The Mineola School District will be joining others around Nassau in a proposed joint suit against the county over the charging of “sewer fees” on the district’s water usage.
“Basically the passed a tax on our water,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler said at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Education at the . “Being an entity that doesn’t pay taxes, it is suspect whether or not they legally have the right to do that.”
In its 2011 budget, Nassau County began charging a . The move would affect a number of organizations, including fire departments, schools and hospitals such as , , and , as well as colleges including , and , all of which previously did not have to pay when local sewer districts were consolidated under the Nassau Sewer Authority. Exemptions do exist for houses of worship.
The fee would be one cent for every gallon of usage, which would be measured during the months of February, March and April. “The logic there is don’t take the summer months when you irrigate and just take three months and multiply it by four and call that your usage,” Dr. Nagler said. “But they have not come up with a plan on how they’re going to determine what is irrigation water and what is water for sewage water.”
The county expects to raise $38 million to close an estimated $28 million deficit in the county sewer district line and stave off bankruptcy. Using the formula, the fee would cost the Mineola schools about $90,000 per year.
“It’s like a surcharge on a ticket,” Trustee John McGrath said. “Its not a tax its a surcharge.”
The firm of Ingram and Smith has taken the lead as legal representatives for the various districts involved and will represent Mineola. The approved cost of the contract is set at a maximum of $225 per hour in fees, with a capped cost of no more than $10,000.
“You really have to weigh whether or not that money is worth challenging the $90,000 going forward,” Nagler said. “If you win, it’s money well spent. Obviously once we start paying it, we’re going to be paying it for a long while.”
Another alternative being discussed is to drill wells in order to irrigate the school fields with well water, thus taking irrigation off the system. “That way we ensure we’re not being taxed for that,” Nagler said, cautioning that the district might encounter an issue with the plumage on the cow pasture at the high school.
“It’s not a tax, it’s a usage fee,” Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli said in a telephone interview. “Usage fees are quintessentially constitutional. There is no constitutional provision that requires Nassau County to provide various not-for-profits services that are paid for everywhere else.”