North Fork Preserve, a former hunting lodge in the hamlet...

North Fork Preserve, a former hunting lodge in the hamlet of Northville, has plans with Suffolk officials to create a county regional park on a 306-acre site. (Aug. 8, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

Despite a parade of speakers seeking an immediate vote, Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer William Lindsay said Tuesday he will seek to delay a vote to purchase the North Fork Preserve in Riverhead until county lawmakers decide on the fate of 700 county workers slated for layoffs.

"It would be an awful insult to those people proposed to be laid off to buy any public land until the budget is decided," said Lindsay, who said he would seek to halt all land purchases until the layoffs issue is settled.

The legislature is expected to vote on the budget Nov. 8.

Lindsay said at the lunchbreak at the county legislative meeting in Riverhead that he does not know whether he has the votes to delay the $18.3-million purchase of the 306-acre North Fork Preserve or several other pending acquisitions -- saying it's "just one man's position."

Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said, however, he will press for an up or down vote because the contract of sale expired at the end of September; if the county delays further, property owners may walk away and seek to develop the property for homes, he said.

The showdown vote was expected after 20 speakers pressed for an immediate vote. Most opposed efforts to link the acquisition of the former private hunting preserve to relocation of the county's controverisal trap and skeet complex from South Haven Park in Yaphank.

"This is a treasure," Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said of the preserve acquisition. "It has been on the top-10 list of parcels for the past decade."

But Amper, park officials and several civic leaders opposed putting a new trap and skeet range at the preserve, where county officials envision 371 camping sites for trailers, tents and cabins.

Simon Kahn, who hunts and lives near the preserve, said he bought his house so that his children "could fall asleep to the sound of waves" from the nearby Long Island Sound and not be "awakened up by the sound of gunfire."

The Riverhead Town Board, which is sharing $500,000 of the purchase price for the preserve site, included in its funding resolution a ban on all-terrain vehicles and a trap and skeet range on the tract. Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudente said the resolution found those uses "incompatable with the scenic and serene attributes" of the property.

County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), who wants to move the skeet range, said she plans to put in a resolution to buy land north of the county's Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach for a new range. She said, however, she does not want to foreclose other sites -- including the preserve -- until an final agreement is reached.

Lawmakers, in sometimes testy exchanges, also grilled budget aides to County Executive Steve Levy for more than an hour on Tuesday about whether his $2.7-billion budget is balanced, given legislative budget analysts' projections that there is $120 million in overstated revenue and underestimated expenses.

At one point, Lindsay asked Deputy County Executive Eric Naughton whether he would testify under oath that the budget is balanced. "This budget is balanced," responded Naughton. Lindsay retorted, "Maybe that's something we'll have to do."

With Kery Murakami

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