Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass said yesterday he is stepping down 17 months early as head of the county's largest department, an agency with a $642 million budget serving more than 200,000 people.

Blass, 62, will leave the $152,000-a-year job Jan. 30 after 3 1/2 years, and 30 months as chief deputy. "Although my term as commissioner does not expire until June of 2014, I feel my work at this department is done," Blass, a Republican, said in a letter to Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone.

"The time to go is now while you're at the top of your game and department is in good shape," he said.

Blass' resignation will mark the end of a 35-year public career. He served for a decade as a Family Court judge and 12 years as a Suffolk County legislator. He served three years as legislative presiding officer and led the fight that shuttered the Shoreham nuclear plant.

Bellone praised Blass, who was appointed to the position by former County Executive Steve Levy, for "working hard to to raise DSS staff morale with an open-door policy" and serving as a "strong advocate for the working poor, homeless families and the department."

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Bellone said Blass' department led suburban New York counties in child support enforcement, collecting $140.5 million last year through November.

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird Streeter could not say whether Bellone will name a successor, conduct a search or place Blass' deputy, John O'Neill, in the job temporarily.

Blass said his contributions as commissioner included a new performance management team and an outreach program for homeless people.