Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday eliminated 12 attorney positions in the county attorney's office to free up $1.7 million for an expanded economic development department and to hire staff for a performance management team in his own office.
Bellone said he wants to recast a legislative move that put several county agencies including economic development under the planning department. Instead, Bellone will make the economic development department the core mission in which planning and other agencies are divisions.
"We are not reversing what the legislature did, we are just turning it upside down," Bellone said.
Bellone said he decided to make the county attorney cuts because he did not want to ask the legislature to add positions at a time when the county may have to lay off as many as 700 employees by summer.
"This is something you never enjoy doing and it's not like any of these people were at fault," said Bellone.
The county attorney layoffs constitute 18 percent of the office's 66-lawyer staff..
Legislative Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he was concerned the cuts will hurt the law department's ability to represent the county and force increased use of costly outside counsel. If more legal work is to be sent out, he said, "I'd oppose it and oppose it vehemently."
Bellone said he will introduce an emergency resolution to seek a legislative vote to create the new department at the county legislature's Feb. 7 meeting in Hauppauge.