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Suffolk Exec Bellone drops plan to create chief of staff job

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone looks on during

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone looks on during a news conference in Smithtown on Friday, May 13, 2016. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has dropped his proposal to create a new chief of staff title, instead promoting his choice, Lisa Santeramo, to an existing, higher-level position of deputy county executive.

The administration disclosed its decision in an email to county lawmakers late Tuesday, on the eve of a vote in the personnel committee, where the resolution was withdrawn.

Several legislative officials say some lawmakers in the Democratic caucus raised concerns about creating the new job title when the county is facing a three-year, $186 million shortfall for the 2017 budget and there was concern that the proposal might not pass.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider called the concerns “ridiculous” because the plan was to put Santeramo in the newly created job at a lower pay than the person who had previously informally done the duties as chief of staff.

“Some people were trying to make a ridiculous argument that we were adding a position so we decided to take the ridiculous argument off the table,” he said.

Previously, the informal role of chief of staff had last been filled by $173,538-a-year Deputy County Executive Eric Kopp, who retired in January.

Santeramo, who until now had been an assistant deputy county executive making $140,392 annually, has now filled the vacancy left by Kopp and will receive an annual salary of $152,059, the same she was to receive in the chief of staff post. Under the county management plan, her salary also will go up three percent in July to $158,923.

While Santeramo would have been at the top pay step as chief of staff, as a deputy county executive she will be eligible for further annual step increases that will bring her salary to $173,538 by 2020.

Bellone aides maintained they have saved $116,000 by promoting or hiring lower paid staff, but critics say the new raises for those appointees total about $68,000.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, GOP caucus leader, criticized Bellone’s maneuvering to reward patronage appointees when he could have assigned Santeramo chief of staff duties in her current job title without a raise.

Pointing to the looming deficit, Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) said, “It’s beyond irresponsible for the county executive to be promoting high-level staff with tens of thousands in pay increases. Meanwhile, we don’t have enough laborers to maintain our roads.”

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