Southampton Village Voters Might Have A Say In Fate Of Proposed Sewer District

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Southampton Village voters might have an opportunity to decide the fate of a proposed sewer district in Southampton Village—but before a decision is made about a potential referendum, village officials say they are going to make changes to the plan.

Officials intend to cover the initial $33 million cost of installing the sewer system by borrowing the money via a bond issue. They hope to reduce the amount to be borrowed with as much as $10 million in public grants supporting sewer projects.

Citing state law, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. explained that village officials are not required to put the creation of a sewer district before the voters via referendum—though they could, voluntarily, do that. However, the bond issue that would fund the project would be subject to permissive referendum, meaning village officials can approve a bond resolution authorizing the borrowing of the funds, but residents could petition within 30 days to require a public vote on it.

The village plans to create a sewer district that would encompass all of the village, but the new sewers would serve only the downtown business district. A tax would be imposed on the entire municipality to repay the bond over time, though those with properties outside the service area of the new sewer system would pay less than businesses connected to the system.

Mayor Mark Epley said this week that officials have not yet decided whether they will voluntarily put the project to a public referendum. He admitted that if the proposal were presented as is, “it would be a close vote.”

While supportive of the sewer system proposal’s promise to improve Lake Agawam, many residents have said they are not sold on the increased density the sewer district would bring to the business district, citing parking and traffic as two big issues that could be worsened with more density.

“I think we need some modifications, and a better sell,” Mr. Epley said of the existing plan. “We will be tweaking the proposal, and continue to seek public comment.”

The mayor added that since an article outlining the details of the proposal, as well as the financial impact it would have on property owners, appeared in last week’s issue of The Press, he has received many comments both for and against the sewer district. “It is part of a good process,” he said.

Mr. Epley also explained that residents had similar reactions toward the Village Center Master Plan a few years back, as the zoning regulations in that plan are what make extra development possible if a new sewer system clears the way. However, he said they supported it once it was updated and public feedback was considered. Even the Southampton Association, known for a conservative approach to village issues, eventually supported the Master Plan, Mr. Epley said.

The sewer district proposal was prepared for the village by Melville-based H2M Architects and Engineers and is currently being reviewed by the Village Planning Commission, after which it will be sent to the Village Board for approval. An environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act is being prepared by Woodbury-based firm Cameron Engineering & Associates.

Planning Commission Chairman Paul Travis said at an informational meeting earlier this month that his board will prepare its recommendations for the Village Board at the commission’s next meeting on January 7.

“This is extremely important, and we need to take the steps necessary to sewer our most dense areas,” Mr. Epley said. “It is irresponsible to the environment and the health of our business district not to.”

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