Though her own job is no longer in jeopardy, Suffolk Treasurer Angie Carpenter still led the fight Tuesday in a public hearing to block a referendum on a merger of her office into that of the county comptroller in 2018.
"In these days of enhanced oversight, fiscal control boards in place in our neighboring county and across the country, why would Suffolk County, which is larger than 13 states, seek to have less oversight on its finances? It just doesn't make sense," said Carpenter, a Republican who won re-election last November but is now term limited and will leave office at the end of 2017.
In answering questions, Carpenter also alluded to a state comptroller's opinion dating to 1948 which she later supplied, stating: "The same person may not act as county treasurer and county auditor."
Seven others who testified all opposed the merger, with former Treasurer John Cochrane saying it's important to "have another set of eyes" overlook county transactions.
Freshman Legis. William Lindsay (D-Bohemia), the bill's sponsor, maintained the revised merger plan will save $1.29 million in the first two years after the merger takes effect in 2018, economies Carpenter called "illusionary." Last year, the Bellone administration estimated $1 million in savings, which was later revised to about $500,000, but the referendum was never held because Carpenter successfully challenged the process used to pass the law.
Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) also questioned claims that having two fiscal officers provide "checks and balances." He said unlike the executive, legislature and judicial branches, these two officers have no power over one another.
After the 40-minute hearing, Lindsay acknowledged, "We still have some work to do," but expressed confidence that in the end, he will get votes to put the issue before voters in November.
Lindsay was successful in having the public hearing closed, even though GOP Minority Leader John Kennedy urged the hearing to be recessed so East End residents could voice their opinions when the county legislature holds its next meeting in Riverhead in two weeks. The merger measure must be enacted by early September to qualify for the November ballot.
One person who did not attend the hearing was the current comptroller, Joseph Sawicki, who also is term limited and will leave office at year's end.
Bellone's original merger plan would have axed Carpenter's job at the end of last year, permitted Sawicki to serve as interim head of the merged office and allow him to run for election in the newly created office for as many as another 12 years.
While Sawicki was not present, Carpenter quoted the comptroller's past statements before he changed his mind last year and backed the merger. "To tinker with the financial system that is in place . . . makes no sense," she quoted Sawicki. "If the two offices were together and the comptroller . . . were to oversee both functions, how would you audit yourself?"