Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday altered his proposal to merge the elected positions of comptroller and treasurer so that Comptroller Joseph Sawicki would run a merged office next year.
The proposal, which Bellone submitted to the county legislature, hinges on voters approving the merger in a proposed referendum in November.
Bellone changed his plan after Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) expressed concerns by the Democratic caucus that Bellone, under the original plan, would have named an interim chief next year until an election could be held in November 2014. Some lawmakers had questioned whether that would have compromised the office's independence.
Bellone says the merger would save $1 million a year by cutting seven management jobs. But Suffolk GOP chief John Jay LaValle called it "political payback" because Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican who is seeking re-election this fall, ran against Bellone in the 2011 county executive race. Bellone denies the accusation. Sawicki, who cannot run again after his term as comptroller expires at the end of next year, also is a Republican.
Carpenter on Tuesday questioned Bellone's savings estimates. She told county lawmakers that Suffolk would be better off doing away with the salaries of Bellone's performance management team, which is tasked with streamlining government operations, and hire an outside consultant to find savings.
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader, also called any "prospect of savings nebulous."
Also Tuesday, six environmentalists criticized a proposal by Legis. Al Krupski to require Suffolk to use half the revenue from its dedicated fund for open space protection to buy farmland development rights. Currently, there is no required split, and in recent years purchases of wetlands and other parcels meant to protect water quality have received the majority of funding.
Thomas Casey, of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail conference, urged lawmakers not to "nickel and dime this law away" at a time when the funding has almost run out for the land acquisition program.
Joseph Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, applauded Krupski, who is a farmer, for "taking on a sensitive issue. . . . We don't want to fight with environmentalists or the legislature, but we have to find a balance."
The Bellone administration also failed by a single vote to get authority to borrow $1.4 million for a new software agreement aimed at standardizing computers across departments. The proposal failed when the bond resolution, which required 12 votes, got the support of only 11 lawmakers.
Backers say the software deal, costing $4.87 million over five years, would save $1 million up-front and provide $450,000 for training. But several lawmakers questioned the savings and the borrowing, which the county would pay off over 18 years.