A tense Town of North Hempstead Town Board meeting Tuesday night saw a unanimous vote to support the installation of a sewer main along Plandome Road as part of the Manhasset Sewer Conversion Project and a split vote on party lines to block a resolution transferring $3.1 million in federal funds for phase two of the project.
The three-and-a-half-hour meeting included a more than hour-long discussion on whether the town can use American Rescue Plan Act money on behalf of private businesses for phase 2 of the project.
Town Attorney John Chiara has been having ongoing discussions on the question with an attorney for the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce, which has been spearheading the project.
The six-member board voted 3-3 on the resolution to use the federal funds, with Republicans voting for and Democrats voting against it.
Councilmember Robert Troiano, a Democrat, was not present at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Council Member Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat, said she intends to reintroduce the resolution to provide the ARPA funding at the April 4 meeting.
Supporters of the sewer project, including Manhasset Chamber of Commerce member Robert Donno and Co-President Matthew Donno along with business owners on Plandome road, said the time is now to commit.
“For every reason under the sun this is a project that should move forward,” said Robert Donno, who has served as the chamber’s liaison for the project.
“Business owners are incredulous to hear we are on cesspools and they walk away,” said Lynn King, a property owner on Plandome. “It’s not the rent that is driving them away, it’s that they can’t operate in a reasonable capacity. If you turn this town, I don’t know how you’re going to explain this to your residents.”
Democrats voted in January to push the resolution to March to await a discussion with the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District for town board members to get answers to questions about the cost and funding of the project.
Phase one will be funded by a $5 million grant secured last year by state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington) and then-state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), which will cover the main sewer line.
Concerns about the cost of maintenance for private septic tanks have been expressed by businesses along Plandome Road, with some claiming pumps have to be examined on a weekly basis.
Matthew Donno previously told Blank Slate Media the project, which has been analyzed for more than five years, will provide economic and environmental benefits to Plandome Road’s business district.
Businesses and restaurants along Plandome Road can pay as much as $50,000 to $70,000 annually to pump their septic tanks. Some have also said they pay more than $500,000 a year to maintain their systems.
The system that Plandome business owners will be converting to will be a pump system that Donno said will connect to each building and essentially pump the water down the line to the district, where it will be treated.
Since the board officially supported the installation of a sewer main on Plandome, the district can get started on a design study to begin phase one.
The district’s study along with the physical application of pipes and hookups into businesses was once estimated to cost upwards of $12 million. Now, Donno said, the project should be fully funded by the proposed funds from the town and a $5 million state grant.
Lurvey and Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte, a Democrat, said they support the entire project and the decision to wait until April is a matter of making sure the money is used in an appropriate manner.
“I support putting the sewer line in, but I need to make sure we cross our T’s and dot our I’s to make sure this $3 million is okay to use,” Dalimonte said.
Chiara said he has been having ongoing discussions with counsel from the chamber to discuss the interpretation of the Clean Water Act and how it can be used with sewer laterals, which would connect the sewer line in Plandome to the businesses themselves.
“ARPA refers to the Clean Water Act on what is eligible and not eligible,” Chiara said.
If approved, DeSena said business owners can get subsidized up to a certain amount to connect to the sewer, speeding things up and making sure Plandome has to only be opened up one time.
A similar method was used in Sea Cliff last year, where 230 property owners were offered up to $7,500 in county recovery funds to connect to the village’s enlarged sanitary sewer system.
Chiara clarified the county and state received CARES Act funding, while the town did not.
During the meeting, DeSena appeared to end her battle with town Democrats over the appointment of a town comptroller, withdrawing her nomination of John Morris to the post. The appointment had been rejected by town Democrats in December.
Lurvey said she and DeSena had agreed to interview a finalist for the position.
In December, a resolution to appoint Morris, a former Smithtown comptroller with over 15 years of municipal accounting experience, was rejected.
Morris has previously served as treasurer for the Villages of Mastic Beach and Westbury and director of finance for the town under Supervisor May Newburger from 1998 to 2001.
Dalimonte, a Democrat, cited a Newsday article that reported Morris was not re-hired as the Smithtown comptroller and that council member Robert Creighton said his term “didn’t work out to our satisfaction” before she voted no in December.
Morris told Newsday this week he lost his Smithtown post for political reasons.
DeSena also reported that the town has $1.2 million in deposits with Signature Bank, which was shut down by state regulators earlier this week.
“We have no reason to believe that these taxpayer funds are in jeopardy in any way, but since the story broke I have taken the proactive steps to direct our comptroller’s staff to explore our options to move the money out and into another designated depository,” DeSena said.
Signature and Silicon Valley Bank in California both had their assets seized by regulators after depositors hurried to withdraw money after fear and concerns over the banks’ health.
DeSena said getting a comptroller has been a major focus of her administration, especially in light of the near collapse of Signature Bank, in which she said the town has had a restricted reserve fund since 2010.