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Long IslandPolitics

Bellone blocks comptroller hiring, citing budget deficit

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, with Comptroller John

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, with Comptroller John M. Kennedy, on May 27, 2015. Bellone has blocked Kennedy from filling five positions intended to expand audits. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has blocked County Comptroller John M. Kennedy from filling five positions intended to expand audits.

Bellone, a Democrat, cited the county’s budget deficit in rejecting two auditors and three clerical staff requested by Kennedy, a Republican.

But Republican lawmakers noted that Kennedy’s office is currently auditing timesheets and payroll at the county’s Economic Development and Planning Department.

“I think Steve Bellone is more concerned about what the auditors will find than what the auditors will cost,” said Minority Leader and Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said not filling the positions was about saving money and to suggest otherwise was “insane.”

“Throughout government, we’re trying to save wherever we can,” he said.

The Bellone administration is preparing the 2017 budget, which is facing a three-year, $186 million shortfall.

Kennedy didn’t respond to requests for comment. But his spokesman, Douglas Segall, said county auditors pay for themselves with savings they find and have recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars more than budgeted this year.

The five staffers have a combined annual salary of $228,621.

Kennedy sent over six requests to fill positions and a request for a promotion on Aug. 15. Budget director Connie Corso spoke to Kennedy, who told her his top priorities were hiring the research technician and giving the promotion, which Bellone approved, Schneider said. The forms rejecting the positions were filed on Aug. 19.

“The budget director worked with him personally to determine the most acute need he has,” Schneider said. “I think he understands the need to be frugal. It’s a need we all have.”

He said, “We’re open to working with Comptroller Kennedy to discuss the needs in his department and make adjustments accordingly.”

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) criticized Bellone for hiring and giving raises to his own staff, while tamping down employment in other agencies. “We need the worker bees who get jobs done, not political people,” Browning said.

Under former County Executive Steve Levy, countywide elected officials complained that he would frequently block their hiring for political leverage. Lawmakers in 2011 took away the county executive’s authority in most cases.

One exception was if there was a “fiscal deficiency.”

Bellone filed a notice of fiscal deficiency with lawmakers on Aug. 2, laying out a $78 million shortfall and cuts that included bus route consolidations and savings from vacant positions.

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