PORT JEFFERSON — In what was the last meeting for 2019, Port Jefferson Council remained uncertain on how to proceed with an issue that has plagued the council for nearly 20 years.
In recent council meetings Mayor Steve Butterfield pressured council to come up with a solution for delinquent sewage payments some amounting to thousands of dollars. Council agreed to to rectify the situation and decided to move forward with plans to install shut-off valves on those with outstanding bills and turn off their septic services in attempts to get the homeowners to pay their bills. While most of the 192 users pay on time, there are about 20 habitual offenders who choose not to pay their bills leaving the burden on the village which indirectly falls on the shoulders of the other residents who do pay. About 14 homeowners owe hundreds of dollars in back sewage bills with at least one resident not making any payments since the village went online with the city of Sidney’s wastewater and sewage plant in 2001; that person’s bill is now over $5,000.
Prior to the meeting, Butterfield passed out copies of a proposed new ordinance designed to raise funds for installing those new shut-off valves to prevent using funds from the sewage maintenance account, which is money set aside for emergency use in the event there is a problem with the village sewage pump station located on Canal Street.
“We currently have about $94,000 in that account, that sounds like a lot of money but I have checked around on typical repair costs and if, or more likely when we are ever hit with a major breakdown it could wipe us out financially in that account,” said Butterfield. “Our system is nearly 20 years old and it’s bound to happen sooner or later so we really should leave that money there. I’m looking into ways to come up with the money needed to help install shutoff valves on the sewage lines.”
Butterfield said the valves should be installed on the lines coming from all the homes, not just a few.
“The problem is if we just install a few shut-offs, who gets one and who doesn’t; I don’t want to be accused of picking on certain people, this whole mess started a long time ago and should have been addressed back then then but former council members never came to any conclusion, so here we are. Whatever we do we need make sure everything is done right before we do it, otherwise we’re going to end up in a mess. I’ve checked with the Shelby County Engineer about the possibility of getting Issue One grant funding but he said our chances of getting money there is slim at best,” said Butterfield.
“The village solicitor said it could be a lengthy and expensive process to get offenders to pay up; we would have to evaluate the cost homeowner’s owe, send official notices in the mail, and hold public hearings. And, after all that, there is no guarantee they’ll pay anything anyway so I was just looking at other ways to get the shut-off installed.” Butterfield said.
Council asked for clarification of the proposed ordinance — asking questions about the wording of the document, some places for filling in a blank, what it meant and how it would apply.
Councilman Tim Smith said he was in favor of increasing the sewage bills but only if it were for maintenance.
“So what this document says is we charge all residents for installing shutoff valves on the homes of those who don’t pay their bills; I’m not for punishing those who do pay on time by making them pay the bills of those who don’t; it’s not right, and it’s not fair,” Smith said.
Clarifying the text, the mayor pointed out that the new ordinance was for raising money for installing new equipment only, not repairing what is already in place. Smith remained adamantly against the measure as did several other council members including Councilman Robert Bollinger who agreed in theory with Smith about those in compliance paying the bills of those who refuse to pay.
Butterfield said the sewage issue was a controversial and complex situation especially considering the size of the village, lack of manpower, and financial resources available to rectify the situation.
“I don’t what the answer is, but we have to start somewhere, continuing to do nothing like in the past is only going to make things worse,” Butterfield said.
After a very lengthy, confusing, and unproductive conversation, Councilwoman Krystal Cox suggested they table the ordinance until January to give everyone time to study the new ordinance and consider where they stood on how the proposal was written.
Smith suggested adjusting the sewage bill from the current $31.55 to $35 to raise extra funding for the sewage maintenance fund since cost were going up and it had been many years since the last increase; council agreed and the mayor said he would get the necessary document drawn up and ready for the next meeting.
Pastor Ernie Jones from New Life Church in Port Jefferson attended the meeting to offer the invocation before the meeting and personally thank council for the free use of the Community Hall for the annual Christmas part slated for Dec. 14, from noon until 3 p.m. The party is open to the public and will feature food, music, games, crafts, treats, and the reading of Christmas story from the Bible. Santa will arrive at approximately 2:30 p.m. Jones also noted the Community Hall will be open at 10 a.m. Friday morning the day before the party and asked for volunteers to help decorate the hall.
Butterfield reported on repairs to the village police cruiser and truck noting they were now in good working order. Police Patrolman Austin Knight reported some progress has been made on cleaning up the village and those not in compliance will receive a summons to appear in Mayor’s Court.
Cox asked about damage to the traffic light on the east side of town. Butterfield said it was smashed by a hit-and-run John Deere combine that was traveling through town.
“I filed a report with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, there is an ongoing investigation into the incident. We are certain it was a local resident and have an eye-witness who saw the whole thing happen including someone jumping out of a truck that was following the combine and tossing the parts that fell off the stop light to the curb. We are hoping the individual who did this will come forward so as not to drag out the repairs process but so far no one has contacted us. Either way we will get to the bottom of this,” Butterfield said.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting will take place at the Community hall on Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. unless it is too cold, then the meeting will be moved to the mayor’s office.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.