The Suffolk County Legislature would be cut from 18 to 13 elected representatives under a proposed referendum for next year’s ballot.
Bill sponsor Legis. William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) said the reduction would save the county about $2.5 million a year by eliminating the five $100,000-a-year lawmakers, three support staff for each and district offices and expenses.
The county faces persistent budget deficits that have forced officials to raise property taxes and fees and look for cuts.
“It’s about saving money. It’s somewhere we can cut that doesn’t cut services,” said Lindsay.
The proposal drew opposition from legislative leaders.
“The size of the Legislature is appropriate and allows each one to get out to the community and interact with constituents,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville). He also warned that, “lessening the power of the legislature gives more power to the executive.”
Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said, “I think we need to work toward making the Legislature more effective, not smaller.”
If lawmakers pass the bill, the referendum would go before voters in November 2017. New legislative districts would be drawn after the 2020 U.S. Census and the consolidation would go into effect in 2021.
County lawmakers approved a budget last week with $20 million in increased property taxes and $40 million in higher fees on mortgages and tickets, but used $134 million in borrowing and one-time budget maneuvers to balance the spending plan, according to the nonpartisan Budget Review Office.
Gregory plans to name a legislative committee to evaluate spending cuts next year. One idea he floated Tuesday was consolidating the 18 legislative district offices into shared regional offices.
County Executive Steve Bellone has sought to consolidate services and offices, including elimination of the elected treasurer, since taking office in 2012.
“I believe this is a proposal that merits strong consideration,” Bellone said of Lindsay’s proposal.
Lindsay said he is planning hearings on the proposal at the December 6 legislative meeting in Riverhead and the December 20 meeting in Hauppauge. He said a vote could be held as early as January.
Nassau County has 19 elected legislators.
In other legislative action Tuesday, the budget committee shot down a proposal to require the county to prepare a five-year budget forecast.
Budget Director Connie Corso argued strenuously for the bill.
“This will allow us to be more transparent and tell us where we’re going,” Corso said.
But committee Chairman Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) said projecting revenues and expenses five years involves too much speculation.
“Projecting five years out is an exercise in futility,” he said.
The bill failed to pass out of committee on a 3 to 1 vote.