Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has issued a rare veto on a bipartisan bill that would provide $1.8 million in funding to local emergency dispatching centers over the next five years, warning that it would only add to the county's $250 million deficit.
"While certain elements of this legislation are well intentioned, I cannot sign a bill that would add to our deficit without signifying how it would be paid for," said Bellone in a veto message, his first of the year.
The county legislature last month approved a measure to require the county police and Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services to begin sharing on a quarterly basis at least 20 percent of revenue from a surcharge on Internet phone services with 10 local dispatching centers which serve more than 70 towns, village and fire districts.
The legislation came after County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki issued a report in March raising issues about how 35-cent per line monthly surcharge for Enhanced 911 is distributed. Until now, local dispatching centers have shared in the surcharge for landline and cellphone calls, but not Internet phone calls.
In his veto, Bellone also took a shot at the bill's sponsor, Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the GOP minority leader, calling it "discordant" that a lawmaker would put forward "this legislation, which mandates increasing our deficit," while also sponsoring another bill that purports to give the county executive the power to make additional spending cuts.
While Bellone, in his message, took pains to say the veto was "no way a commentary of the valuable work" done by local dispatchers, Kennedy countered, "It's an absolute statement on his part that volunteer services don't matter. And the people who live in the areas those dispatchers serve don't matter either."
Kennedy also said Bellone's veto is "procedurally defective" because it was dated June 5, a day after the legislative vote and before the county executive could hold a public hearing, which is required before he could issue a veto. "After a year and a half, they still don't get it," Kennedy said. "The county charter, our laws and procedures have to be followed. They are not just suggestive."
Jon Schneider, a Bellone deputy, acknowledged the error, saying the veto was done on July 5 and was incorrectly dated, but adding that it does not impact its legality. "We agree that this is a priority," he said, "But then you have to demonstrate that by finding an offset" to fund the $360,000 annual cost shift. "We're willing to have that conversation," he said.
But Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) a co-sponsor and budget committee chairman, said he expects the override to go through. "I still support the bill; it's the right approach and we can still address it in next year's budget."