Is it use it or lose?
That’s the question members of the Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board have about the balance of funding they received but didn’t spend for specific clean water projects during 2017.
For much of the year the Water Quality Board spent planning how to administer the 20 percent of Community Preservation Funds (CPF) dedicated to clean water in 2017.
Money for the CPF comes from a 2 percent tax that buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is used in turn to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.
It was acknowledged that any unused or unallocated CPF funds ticketed by year’s end for water quality would have to be returned to the regular CPF committee to add to its land preservation efforts.
But a check of the legislation passed by the state and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo makes no stipulation that water quality money reverts to the general CPF fund.
Nor does the local law adopted here on July 15, 2016.
The only reference appears to be a draft created by the Water Quality Board that stated, “Any annual fund balance not allocated or accrued for the current year’s project will be returned to the CPF for land acquisition and stewardship.”
At the January 18 Water Quality Board meeting, members suggested that Gordon Gooding, chairman of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board, had ruled that the money had to be returned.
That’s not the case. There is nothing on record to show any mention of returning money until this month, when Mr. Gooding repeated what had become the understood requirement repeated by many. Adding to the lack of clarity, former Supervisor Jim Dougherty had estimated the Water Quality Board would have $440,000 to spend in 2017.
That turned out to be $410,500, Mr. Gooding said this month. He also mentionined that aside from the $105,000 set aside for septic grants approved in December, he assumed the balance would revert to the CPF for land acquisition.
Now it remains for Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. to render a decision about what will happen with the balance of the 2017 funds. Other board members were preparing to contact East End communities to determine if they lose their unused water quality money at the end of a fiscal year.
Among issues to be resolved are:
• Can the town issue grants for a “Fuji system” instead of one of the four nitorgen reducing septic systems already approved by Suffolk County? Peder Larsen, whose Shelter Island Sand, Gravel & Contracting specializes in septic systems, said Fuji systems are widely used in Japan and Australia, and he believes they are better quality than any of the previously approved systems.
• Fundiing large community projects that might take several years to complete if money does have to be returned year to year. There are several town projects that have been discussed, but no formal applications exist.
• How to ensure that funded projects don’t result in expanded development, which the county prohibits.
The committee is also waiting for a decision on whether the Town Board wants to implement a requirement that any new construction involving changes to 50 percent or more of the existing structure be required to put in a nitrogen reducing system.
Those systems wouldn’t be eligible for grants because they would represent expansion of development.
Water Quality Board members agreed to meet on the first and third Thursdays of the month at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. The aim is to eventually cut back to a single meeting a month, but with so many issues to be resolved, there won’t be a scaling back of meetings anytime soon.