The Suffolk County Legislature failed to override County Executive Steve Bellone’s veto of 28 county positions in the Democratic-controlled legislature’s $3.2 billion 2020 budget.
The legislature fell one vote short of overriding the veto during a special meeting Saturday that sought to restore the county positions added in an amendment by legislators and deny Bellone a 10% cut in the Southwest Sewer District.
With Bellone's veto standing, the general fund budget will increase by $2.2 million, mainly because of higher sales tax revenue projections, leaving property taxes unchanged. It also restores a cut to sewer taxes by $24 annually for the average homeowner. Legislators had kept the $21.4 million sewer property tax levy flat.
County legislators voted 11-7 to override Bellone’s veto, short of a two-thirds majority required. The legislature passed the budget last month by a 16-2 vote, with legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) voting against it. Kennedy and Trotta both voted to override the veto.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) led the effort to bypass Bellone and said the legislature shouldn’t roll over. He said he was alarmed by threats that Bellone would not approve new hires if the veto was overridden.
“We are a coequal branch of government. That to me, is an abuse of power and sends a message they are above the law,” Gregory said. “If the county executive feels he doesn’t have to abide by the budget passed by this body, maybe there are things he wants that won’t get passed. It’s really offensive to me that this legislature is treated like it’s not necessary.”
Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who voted to override the veto, said he recognized Bellone's right to exercise a line-item veto. He said Bellone was working with the union to ensure critical needs were filled, but he was voting in support of the independence of the legislature.
“My support to override the veto is in full support of the county executive’s right to exercise hiring authority,” Cilmi said.
Dan Levler, president of the Association of Municipal Employees, Suffolk’s largest labor union, said Bellone had committed to bringing maximum funding to fill Child Protective Services jobs and other vacancies.
“We are working with the county executive on getting positions filled,” Levler said. “If the veto is sustained, we still have the commitment to get jobs filled.”
Bellone’s administration said it was critical to hire a human resources director to suggest reforms to save the county money, said Amy Keyes, assistant deputy county executive for intergovernmental affairs. She said some positions, such as nurses at the jail, needed to be assessed to determine how state bail reform will affect personnel needs.
“We have met with union leadership and will add a number of positions in order to address their, and of course, your concerns,” Keyes said. “We do not take offense that you amended the administration’s budget and intend no disrespect by vetoing some of those amendments, in fact, we have used the power of the veto as an opportunity to engage In productive conversations with legislators and other stakeholders to make the 2020 operating budget as fair and fiscally responsible as possible.”
Alexis Weik, president of the Association of Suffolk County Tax Receivers and receiver of taxes for the Town of Islip, said Bellone’s veto would further delay mailing tax bills and cost overtime because bills would have to be recalculated and printed after the first week of collection, which is Dec. 9. She said it would also affect mortgage payments and tax bills still owed on Jan. 10.
“This is going to shorten the collection period and sticks it to the taxpayers with a week less to come in and pay their taxes,” Weik said.