Plan to merge 2 Suffolk agencies advances

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he is

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he is bypassing LIPA's top managers and working directly with local substation coordinators to restore power to Suffolk County residents shortly. "We are taking matters into our own hands here," said Bellone at a news conference in the parking lot at the LIPA National Grid office in Brentwood. (Nov. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: News 12

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Suffolk County is poised to merge its labor and consumer affairs departments in an effort to strengthen enforcement and increase revenue from licensing fees and fines.

The legislature's government operations committee Thursday passed a bill to consolidate the 142-employee labor department with the 30-employee consumer affairs division. Officials said no layoffs will occur from the move, which was included in County Executive Steve Bellone's 2013 budget.

Labor Commissioner Samuel Chu said the merger could boost consumer affairs revenue by 10 percent. Last year, the agency took in $5 million. Consumer affairs enforces county regulations on businesses and investigates consumer complaints.

Benefits from the proposal are "less in dollar savings and more in gained efficiencies," Chu said. He noted that consumer affairs is understaffed, with investigators often too occupied with back-office work. Chu said the labor department already has finance, information technology and compliance units to handle such functions.

"They won't be bogged down with hearings — 100 percent of their time can be dedicated to what their function should be," Chu said of consumer affairs investigators. "And a symptom of better enforcement is increased revenue."

The full legislature will vote Tuesday on the consolidation.

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Also Thursday, the legislature's public safety committee chairwoman, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), and energy committee chairman Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said they would schedule a joint hearing to discuss the county's response to superstorm Sandy.

"I don't want to be beating people up, but it's important to make sure that whatever happened, we learn from it," Browning said in describing the hearing's purpose.

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