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GOP Comptroller John Kennedy ready, but Dems slow merger with treasurer

New Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy, a Republican who is looking to speed up a merger with the treasurer's office, said Wednesday he is ready to take over immediately, but Democratic lawmakers say they want to see a detailed plan on how a transition can be done before voting on a referendum to make it happen.

"I'd merge right now with no trepidation or qualm," said Kennedy, appearing before the county legislature's government operations committee. "We need to move swiftly, especially with the sobering news that we've got a $176 million shortfall."

But committee Democrats tabled a proposed referendum to have the merger take effect Jan. 1, 2016, and asked Kennedy to provide a plan and appear at next month's committee meeting with new Treasurer Barry Paul, appointed by County Executive Steve Bellone.

Legis. William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) sponsor of last year's successful referendum, said, "I'm very much in favor of expediting it, I just want to see a plan in place on how to do it, why we do it and a timeline." He said he may even co-sponsor what now is a GOP measure sponsored by the Republican caucus leader, Legis. Kevin J. McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Democratic caucus is open to moving up the planned merger by two years, but said he does not expect the caucus to take a position until they see details.

"I'd put its chances at 50-50," he said. Legislative counsel George Nolan said the legislature has until its July meeting to consider the proposal and still get the referendum on the ballot.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), committee chairman, said the Republican bill needs to be revised to deal with the fact that a special election will be held in November to fill the remaining two years on the term of former GOP Treasurer Angie Carpenter, who left the post last month to become Islip Town supervisor.

Without any change, whoever is elected treasurer in November would take office immediately and serve about six weeks, even if an expedited merger referendum is approved.

Kennedy, once a leading critic of the merger, now estimates an expedited merger would save $750,000 and could provide extra savings by shifting three information technology workers out of his office and eliminating the duplicative accounting functions in the treasurer and comptroller's office without creating any conflicts. "I was vehemently against this," Kennedy said. "But perspective is where you sit and what you get to see."

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the Bellone administration is "open to the idea" of an expedited referendum but said officials want to confer with Paul and see Kennedy's plans. "At the core, the merger was the county executive's idea and we're glad now everyone is embracing it. We just want to make sure that we're saving taxpayers' dollars in the most efficient way possible."

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