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Jul 10, 2018 2:16 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Southampton Town To Raise Amount Of Septic Upgrade Rebates, Make Available To More People

Jul 10, 2018 2:16 PM

The Town of Southampton will increase the amount of money offered to homeowners who upgrade their traditional septic systems with ones that more efficiently filter out nitrogen, and change income qualifications so that more people can qualify for help with the upgrades.

The incentive is in the form of a rebate—a homeowner would have to pay the full price for the system conversion, and the town would reimburse the cost. After a 2016 referendum approved by voters allowed for town officials to use proceeds from the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund—a 2-percent tax on most real estate trades in the five East End towns used to preserve farmland and open space, and to create parkland—to remediate water quality issues as well, homeowners who made no more than $300,000 a year were able to receive a rebate of up to $15,000.

Now, homeowners, including limited liability companies, that make no more than $300,000 per year can get a full rebate on the septic system upgrade—up to $20,000. Additionally, homeowners who make between $300,000 and $500,000 annually can get half of the cost of the septic system, and those who make no more than $1 million can get 25 percent of the cost covered.

John Bouvier, the town councilman who sponsored the amendment, which was heard at a Town Board public hearing on July 10, said the extra dollars will make a difference for homeowners. The going price of a nitrogen-reducing system is about $11,000, but often installation costs bump up the price when excavation and replacement of driveways and landscaping is involved.

Mr. Bouvier said the rebate program didn’t go far enough based on feedback he received from the community.

“What we did learn was that the amount of money that was necessary wasn’t enough. We felt there needed to be an increase. We also changed the income levels to assist more homeowners,” Mr. Bouvier said. “The real purpose of this is to try and incentivize people—even people who are only here for a few months—to put these systems in where they need to put them in. It’s largely large homes and people with higher incomes that we want to incentivize as well.

“For people who have a higher income, we should contribute less,” Mr. Bouvier continued.

While advanced septic systems are permitted by the Suffolk County Health Department, Mr. Bouvier said, “We have made it a priority to work on this issue by using those funds to offer incentives to homeowners to replace their systems, despite the fact that we don’t regulate the systems. What we can do is mandate these new systems to be put in place.”

He added that the town only mandates homeowners who are in close proximity to wetlands and waterways to upgrade their systems. The option is always discussed for all new developments in the town, too.

The county also offers a low-interest loan program that can help homeowners—based on income level—to pay for vital upgrades.

Town officials are also looking to establish a mandate to replace cesspools—another high contributor of nitrogen. Nitrogen is often to blame for stifling the region’s bays, lakes, and ponds, which are periodically contaminated with algae blooms that feed on the nutrient, limiting recreational activity, and killing wildlife. Properties further away from watersheds, including small commercial operations, are also next on the list for mandates.

“We really want to make policies that work, and as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to be burdensome … No one wants to impose a financial burden on anyone,” Mr. Bouvier said. “We are walking a fine line to do that, but we are on the right path. It’s working, so far.”

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