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Suffolk lawmakers question merger plan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talks about the

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talks about the county's budget problems and solutions during a press conference in Hauppauge. (April 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

Merging the offices of Suffolk's elected comptroller and treasurer would save $1 million a year by eliminating seven jobs, county officials said Friday as lawmakers continued to express skepticism about the plan.

The administration of County Executive Steve Bellone disclosed the number of prospective job losses in a fiscal analysis of its proposal to combine the offices into one Fiscal Management and Audit department.

Comptroller Joseph Sawicki and Treasurer Angie Carpenter are Republicans; Bellone, a Democrat, said his proposal is aimed solely at saving money and is not political.

County legislators -- who must approve putting a referendum on the November ballot for the merger -- said they had significant questions about savings estimates and how the merged office would function.

Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) expressed concern that the proposal calls for Bellone to appoint an interim head of the new department who would serve throughout 2014. An elected leader would begin a four-year term on Jan. 1, 2015.

"The person who is elected to that position should be looking to set up the office, not necessarily the county executive," Gregory said Friday.

Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he was skeptical of the administration's savings figures and questioned whether past departmental consolidations had reduced high-paid administrative staff.

"With this administration, my posture and my stance has become like Harry Truman's: 'I'm from Missouri, show me,' " Kennedy said.

But Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider expressed the hope that legislators would approve a referendum, saying it would be "irresponsible" to block it.

According to the administration analysis, Suffolk will save $750,000 in salaries and $325,000 in benefits in 2014 by eliminating one of the two elected department heads, who each make $175,000 a year; two of their four combined deputies, who earn between $83,000 and $143,000, and four others.

Sawicki, who audits county funds, has 63 employees and a $5.6 million budget.

Carpenter, whose duties include collecting delinquent property taxes, has 42 workers and a $4.3 million budget.

Suffolk is alone among New York's 62 counties in having an elected comptroller and treasurer. Most others, including Nassau, elect only a comptroller.

Suffolk is facing a projected budget deficit of $250 million through 2014. A Wall Street bond rating agency recently downgraded the county's credit, saying officials had failed to "implement meaningful spending reductions."

The administration plans to introduce its bill at Tuesday's legislature meeting, and a vote is expected July 30.


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