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Proposal in Suffolk to expand Sunday bus service

Passengers board a Suffolk County Transit Bus in

Passengers board a Suffolk County Transit Bus in Lake Grove. (Oct. 1, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

The Suffolk Legislature's budget working group has proposed a multipronged amendment to County Executive Steve Bellone's $2.89 billion for 2015 that includes $500,000 to expand Sunday bus service and extend evening hours.

The bipartisan proposal does not alter Bellone's plan to keep county general property taxes flat and raise the police district levy by 2.4 percent, or about $21 for the average homeowner in Suffolk's five western towns.

But the amendment does call for increasing Bellone's estimate of sales tax revenue by $4.96 million, and spending $1.6 million to add 13 key jobs, primarily in the health department and veterans agency.

"At first read, it leaves the county executive budget pretty much intact," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. That shows Bellone "put forward a budget that made responsible choices to move Suffolk in the right direction," Schneider said.

Bus service expansion would be funded by raising regular bus fares countywide by 25 cents, to $2.25. That is the charge on the East End, where summer Sunday service began as a pilot project two years ago. Last year, nine more of Suffolk's 55 bus routes added Sunday service with a $1 million federal grant.

Backers say higher fares -- still below the $2.50 charged by Nassau -- could expand Sunday service on another two to four routes, depending on the extent of night service expansion. Lawmakers would allow public works officials who oversee the bus system to decide where to expand routes.

Legis. Jay H. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said new routes could bring total ridership on Sundays to as much as 3,000. Schneiderman said routes that could be considered for new Sunday service include the S-45, which runs along the South Shore from Patchogue to South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, and the S-60 between Patchogue and Stony Brook University.

The legislative budget amendment, which lawmakers will vote on at a special meeting Wednesday, would cut Bellone's $37.4 million estimate for red light camera revenue by $3.2 million and add $2.8 million that Bellone did not budget to pay for county borrowings.

The amendment also would add $1.6 million to fund 13 positions. They include three public health sanitarian trainees -- one of them Spanish-speaking -- three veterans service officers, a chemist for the public health lab and an entomologist to develop a plan to combat ticks.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, expressed skepticism about the higher sales tax estimates, given the still struggling local economy. Kennedy said he will propose a budget amendment to set the estimate of sales tax revenue increase at 4.25 percent, below Bellone's 4.75 percent and the working group's 4.87 percent.

Kennedy also called for axing 35 new positions that Bellone proposed, noting that there still are laid-off county workers on preferred lists who have not been rehired.

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