Plan would save Suffolk environmental jobs

Suffolk County Legis. Ed Romaine speaks during a

Suffolk County Legis. Ed Romaine speaks during a meeting of the Suffolk Legislature in Hauppauge. (May 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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Eleven layoffs in Suffolk's environmental quality division would be reversed under a plan County Executive Steve Bellone will present to lawmakers.

The positions, including hydrogeologists, public health sanitarians and a well driller, were among 315 jobs to be eliminated July 1. But environmentalists protested loudly, saying the cuts imperiled groundwater monitoring efforts.

As suggested by Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) in a resolution weeks ago, Bellone would move the positions into Suffolk's dedicated Water Quality Protection Fund, long supported by a quarter-cent sales tax. He'd also move six jobs not slated for layoff into the fund, saving the general fund an additional $1 million through 2013.

"If we can responsibly bring back some positions in critical areas, and provide operating budget relief, that's something that's attractive to the county executive," Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said.

Lawmakers may consider a resolution to restore the positions as early as June 5. Schneider said moving 17 employees (at $2.6 million in salary and benefits through 2013) into the water quality fund wouldn't impact capital projects set to be paid out of it. With the changes, the fund would end 2013 with a $2.5 million balance, assuming a 3 percent sales tax growth.

"In hard economic times, tough choices are made," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We are ecstatic that County Executive Bellone made the right choice to save Suffolk's drinking water protection program."

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"This is what Long Islanders need, deserve and want," Esposito said.

"The restoration of these public health positions demonstrates the Bellone Administration understands this critical need," Richard Amper, Pine Barrens Society director, said.

But Schneider said the move doesn't signal any change on remaining job cuts of about 304, not with a projected $530 million deficit yet to be fully plugged.

"There's nothing to read into it," he said. "In this case, we have a water quality fund."

Romaine, while thanking Bellone for his action, said he hopes Bellone simply endorses his pending resolution, rather than pushing through his own.

"You don't need to reinvent the wheel," he said. "You feel like you need to take credit? I'd be happy to put your name on the resolution with mine."

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