Plan to merge Suffolk posts spurs verbal spat

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging the elected offices of treasurer and comptroller. Treasurer Angie Carpenter, left, is up for re-election to a four-year term this fall. Joseph Sawicki, right, has been comptroller since 2003, and term limits prohibit him from running again in 2014. (Credit: James Escher; Kathy Kmonicek)

Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone's proposed referendum on merging the county comptroller's and treasurer's offices has sparked a verbal battle between the two Republicans who now run the departments.

The dispute arose after Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, once a foe of the merger idea, formally endorsed Bellone's plan, saying it would preserve the independence and integrity of county finances and protect county assets. He called Bellone's $1 million savings estimate realistic.

"The world has changed dramatically in the last five years and what once may have been unthinkable, must now be considered," said Sawicki, citing Suffolk's $155 million year-end deficit for 2012. "Taxpayers want a leaner, meaner government working more efficiently."

County Treasurer Angie Carpenter lashed out at Sawicki. She said Sawicki, who is term-limited at the end of next year, made a "political deal" with Bellone. The revised legislation would put the comptroller in charge of the new department in 2014, and allow him to run for 12 more years as head of the merged agency.

"It's pure politics," said Carpenter, who Bellone beat for county executive two years ago. "They cooked up this deal that is convenient to them, but you can't have the county executive in control of the process. And I don't think the county legislature will stand for it."

Sawicki called Carpenter's remarks "completely irrational." Sawicki said there was no deal with Bellone and that the change in the bill was made by Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who sponsored the measure.

"Angie will have every opportunity to run for the new position," Sawicki said.

Bellone declined to comment.

County legislators will hold a public hearing Monday on the referendum proposal, which needs to be approved at the legislature's July 30 meeting to get on the November ballot.

Carpenter has been lobbying hard against the merger proposal and has already given 10 county lawmakers extensive tours of her office to explain its multiple roles and the importance of having checks and balances in tracking finances.

Legislative Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) called the proposal "a risky venture" that won't provide checks and balances.

Lindsay said he believes the merger referendum will be approved, but expects a close vote. "I can't see the legislature going into an election not giving the voters a choice on the issue of consolidation to save money," he said. Of the dispute between Carpenter and Sawicki, he said, "It's a little different. They are both from the same party. Only in Suffolk."

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