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Proposed law would shift Suffolk sales tax to aid East End police

A proposed law would shift millions in county sales tax money to town and village police departments to address what East End officials say is an unfair distribution of police money.

Smaller police departments would get money based on population under the proposed law from Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

Annual funding has remained steady at $6.588 million since 2010, a level currently set by the county executive and approved by the legislature. Schneiderman said that's $2.8 million less than the towns and villages should get under a more equitable formula. "It's fundamentally unfair," he said.

He said a change in law is necessary, so the two East End lawmakers aren't left battling other lawmakers. "I don't want to leave a 16-2 battle every year fighting for fairness," he said.

But other legislators and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone oppose the bill.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the bill as currently written would create a $3 million shortfall in next year's budget, but the administration is willing to talk about adding money for town and village police departments.

"Rather than fight it out over local laws, we should work it out over a more gradual approach that ensures a fair revenue agreement," he said.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), said the number of patrol officers at the Suffolk County Police Department is already too low.

To reduce the money for the county, "quite frankly, to me, it would be highly irresponsible," he said. "It's counterproductive to constantly pit the east and west ends against each other."

Schneiderman has tried to adjust the formula and increase funding for East End towns and villages since the late 1990s, including a lawsuit, informal agreements with prior county executives, and prior attempts at legislation.

But last year, Bellone in his budget increased sales tax funding for the police department by $21 million to pay for a larger police budget. Bellone didn't increase funding for the smaller police departments.

The amount that goes to towns and villages, as a percentage of sales tax that goes to police, fell to 7.3 percent this year, from 9.4 percent in 2013.

Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who represents the North Fork and much of Riverhead, also supports the bill, as does Presiding Officer Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

Gregory represents and lives in an area covered by a village police department. "According to the formula, we don't get our fair share," he said. He noted it would be a tough sell with other lawmakers.

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