April 7, 2014
By Steve Levy
Published on Long Island Business News
Suffolk County’s been robbed. Both Nassau and Suffolk have elaborate bus and sewer systems, but Nassau stands to tap millions in state aid for improvements to their systems, while Suffolk likely will not.
Months ago, it was announced that Nassau would receive over $600 million to rebuild their sewer plant damaged by Storm Sandy. Included was millions to extend their outflow pipe that presently deposits effluent in the Bay. The new pipe would disseminate the treated water into the ocean instead. Suffolk’s outflow pipe presently deposits it’s effluent into the ocean, but is decades old and must be rebuilt at an estimate of about $200 million.
For months, I have been clamoring on my Saturday radio show for Suffolk to get its fair share. County Executive Steve Bellone last week wisely made an official pitch for these funds. Federal money for the outflow pipe repairs could free up millions for needed sewers in Ronkonkoma, Mastic-Shirley, Smithtown and other areas. While Nassau is almost completely sewered, less than thirty percent of Suffolk is. Nassau desperately needs money to repair its storm damaged system, but if it can get funding to extend into the ocean for environmental purposes, then why shouldn’t Suffolk as well? Almost all of the sewers currently on Long Island were built at a time when the Feds footed over 80% of the bill. Today, that amount is closer to zero.
The County Executive also orchestrated a rally seeking a fairer share of state aid for our bus system. For years as County Executive, I also vocally protested the fact that Suffolk receives two and a half times less bus aid than Nassau. Meanwhile, Suffolk is being forced to contribute almost $30 million of County funds to its system, yet Nassau needs to contribute a mere $2.6 million. This is despite the fact Suffolk has a larger population and three times the land mass. Some have argued Suffolk’s system gets less money because it is not as elaborate. The fact is, it is inferior indeed because it receives less state support.
The answer is not to cut back on aid for Nassau, or to insist Nassau pay more, as a Newsday editorial suggested. Rather, it is to have our State Delegation fight harder to ensure Suffolk is no longer relegated to second class status. It is also time for Long Island as region to push hard for recognition as a separate Metropolitan Planning Organization. Our present inclusion under the umbrella of a single New York City metropolitan area organization hampers our ability to obtain the level of federal transportation funding that should be commensurate for a region that in itself is bigger than numerous states.
Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political and business consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive 2004-2011, and as a NYS Assemblyman