Suffolk County Executive proposes large increase in capital spending
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday unveiled a whopping $410.3 million 2015 capital budget that will borrow $5 million to pay for new police cars in the depleted fleet and spend $207 million to replace an aging bay outfall pipe for the Southwest sewer district.
"The county's infrastructure . . . has taken a beating from a string of natural disasters and lean years where capital projects were pushed back and delayed again," Bellone said in his message to lawmakers. "The county cannot kick the can down the road anymore."
Bellone's 2015 capital budget is more than three times as much as last year's and the $789.1 million three-year capital plan is $87 million higher.
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However, Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a Bellone spokeswoman, noted more than half the budget is for the sewer project, and the administration is "very confident" that it will receive state and federal aid to cover the bulk of the costs. She added the second largest spending item is $110 million over the next three years for a state-mandated second phase of jail construction in Yaphank with 360 cells to reduce overcrowding.
The proposed capital budget, which needs legislative approval, would take effect as Bellone readies his campaign for re-election and is looking to garner support from unions seeking new construction to create jobs.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he had not yet seen the spending package, which had to be filed by 5 p.m., but the county legislature will scrutinize the proposal closely because "historically there's been a difference in the county executive's priorities and those of the legislature."
Bellone's call for new police cars comes after police officials disclosed last month that 20 percent, or 195 of their 968 car fleet, were out of service, forcing some officers to double up and causing the department to resort to using vehicles assigned to auxiliary officers not equipped with computers like patrol cars.
However, Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, said he would oppose any new funding unless the administration can speed up the outfitting of the cars once purchased. "We can't have cars sitting in a parking lot for 10 months while the warranty is running. That's idiocy," he said.
He also questioned borrowing to pay for police cars, which are heavily used around the clock. Until the fiscal crisis, he said police cars were paid for out of the operating funds because they wear out too fast to finance.
The county executive's capital plan also calls for providing nearly $11.9 million in 2015 to update police emergency radio communications to a digital system, claiming that the old analog system proved "outdated, outmoded and unreliable during superstorm Sandy." He added that the 2016 plan calls for another $10 million for new radios.Among other projects Bellone is proposing:
$5.5 million in planning and construction money to partner with college or university in START UP-NY to attract start-up tech firms with tax free incentives in a Suffolk downtown.
$2 million to study the viability of installing sewers in in the Carlls river area,
$600,000 to plan a rapid north-south bus corridor along Nicolls Road from Stony Brook to Blue Point, as the part of of his Connect Long Island initiaitive.
$3 million to study the need to replace or reconstruct the bridge for Smith Point County Park, the county's only ocean beach.