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Bellone OKs treasurer-comptroller merger; plan now up to voters

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging the elected offices of treasurer and comptroller. Treasurer Angie Carpenter, left, is up for re-election to a four-year term this fall. Joseph Sawicki, right, has been comptroller since 2003, and term limits prohibit him from running again in 2014. Credit: James Escher; Kathy Kmonicek

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed the bill that authorizes a referendum on his proposal to merge the elected treasurer and comptroller posts -- and eliminate the job of his onetime political foe.

Bellone, a Democrat, signed the resolution, which was passed by lawmakers on July 30, on Monday. With the board of elections soon expected to certify the ballot language, Republican Treasurer Angie Carpenter must now decide whether to spend campaign funds challenging the bill's legality, or devote her cash to campaigning against it.

"We're still weighing our options," she said yesterday.

The referendum will ask voters in November whether Suffolk should eliminate Carpenter's position and four others on her staff, and fold remaining employees into the office of Republican Comptroller Joseph Sawicki. Bellone said the merger would save $833,000 in salaries and benefits next year, but critics have questioned that estimate.

Sawicki, who otherwise must leave office after next year due to term limits, would be interim head of the new department in 2014 and be allowed to run for election under the new title, chief financial officer. Carpenter, who lost to Bellone in the 2011 county executive race, has said the move imperils "checks and balances" that her office provides over county finances.

After the July 30 vote, Carpenter said the referendum resolution was improperly considered by the full legislature, since the government operations committee had killed it.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider countered, "this was a proper process.

"What I would hope everyone does at this point is simply let the voters of Suffolk County decide," he said yesterday. "To the extent elected officials have time or resources, spend it talking to the voters rather than spending it in court."

Democrats say the referendum is polling well, but Carpenter says voters will see through its language, which proposes a merger "for the purpose of streamlining and improving government efficiency."

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