The Massapequa Board of Education fired a shot across the bow of Nassau County this week, as they unanimously agreed in a meeting to authorize their attorneys to file a lawsuit on their behalf against Nassau regarding their new sewer fees, which the Board calls "unfair."
In 2010, Nassau County passed a resolution to create new sewer usage fees for not-for-profit organizations such as school districts, who were previously exempt from paying such fees.
Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock said that the sewer fees would hit the school district's budget hard.
"We've calculated our what our fee would be, and it's about $275,000," he said.
Adcock also stated that Massapequa, along with multiple other school districts, aren't planning on taking the new fees sitting down.
"The firm of Guercio and Guercio, LLP is looking to enter into a class-action lawsuit against the County of Nassau with other school districts," he said. "We want to indicate that this new law, to charge school districts a sewer fee, or a water usage fee, does not have any merit."
Massapequa is now the tenth school district joining the collective suit. The other districts currently involved are:
- Plainview-Old Bethpage
- Carle Place
- West Hempstead
- Garden City
- East Williston
- Island Trees
Superintendent Charles Sulc said that additional districts would likely be joining the suit before it is officially filed on March 3.
"There was also a survey put out by the superintendent of the Freeport schools and Nassau Boces this morning," he said. "There are other districts whose boards will not meet until the early part of next week who will come along on the suit."
"Based on the survey, I'm suspecting that we're probably going to see more than 25 districts that are going to do this," Sulc added.
Sulc said he believes the proposed sewer usage fees are difficult to determine and are unfair to the school districts.
"It's a one cent per gallon fee on your usage," he said. "Because they have no way really to measure what your output is, and that's the basis of the suit: they're taxing you on something they can't account for. What about places like Farmingdale, which has a swimming pool? They use a lot of water to fill the pool, but the water's never going into the sewers. What do you do with schools that have extensive irrigation systems? The water goes into the earth, but it doesn't do into the sewers. So they have no way of measuring that."
The Board said that each district involved in the suit would be making a payment of a maximum of $225 per hour, not to exceed a total of $10,000, to the law firm of Guercio and Guercio, LLP to collectively represent them in the case.
"They believe they have a good chance of winning," Sulc said. "This action will take place in [Nassau County] Supreme Court, and those fees should cover all costs of that Supreme Court action. If we were to go to an Appeals process, for whatever reason, then the Board of Education would have to make a decision again as to whether they would want to support that kind of action at that level."
Bringing the lawsuit against Nassau County is simply the school districts exercising their rights, according to Sulc.
"It's taxation without any merit," he said. "[County Executive Ed] Mangano said that they have a deficit, and we're becoming the victim, over and over again, because we have no wherewithal to really overcome what the Nassau County Legislative does. And it just goes on and on."
However, Nassau County stands behind its decision to expand the scope of their sewer fees, claiming that it's perfectly legal for them to do so.
"Its not a tax, it’s a usage fee," Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli said. "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."
Sewer taxes were charged at one time under local sewer districts, but ended for non-profits after they were consolidated under the Nassau Sewer Authority.