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Smithtown lawmaker seeks restoration of $2-million in proposed cuts

Father Tom Archer and his sons Tim, left,

Father Tom Archer and his sons Tim, left, and Jack stand on the street corner of Smithtown Boulevard and Sheppard Lane, where his son Benjamin Archer, not pictured, was struck and severely injured six years ago. (April 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Ana Maria Rico

The Suffolk Legislature's minority leader John M. Kennedy Jr. plans to seek to restore about $2 million in proposed capital budget cuts that he maintains would imperil efforts to stem flooding, improve highway safety and save historic buildings in Smithtown.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has defended his plan to trim the capital budget by 27 percent next year, saying the county's fiscal challenges require substantial belt-tightening. The $129.6 million plan calls for trimming 13 programs costing about $48 million.

Among the cuts are three programs in the mid-Suffolk district represented in the county legislature by Kennedy (R-Nesconset). "The acts by [Bellone] are really the most Draconian that a county executive can take," Kennedy said in an interview. "It is absolutely, positively like taking a ball peen hammer against an ant."

The programs in Kennedy's district include efforts to remediate flooding along the Nissequogue River in Smithtown, renovate Colonial-era structures at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown and straighten Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset.

Tom Archer of Nesconset said he was "upset" the Smithtown Boulevard project may be cut. His son Benjamin was seriously injured in 2007 at age 15 when he was struck by a sport utility vehicle while riding a bicycle on the highway, County Road 16. Benjamin, now 20, suffered traumatic brain injury and lives in a nursing home.

"I'm sure [Bellone] is just counting the money," Archer said. "He doesn't understand the severity of that corner. It really needs to get fixed."

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the trims are necessary "because of Suffolk County's fiscal condition, and Smithtown residents understand the need for that kind of fiscal responsibility."

Smithtown resident Elaine Renner said she and her neighbors spent decades bailing water out of their yards and basements before the county began its flooding remediation program, which she said has begun to pay dividends. She said she feared the problem would worsen if the program is defunded.

Referring to Bellone, she said, "The people who make these decisions are people with dry feet."

The proposed cuts prompted Kennedy to release a statement to news media last week headlined, "Bellone to Smithtown: Drop Dead." He said the cuts are retaliation for his vote last month against Bellone's plan to close the Foley county nursing home in Yaphank.

Baird-Streeter denied the allegation.

"This is a continued effort on the part of Legislator Kennedy to lower the level of discourse, and we will not follow his lead," she said in a statement emailed to Newsday. "We reject this kind of incendiary rhetoric."

Public hearings on Bellone's plan are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday at the county complex in Riverhead, and 2:30 p.m. May 7 at the Legislature's office building in Hauppauge.

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