A Suffolk County ballot proposal to tap a county sewer fund to plug budget holes was too close to call Wednesday, while two propositions to double some elected officials' term lengths were trailing.
Proposition 2 asks voters to approve transferring and diverting a total of about $190 million from the sewer fund through 2029, essentially seeking to circumvent the county’s legal obligations to the fund.
Of that $190 million, Suffolk is required by a court order and a legal settlement from two previous lawsuits to pay $174.4 million to the sewer fund after previously taking money from it.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed the measure, saying it will help the county fill massive budget gaps and avoid more layoffs and service cuts during a fiscal crisis. But the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, which sued the county twice for previously taking money from the sewer fund, and some Republican legislators, questioned the measure’s legality and said it threatened future sewer infrastructure projects.
The measure was leading 53.8% to 46.2%, based on early and Election Day voting. But the margin was just 38,087 votes, and at least 140,332 absentee ballots were left to be counted. Another 67,633 absentees could be returned to the Board of Elections before the Nov. 10 deadline and then counted.
Nonetheless, Bellone said "Proposition 2 passed" on Wednesday, even though officials had cautioned patience on election results. Bellone said he expected the lead to hold.
"This is a common sense measure to protect taxpayers, first responders and all our essential workers during this pandemic," Bellone said in an afternoon media call.
Dick Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, said Bellone's false claim of early victory amounted to spreading misinformation.
Even if the proposition passes, the Pine Barrens Society may consider legal action for violation of the court order and legal settlement, as well as the confusing language of the ballot measure, Amper said.
"They counted their chickens before they hatched," Amper said.
The sewer assessment stabilization reserve fund, part of the county's drinking water protection program, is funded by a quarter-cent sales tax. The fund is used to stabilize sewer taxes and can be used for sewer and septic infrastructure.
The Coalition for Core Values, a super PAC funded by Suffolk’s two most powerful public labor unions — the Police Benevolent Association and the Association of Municipal Employees — spent $22,138.76 to lobby voters in favor of Proposition 2, according to campaign finance records as of Nov. 1.
Suffolk’s Proposition 1, which would extend terms for county legislators from two years to four, was voted down by 70.56% of voters in early returns. The margin of votes was 209,936 — greater than the number of absentee ballots the county Board of Elections had received by Tuesday night.
Riverhead’s proposal to extend the town supervisor's term to four years had 66.26% of voters against it and 33.74% for it in early results, with a margin of 4,061 votes. At least 3,472 absentee ballots were left to be counted, and another 1,344 could be returned to the elections board in time to be tallied.