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Suffolk bus service cuts a possibility if state doesn't boost funding, officials say

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone prepares to place

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone prepares to place his bicycle on a rack on a Suffolk transit bus on Grand Boulevard in Babylon on Sept. 22, 2014. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County is looking at eliminating 10 bus routes if the cuts proposed in County Executive Steve Bellone's budget aren't made up by the state, the county's public works commissioner told lawmakers.

"Right now, we're not getting funding from the state. It's almost like we're playing chicken with the state," Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson told the county public works, transportation and energy committee on Monday.

Anderson said county staff is evaluating which lines have the fewest riders and are the most expensive to operate. He declined to share which lines might be cut, because it's still tentative.

Bellone's 2016 budget proposes cutting county funding by $6 million for fixed bus routes and $4 million from Suffolk County Accessible Transportation, which serves the disabled, Anderson said.

At a legislative meeting on Monday, about a dozen Suffolk residents with disabilities attended the second straight public works meeting to ask lawmakers to expand service to later in the evening. Many were unaware of the proposed cuts.

"This is going in the wrong direction," Robin Mayr, 61 of Hauppauge, who's legally blind, told lawmakers.

Jon Schneider, a deputy county executive, said that even with the proposed reductions Suffolk would still have the highest county subsidy of bus service in the state.

Suffolk has for the past three years asked the state to increase Suffolk's funding, which is determined by formula. That formula has not worked, Schneider said.

"We've had good discussions with the Suffolk delegation. I think there's a lot of support to make sure we get our fair share," he said. "Given the fiscal realities, at some point, we need to start drawing our line."

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), the chair of the public works committee, was skeptical of relying on an uncertain state process.

"This is a major policy issue facing Suffolk County," Krupski said. He suggested the county could consider a general fund property tax increase, raising fares or finding cuts elsewhere, rather than cut bus service.

Schneider challenged legislators who didn't like the cut to find other ways to reduce spending or raise revenue.

Nine of the 18 Suffolk legislators will hold a series of meetings behind closed doors to discuss Bellone's proposed budget.

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