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Bellone nominates acting social services chief to fill post

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has nominated his acting social services commissioner to permanently fill the top post, eschewing more than 200 outside candidates.

John O'Neill, 49, of Massapequa Park, has run the 1,600-employee Department of Social Services -- Suffolk's second largest, next to police -- since February, when Commissioner Gregory Blass retired 17 months before the end of his term.

The county legislature is expected to consider O'Neill's appointment for a new five-year term, at a $162,760 annual salary, at its Nov. 19 meeting. Bellone received more than 200 resumes from around the country and interviewed 10 of the applicants earlier this year.

He cited O'Neill's accomplishments -- including restoring more families to eligibility for child care aid and using his fiscal background to boost department efficiency -- in making his commissioner pick.

"In a time of fiscal challenge, he has recovered and been able to realize millions of dollars in savings for the county and restore programs," Bellone said.

O'Neill, who has held the $143,000-a-year deputy commissioner title since March 2012, didn't respond to a request for comment made through his office Wednesday.

In his acting role, O'Neill has led a department that serves about 200,000 needy people a year. It has a $621 million budget, but has struggled with decreasing state aid and only recently restored half of the 2,000 low-income working families who had lost long-standing child care subsidies.

The department has also overhauled Suffolk's shelter system, transitioning from contracts with many smaller homes to just a few large facilities that can house hundreds of homeless people.

Some residents and lawmakers have criticized the move, but O'Neill has said it saves money and offers families additional services.

Before Suffolk, O'Neill briefly held a civil service job reviewing vendor claims in the Nassau comptroller's office. Before that, he spent two years as comptroller for former Democratic Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko and three years as a fiscal aide to former Democratic Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi.

That budgetary background, lawmakers said, has helped the social services department increase revenues through iniativies including billing state and federal authorities for child protective services investigations.

"I think he'll have support from most, if not all, of the legislature," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who chairs the human services committee. "He's led innovative ways to find efficiencies and restructure the department."

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