Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, Republican Comptroller John Kennedy and a bipartisan group of Suffolk County lawmakers agreed Wednesday to speed up the merger of the treasurer's and comptroller's offices to Jan. 1.
Both sides say it makes sense to expedite the transition, which is not scheduled to take effect until 2018, because it will save taxpayers from $1.5 million to $3 million.
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"It's taken a little longer, and it's been a little more circuitous route, but we've gotten there and done it together," Bellone said at a news conference outside the legislative auditorium in Hauppauge.
"We've come together in a bipartisan way that makes sense for the taxpayers," said GOP caucus leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), who co-sponsored the latest merger proposal.
The move to speed up the consolidation came after Republican County Treasurer Angie Carpenter became Islip Town Supervisor in March, with two years left on her term.
Republican lawmakers, who like Carpenter battled the merger for two years, moved to expedite the transition after a referendum authorizing it passed last year with 61.7 percent of the vote and Kennedy won a major upset for comptroller.
"The people spoke very loudly in November and we want to give people the savings they want," Kennedy said Wednesday.
Republicans had called earlier for a mandatory referendum this November to shorten the transition period. The new proposal calls for a permissive referendum in November. That means a vote will only occur if petitions bearing 16,166 signatures -- five percent of the last gubernatorial vote -- are filed within 60 days.
That bipartisan proposal would eliminate the awkward situation created by the GOP's first plan, which would force political parties to nominate candidates to run for a truncated two-year term, which would have shrunk to a six-week term if the referendum were approved.
County Treasurer Barry Paul, whom Bellone appointed through the end of the year, said the $1.5 million a year in estimated savings is based on job elimination of nine treasurer's jobs that are already vacant or will go unfilled by attrition by year's end.
Kennedy estimated at least $750,000 a year in savings from staff reductions, but said some positions may need to be recast to improve auditing of the motel-hotel room tax.
Bellone and Kennedy say they are committed to improving county financial systems to improve productivity and make payments through electronic fund transfers instead of processing and mailing checks. Kennedy said the move has the backing of the county's outside auditors and vowed to keep separate the cash and auditing functions.
"It's good to see both sides coming together," said Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia). "It's the will of the people to see this sooner rather than later."