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O'Connor hits Bellone for fiscal gimmicks

James O'Connor, Republican candidate for Suffolk County executive,

James O'Connor, Republican candidate for Suffolk County executive, is seen at the party's countywide convention on June 1, 2015. Credit: James Escher

Republican challenger James O'Connor criticized Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday for overuse of one-shot revenue and fiscal "gimmicks" and threatened to call for a financial control board if Bellone on Friday fails to file "an honest budget" for 2016.

O'Connor assailed Bellone for borrowing more than $200 million to pay pension costs, and giving "sweetheart contracts" to police unions. He also attacked Bellone's borrowing of $70 million in a sale-leaseback of the H. Lee Dennison county building -- well beyond its $24 million value -- to plug budget holes.

"I'm calling for the county executive to end these bad budgeting practices . . . and present a real, honest and clean budget that Suffolk taxpayers deserve," O'Connor said in a news conference at Suffolk GOP headquarters in Farmingville.

O'Connor said if Bellone does not "have the courage" to fix the upcoming Suffolk budget, he will hold another news conference within two weeks to press for direct action.

"I'm not calling for it at this time but the fact of the matter is a financial control board could get these contracts back to reality," O'Connor said.

Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said, "The only reason Jim O'Connor would want a financial control board is to give himself cover to raise the county taxes and bust the [state] tax cap. Taxpayers recognize Steve Bellone has put forth three balanced budgets . . . and stayed under the tax cap."

Meyers said Bellone has made significant fiscal progress, cutting 1,100 positions from the county payroll and saving $77 million over five years by turning over county health centers to the nonprofit Hudson Riverhead Health.

He said the police contract will save money with lower starting salaries, Wall Street rating agencies have found that the county's debt levels are reasonable and that the Dennison deal made sense because the county essentially was borrowing from itself.

O'Connor provided little detail about how he would resolve the county's fiscal woes other than to say he would manage better and "everything is on the table." He said he opposes any increase in property, sales or hotel room tax and opposes red light cameras, but would not remove those in use because he does not want to add to the budget hole.

He said he also would seek to return less costly deputy sheriffs to patrol highways, instead of county police.

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