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GOP leaders balk at Bellone's plan to add chief of staff post

County Executive Steve Bellone is asking the Suffolk lawmakers to create a new chief of staff job, a move making critics chafe because the county faces a $186 million deficit next year.

Administration officials say they need a person to fill the new job title to run the county executive’s internal operations, coordinate activities among county departments and implement the county executive’s policies and programs.

The resolution seeking to create the job title was put before county lawmakers late Tuesday and could be voted on as as early as June 1. Bellone aides said the new post, which will pay $152,059 a year, would go to Deputy County Executive Lisa Santeramo, who now makes $140,392 a year.

But Legis. Kevin McCaffrey of Lindenhurst, the GOP caucus leader, called the new job “ill-conceived,” sayng it is the last thing the county needs when it is so deeply in debt. Bellone already has a chief deputy and three other deputy county executives, he said.

“We cannot continue to hire people and create titles in a time when we are facing a fiscal emergency,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said GOP lawmakers went along with increasing the size of the new police class from 65 to 175 even though it was not budgeted because more officers “are desperately needed,” but the county must cut elsewhere to keep from going deeper in the hole. “I don’t know what the county executive is thinking,” he said.

Deputy Couty Executive Jon Schneider said the administration always has had someone functionally acting as chief of staff, most recently former $173,538-a-year Deputy County Executive Eric Kopp, who retired in January. He said Santeramo would make $21,000 less.

“It’s a matter of better fitting the job to the right title,” said Schneider, adding Santeramo “excelled” as legislative liason and it gave her “a broad understanding of our government and policies, which makes her outstanding” for the new job.

He said county executive assistant Katie Horst would take over Santeramo’s current role as top legislative liason, but make $37,000 less. Horst would get $103,278, up from her current $90,775 annual salary. There are no immediate plans to fill Horst’s spot.

The proposal for the new job title surfaced after an administration foul-up last month in which officials, who had hoped to have higher auto registration fees in place last year found out in April that no one consulted with the state Department of Motor Vehicles about implementing the fee, which could lose the county $10 million in revenue this year. Bellone last month also called for creation of a new $75 million surcharge on water use, but the administration so far failed to file a formal proposal to the county legislature or the state legislature.

Some Republican lawmakers were also angry that the backup material for the resolution indicates there is no fiscal impact. “We have insufficient funds to do what we are currently doing much less creating new titles,” said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). “We’re spending more than we’re taking in, which the definition of going bankrupt.”

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