Long-awaited legislation to merge the jobs of Suffolk comptroller and treasurer surfaced Wednesday with changes that would allow the measure's chief foe -- Treasurer Angie Carpenter -- to complete her current term.
The revised proposal for a November referendum would result in the comptroller's office absorbing the treasurer's office after Carpenter leaves office Dec. 31, 2017.
That could boost the significance of the upcoming election for comptroller because the winner would take over both offices in the final year of his or her four-year term.
The proposed law, sponsored by Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Oakdale), comes after the courts last year struck down a merger referendum proposal by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. That plan would have axed Carpenter's job and named Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, a Republican, as interim head of a newly created financial management department, allowing him run for the newly created office.
Under Lindsay's proposal, Sawicki, who is term-limited, would be out of a job at year's end. Sawicki said he has not reviewed the proposal, but it appears to delay any merger savings. "With the county's current fiscal situation, we can't wait four years for savings," he said.
Lindsay said the revised version would save an estimated $800,000 a year once the merger takes place by doing away with the elected post of treasurer and two top deputies.
The Democrats' legislative caucus last fall ran on a platform of reviving the merger referendum this year. But Lindsay called the new proposal "a way to eliminate the legal challenges and eliminate the political opposition against it."
Carpenter, a Republican who ran against Bellone in the 2011 election and also is term-limited, said she had not seen the proposal filed late yesterday afternoon in Hauppauge. She said, "We need to have totally separate functions -- you can't meld or commingle authority of those who make the expenditure with the person who dispenses the cash." The comptroller approves expenditures and the treasurer cuts the checks.
Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, Brookhaven Tax Receiver Louis Marcoccia and Islip Town Board member Steve Flotteron all are expected to screen Monday for the GOP nod for comptroller. LaValle said he hasn't seen the proposal but is encouraged, Marcoccia said it sounds like a solution to the dispute and Flotteron hasn't taken a position. Suffolk Water Authority chairman James Gaughran has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination while Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) has expressed interest in the Democratic line. Both back a merger.The merger would create a new office with a 102 employees, based on current staff levels. The comptroller currently has 64 employees and the treasurer 41.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Bellone backs Lindsay's proposal. "This takes all the personalities off the table," he said. "And it provides voters with a real choice of whether they want to consolidate government and save money."
But GOP Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said the "savings are speculative" and the county might consider "saving $4 million by eliminating the county executive's office and replacing it with a county manager."