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EDITORIAL: Suffolk's elected officials ever at war

The budget battle between Suffolk's county executive and countywide elected officials, such as the comptroller, is nothing new. The issue has festered for years. Not even a Court of Appeals decision in 1991 has made it go away. It's time to e nd the bickering.

The current executive, Steve Levy, says he can't keep the budget balanced if he can't delay filling budgeted jobs that the officials (district attorney, comptroller, sheriff, clerk and treasurer) want to fill. They say they're accountable to voters, too, but they can't run their offices if he stifles hiring and promotions.

Now the county legislature wants to change the county charter to give the officials more control. Levy says the bill as drawn could also hurt his ability to run his own departments.

Former County Executive Patrick Halpin, who went through a similar fight and won at the Court of Appeals, agrees with Levy that this bill would erode the county executive's power to control the budget. He says that not filling vacancies is the only leverage an executive has if any of the five refuses his requests for spending cuts.

The savings at issue is not huge: Levy estimated $2.5 million a year. But his opposition to the bill is fierce.

Still, this issue needs more definitive resolution, and the bill offers a chance to debate publicly the right balance of powers. Levy says it should at least go to a referendum to let voters decide; the legislators will likely resist that.

To achieve clarity and keep this dispute from going on 20 more years, the first step is to pass the bill and let the process play out. hN