Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone went to Albany Tuesday to pursue state authority to borrow $60 million over the next two years to pay retiring police for unused sick and vacation time, despite opposition by the police union, county lawmakers and State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
However, Bellone during his visit seemed to step back from last year’s request for state authority to impose a $1 per 1,000 gallon fee on public water bills to raise $75 million for the county.
Bellone said Suffolk is working with “stakeholders to develop a funding source” to aid sewer expansion and high-tech residential septic systems to curb nitrogen pollution of groundwater and the Great South Bay.
“We’re open to any solution,” Bellone said after meeting with local state lawmakers. “What’s important is that we have to create a recurring funding source,” because the 360,000 county homeowners without sewers cannot afford the new septic systems, which cost as much as $15,000.
In seeking borrowing authority for police payouts, Bellone said a five-year bond will allow Suffolk “to protect taxpayers and public safety by smoothing out the expenses” in light of the expected spike in police retirements, with replacement officers to earn less.
Bellone said the county got similar state authority in 1995, 1997 and 2002, and that Nassau and Rockland counties, the cities of Long Beach and Middletown, and East Hampton and Southampton towns received similar authority.
While the police pay and water fee issues went nowhere last year, Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said Bellone “faced no acrimony” in meetings Tuesday with state lawmakers, including Flanagan. Last year, a Flanagan aide called Bellone’s water plan “DOA,” while the majority leader opposed bonding of police costs as “terrible public policy.”
“With significant opposition, I’m not sure why he’s going down a path that does not get us where we need to be,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who opposes the bonding and the water fee.
Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Noel DiGerolamo said he’ll “do whatever I have to, not only for my members but for the taxpayers of Suffolk County,” to oppose the bonding. He said there were other alternatives, about which the union and the county have had preliminary discussions, that could solve the problem.
Also Tuesday, Bellone asked for state legislation to protect the county farmland preservation program after a recent court ruling that blocks building of farm structures on land to which the county has bought development rights.
Bellone had no details on the legislation, but said Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) were developing the measure.
Bellone also sought state authority for the county comptroller to do sales tax audits to recover unpaid taxes.