing. It’s just a matter of how we get there.”

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Just shows exactly how pathetic town hall and mr. Zappone are. I own three homes in HB and still have not received a single survey. Time to drain the swamp over in town hall. These elected officials can’t even get a mailing list right. Has to be the most unorganized bunch of town officials I have ever seen. Drain the swamp and it starts November with Bouvier who completely states that surveys give them a great feel but meanwhile him and lofstad completely ignored all surveys that came back ...more
By watchoutnow968 (56), Southampton on Jan 9, 19 8:29 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By themarlinspike (542), southampton on Jan 9, 19 9:09 AM
I also have not received a paper survey.
By MrsD (53), Hampton Bays on Jan 9, 19 2:15 PM
We also have not received a survey in the mail. What is going on?
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Jan 9, 19 5:54 PM
I have not received a survey either let’s go to the vote we live in a democracy .
By HB salvation (27), Hampton bays on Jan 9, 19 10:19 PM
Now the nitwits at Town Hall think they’re the Board of Elections. Talk about someone doing work they are not competent in doing.
By A Great American (103), East Quogue on Jan 10, 19 1:01 AM
I also have not received a survey. I've lived here in Hampton Bays since 1992. I get my annual voter-reg card from the Board of Elections (and my water bill) just fine, so what gives?
By SilverSnail (16), Hampton Bays on Jan 10, 19 8:16 AM
We have not received a survey .How can this vote be allowed when so many people in Hampton Bays have not received the survey?
By GEORGEANN (1), HAMPTON BAYS on Jan 10, 19 8:29 AM
I got the survey. Can we vote on the School Board and the HB Fire Department board at the same time as this vote? Or why not just have all votes on the same election day in November? That might be too much participation for the folks that cause us to pay $50 million a year for a school system with less than 2000 students.
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Jan 10, 19 9:52 AM
Is the water safe or not? If it's "not for year round use" and the better filtration system should have been installed "yesterday" why are we kowtowing to the poorly educated and budget busting nincompoops running things now?

"The $1 million filtration system, which has been successful in eliminating all traces of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, known as PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is not built for year-round use."
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Jan 10, 19 10:43 AM
The $1million filtration that was installed last year was paid for by funds received in a settlement from years earlier because of a different contamination (See Southampton Press, September 13, 2017: "Ironically, the money for the filters would come from a $1.1 million settlement that the water district received several years ago from the manufacturer of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. That settlement was reached, according to Mr. King, when the chemical—a colorless liquid commonly ...more
By MrsD (53), Hampton Bays on Jan 10, 19 2:08 PM
The employees at the water district are clueless and it has been that way for 4 decades. Everyone there is a relative of someone in town hall. sick
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 10, 19 9:46 PM
I live in SCWA area and I don’t drink that water either. If you actually look into all the water departments on the island they are giving you pool water. I haven’t drank water on long island for over 20 years. People if you think a new company coming in is all the sudden going to give you Poland spring water you need to wake up. Long Island has some of the worst water out there. Doesn’t matter where you live on the island it tastes like chlorine and pool water.
By watchoutnow968 (56), Southampton on Jan 14, 19 11:46 AM