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Bellone blocks bill meant to speed 911 calls

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Dec. 8,

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Dec. 8, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone blocked a bill Thursday that would have required phones in county buildings to directly dial 911.

Bellone, issuing his fifth veto since taking office in 2012, said it would cost an estimated $165,000 to update the phone system. He said cuts should have been identified to pay for the change.

"While I appreciate the good intentions of this legislature, Suffolk County continues to experience financial difficulties," Bellone wrote in his veto message.

The bill, by Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), would have required Suffolk County phone lines to connect with emergency dispatchers without the dialer pressing "9" first. It would have gone into effect when the existing phone agreement is extended or upgraded.

Trotta said patronage employees working for Bellone, and overtime costs are bigger drains than his bill, which he said could be part of contract negotiations with the county's carrier, Verizon.

"A phone system that doesn't dial 911 in my mind is broken," he said. "Why the county executive accepts a broken phone system is beyond me."

The law passed unanimously this month, without debate. Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said county staff was prepared to present the $165,000 figure, but was unable to make it to the front of the room in time because of a crowded hearing. The figure had been presented to a legislative committee in September.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said his caucus would discuss whether to override the veto today during a caucus meeting. Republicans make up five of the 18 legislators.The legislature passed a similar bill sponsored by Trotta last year that requires Suffolk County hotel rooms to directly dial 911. Bellone signed that bill.

The law derived from the case of a 9-year-old girl who tried to call 911 from a Texas hotel room as her mother was being fatally stabbed in 2013. The calls didn't go through because she didn't dial"9" first. The girl's grandfather, Hank Hunt, testified in front of the Suffolk Legislature last year in support of the bill.

Bellone, in the letter, said he will take executive action to put instructional stickers on telephones that the public has access to in county buildings. Schneider said the stickers could be paid for from office supply funds.

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