As he runs again for his former job as Nassau County executive, Thomas Suozzi makes at least one sharp policy break from the past. He has given up on trying to consolidate special taxing districts, school districts and local governments.
"I am not in favor of consolidation, because politically, it's just never going to happen," Suozzi told Newsday editors and reporters on Tuesday. "I am in favor of collaboration -- getting different . . . [entities] that want to work together to figure out how to share costs and to save money."
He recalled that when he was in office, some school districts came to share functions and save millions.
When Suozzi, a Democrat, was closely defeated in 2009 after two terms, some cited the support that Republican challenger Edward Mangano cultivated in fire districts. The Suozzi camp insisted they'd never pushed to combine fire districts in Nassau.
That year, Andrew M. Cuomo, as attorney general, pushed legislation making it easier for voters to take the initiative and cut or merge multiple layers of government. Gov. David A. Paterson signed the measure. He'd been lieutenant governor under Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose commission on consolidation -- then just the latest in a series from prior administrations -- touted merging water and sewer districts, developing multicounty jails and combining other services around the state.
But last year, the Long Island Progressive Coalition failed in its widely watched attempt to dismantle Hempstead Sanitary District No. 2 as an efficiency move. A referendum to that effect, petitioned onto the ballot last December, was decisively defeated at the polls.
In Suffolk, one of the best publicized consolidation fights has had to do with the Gordon Heights Fire District, the focus of cost controversy for many years. Paul Sabatino, a lawyer for those who have looked to disband the district, said there is a new elected majority taking office on the district board in January.
"The bottom line," Sabatino said, "is that the new board supports the notion of consolidating costs and driving them down from the highest in the state to the average for the town."
Notably, this year's hottest Long Island merger debate involves a proposed change near the uppermost level of Suffolk government. Voters are due to decide in November whether an amped-up comptroller's office should perform the functions of the treasurer's office. Both posts now are separately elected.