Southampton Town officials are fine-tuning a rebate plan for septic system upgrades after voters approved the use of as much as 20 percent of the Community Preservation Fund’s future proceeds for water quality improvement efforts.
It could take as long as two years to set up a plan to actually award rebates to property owners. The first step of the plan is to create a step-by-step implementation process—with the town’s first focus on updating residential septic systems, according to Southampton Town Councilman John Bouvier. The septic system upgrades will be prioritized in areas that will have the greatest impact in reducing nitrogen release in groundwater, determined by a newly established advisory committee with members who have specific expertise in water quality.
“We’re building a process here,” the councilman said. “It’s the first time—we have to do it carefully and deliberately, not just to throw a lot of money to solve a problem.”
The town’s plan highlights three primary steps: pollutant reduction tactics like the septic upgrades, then groundwater remediation for pollutants already within the water system, and finally restoration for water body environments and marine habitats.
According to Councilwoman Christine Scalera, it is unclear whether residential septic upgrades will use up all of the 20 percent of the CPF revenue that is eligible for water quality projects—that could amount to as much as $10 million a year, based on the average amount of revenue generated by the transfer tax in the town each year—as it will depend on how many residents take advantage of the program and what future projects the town will take on.
“That’s just our ceiling,” she said about the 20 percent available. “It depends on what becomes the next focus. The septic program right now is kind of the low-hanging fruit in all of this. It’s a good place to start.”
Although each of the five East End towns will most likely have different implementation plans, Mr. Bouvier said he anticipates representatives from each town will meet soon to discuss ideas. He said coordinated efforts between the different municipalities will help make the program more successful. “It’s all in our best interests to work together,” he said. “Water doesn’t know jurisdictions.”
For now there is not a clear timetable on Southampton Town’s plan, since this is the first time this has been attempted by any of the East End towns. Ms. Scalera said the town will fine-tune its plan for the next several months. She speculated that CPF money would most likely become available for water quality improvement sometime in 2017. However, since it will take time for each town to get committees together and finalize its plans, septic upgrade rebates may not begin until 2018.
Money for the CPF is raised through a 2-percent tax on most real estate transactions and is used to purchase and preserve open space, farmland, historic resources and community spaces. An extension of the program to 2050 was approved by referendum in November and each of the five towns now has the option to use as much as 20 percent of CPF revenues for water quality programs.
The Southampton Town’s full water quality improvement plan can be found on the town’s website, southamptontownny.gov.