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Suffolk lawmakers preserve millions to fund open space

Suffolk legislators voted Tuesday to keep alive $15 million in Legacy Fund money that can be used toward preserving open space in the next five years.

The 15-3 vote allows the county to use the funds, first approved as part of a long-term capital budget in 2006, through 2011. The funds require a minimum 50 percent match from the towns in which land is to be purchased.

The vote comes weeks after County Executive Steve Levy had sought to allocate the $15 million toward buying the 265,000-square-foot IRS building in Holtsville to centralize the county's health department. He said the move would save the county $1 million annually.

But environmentalists protested over Legacy Fund dollars going to buy the IRS building.

Carrie Meek Gallagher, Levy's top environmental aide, said Legacy funds would not be spent unless the county first exhausted income from its quarter-percent land-preservation sales tax.

With Tuesday's action, the county has five years to allocate the $15 million, which would have otherwise expired. To qualify for fund money, town governments must put up at least half the land acquisition cost.

Lawmakers Tuesday did not discuss which parcels could be purchased with the Legacy funds though Lindsay said he expects Levy will submit a resolution to buy the IRS building next year.

Separately, lawmakers also tabled a proposal to declare surplus 239 acres of county land for the planned Legacy Village project in Yaphank until next month, when the new legislature will be seated.

The move will prevent the legislation from dying, which typically occurs at the end of a legislature's term. It also avoids adding months to the approval process.

Also Tuesday, lawmakers tabled a bill to accept a $50,000 state grant for the sheriff's office to acquire a bomb-sniffing dog after officials from the police union objected as part of a turf battle.

The move essentially kills the grant, sheriff's officials said.

Chief Michael Sharkey of the sheriff's office said the department would buy the bomb-sniffing dog anyway using funds from seized property.

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