Suffolk County executive candidates Steve Bellone, left, and Angie Carpenter,...

Suffolk County executive candidates Steve Bellone, left, and Angie Carpenter, right, during a debate in the News 12 Long Island studios. (Oct. 26, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Suffolk's county executive contenders, trying to close the deal with voters, had their most heated confrontation of the campaign Wednesday night as they touted their own credentials for the job and criticized each other's records.

In a live, hourlong debate on News 12 Long Island, Republican county Treasurer Angie Carpenter and Democratic Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone also agreed that they would not raise property taxes, despite an estimated $135 million county budget shortfall. However, Carpenter left open the option of raising the sales tax, though she said she does not consider it "at the top of my list" of choices.

Both also opposed laying off county workers and closing the county nursing home, and said they would consider the possibility of a gambling casino in Suffolk. Both said they would review whether county police or deputy sheriffs should patrol the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway. Currently, the sheriffs have that duty.

Bellone cited his record of reducing the size of town government by 24 percent and delivering $8.1 million in town tax cuts in the last two years.

"We have a model of government in Babylon. . . . That is desperately needed in Suffolk County," he said.

Carpenter, the first woman to run for county executive on Long Island, cited her experience as both a county official -- she served for 12 years in the legislature before becoming treasurer in 2006 -- and a private businesswoman.

"I understand what it takes to have to make a payroll, knowing sometimes you don't take a paycheck so you don't have to lay someone off," said Carpenter, who ran a printing business. "We can't have the polished politician. People are tired of that. They want someone real."

Carpenter went on the attack on Bellone's town tax record. She cited a report by a conservative think tank that said Babylon has the highest property taxes in Suffolk. Bellone countered that the report dealt mainly with school district taxes, which are beyond the town's control.

Carpenter took issue with Bellone's criticism that the county had doubled its debt. She noted that the bulk of the increase was due to construction of a new county jail, which was mandated by the state.

Bellone emphasized that government must "take the long view" and make strategic investments to spur the local economy. He cited the Wyandanch Rising redevelopment project, which he started a decade ago, saying it's "on the verge of bringing in $100 million in private investment."

Carpenter shot back that the town has spent a lot of money on outside consultants and "nothing has happened yet." Noting that a local soup kitchen that is serving 80 families is about to close in December because of funding cuts, she said, "We should take some of those millions of dollars -- $5,000 of it -- and keep that soup kitchen open."

Bellone responded, "I don't think that kind of limited thinking will allow us to grow as a region."

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