Salary reimbursements return to Suffolk’s water quality fund

The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
A view of the Peconic River leading into the bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The Suffolk County Legislature has voted to fix what one law maker called a decade-long “accounting issue” that put reimbursed money into a general fund rather than the county’s water quality fund where the money originally came from.

The unanimous vote last Tuesday returns up to $300,000 back into the county’s water quality fund each year, said the legislator who sponsored the bill, Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

“It really helps,” he said. “We don’t have as much money as we used to do to water quality projects.”

While County Executive Steve Bellone couldn’t be reached for comment on whether he plans to sign the bill into law, Mr. Schneiderman said he expects it will be.

The water quality fund — also called the 477 Fund — was intended to be used for environmental projects, but in recent years some of the fund was put toward paying the salaries of those working on the water quality projects, Mr. Schneiderman said.

He added the state has reimbursed the county for salaries paid for from the water quality fund. But instead of going back into the water quality fund, those reimbursements were being placed into the general fund to be used for any county purpose.

Last month, Group for the East End president Robert DeLuca said it “makes sense” to restore the “integrity” of the water quality fund. Those recouped monies could go a long way, he said, like funding an East End medicine disposal program to help improve water quality.

“What’s important for people to realize is how far that funding can go,” he said.

If approved, Mr. Schneiderman said the bill will go into effect in 2016 since the 2015 budget has already been finalized, he said. Changing the reimbursement policy now would require the Legislature to fill a $300,000 shortfall, he said.

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