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County’s septic expert offers help to manage the red tape

Armed with information and not shying away from the controversy over taxation of septic grants, Suffolk County Environmental Projects Coordinator Justin Jobin spoke to a packed room at the Town Board work session Tuesday, determined to win over those reluctant to upgrade their septic systems.

With 360,000 systems in Suffolk County and 74 percent of the county without sewers, Mr. Jobin said Shelter Island, like many other places on Long Island, is looked at by New York State as a priority to reduce the nitrogen content in its water.

The threat to Suffolk County water is so great that the state has allotted $10 million this year to Suffolk County for grants to homeowners to upgrade septic systems, Mr. Jobin said.

The state is prepared to provide up to $10,000 per grant recipient, while the county can add up to $20,000. For Island residents, there’s another $15,000 per grant recipient available. Applicants can’t make a profit on the deal, but potentially could get the entire equipment and installation fully paid.

There’s also a 3-percent loan program that could provide up to $10,000 to close any gap in the cost of the system, Mr. Jobin said.

That loan could be used to kick start the process since an engineer’s report isn’t covered by state or county grants. But Island grants will cover engineers’ reports that can cost as much as $2,500, Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said.

Mr. Jobin said he and his staff are prepared to assist applicants seeking grants and help alleviate hurdles encountered along the way.

Among the hurdles some Island residents have encountered is that their lots are too small to accommodate their wells and the new septic system where the two units are required to be 100 feet apart.

But there can be exceptions and Mr. Jobin and his staff can guide those in need of relief through the process of gaining a Department of Environmental Conservation variance.

It’s not easy and takes time, but for many encountering that problem, it can be done, he said.

Mr. Jobin addressed concerns about unexpected tax forms sent to homeowners who thought they were avoiding taxes by assigning grants to contractors and engineers doing the work. The county official said he thought the issue would be settled quickly with the April 15 tax deadline looming.

But he suggested — and his audience agreed — it’s a political fight between the two men seeking the county executive’s seat — Republican Comptroller John M. Kennedy and Democrat incumbent Steve Bellone. Mr. Kennedy sent the forms to homeowners and Mr. Bellone demanded the comptroller rescind them.

Mr. Bellone was relying on advice from his tax counsel, while Mr. Kennedy said he’s awaiting an Internal Revenue Service decision.

On the county’s website, reclaimourwater.info, there are explanations of various types of nitrogen-reducing systems, with their costs and information about the application process. Information and applications can also be provided by mail.