Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (Dec. 20, 2011)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (Dec. 20, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday offered to "work hand-in-hand" with county lawmakers as he named a bipartisan legislative panel to perform a top-to-bottom review of county agencies.

Thursday, Bellone will name a panel of outside experts to determine the size of Suffolk's fiscal deficit, said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. While former County Executive Steve Levy said his 2012 budget was balanced, some lawmakers estimate the size of the gap between revenues and spending at $100 million.

In an unusual address at the County Legislature's annual organization meeting in Hauppauge, Bellone said the government operations task force will assess the "current state" of all county operations and issue a report within 30 days.

"With shrinking revenues and rising expenses, we have to figure out what the starting point is," Bellone said.

Republican Eric Kopp, former chief deputy to GOP County Executive Robert Gaffney and more recently an aide to Levy, will head the task force. County lawmakers Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), Lynne Nowick (R-St. James), DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and freshman Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) will sit on the task force, which Bellone said will meet within the week. Peter Salins, chairman of Stony Brook University's graduate program in public policy, and Lee Koppelman, Suffolk's former planning commissioner, will serve as consultants.

Bellone is the first county executive with a role in a legislative organization meeting since 1987, when County Executive Michael LoGrande presided. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer also spoke to lawmakers Tuesday, and Legis. William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) was elected to a record-tying seventh year as presiding officer.

Bellone's conciliatory speech came in the wake of a prolonged battle over Levy's final budget last fall. The enacted budget provides funding only for the first half of the year, leaving Bellone with little time before he has to recommend a revised spending package.

"We are all truly in this together," Bellone told lawmakers. "While we may not agree on every issue, I give you a commitment to work with you and give you the information you need to do your job."

Lindsay called Bellone's approach "refreshing," saying that "hopefully it will build a consensus in both branches of government on what we have to do to consolidate and save money."

Romaine said, "Clearly, there's a sense he [Bellone] wants to move quickly and get to the truth of operations in Suffolk County."

"Every department needs a fresh look and could benefit from that healthy kind of analysis," said Hahn.

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