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OpinionEditorial

Suffolk voters must turn the ballot

This is the application for an absentee ballot

This is the application for an absentee ballot for Suffolk County. Credit: Newsday/Ken Sawchuk

Suffolk County residents: Flip your ballot.

It has two sides this year, whether you vote in person or by mail. Candidates for elected office are on the front page. But the reverse side of the ballot also is important, with three propositions that seek your vote. All Suffolk residents can vote on two of them; the third is only for those who live in Riverhead Town.

The issues are significant. Your vote will matter. Please turn the ballot over and make your voice heard.

Proposal One: This would lengthen the term of office for a Suffolk County legislator to four years from the current two years. A similar proposal put to voters in 2002 was defeated handily. County residents would be right to again reject this proposition. Continuity in county government is provided by a four-year term for the county executive, which is appropriate for that position. A two-year term for lawmakers gives the public a way to more frequently register disapproval and course-correct if it is dissatisfied with the direction of county government.

Newsday recommends voting no on Proposal One.

Proposal Two: You won’t know it from the obtuse and misleading language in this proposal, but Suffolk County is asking to avoid repaying $183 million of the money it took from a Drinking Water Protection Program reserve fund meant to stabilize sewer district taxes. The county was required to pay back the money by a court order and a settlement agreement that ended two lawsuits. County Executive Steve Bellone wants the money to help balance Suffolk’s perennially stressed budget, in more trouble now because of coronavirus-related expenses and revenue shortfalls.

The first borrowing, of $29.4 million, took place in 2011 under former County Executive Steve Levy to balance the budget. A state Supreme Court justice and the Appellate Division have ruled that the county must repay the money. The second borrowing, of $171.3 million, also to balance the budget, was part of a settlement between Bellone and environmental groups that let the county take the money from 2014 to 2017 and repay it through 2029, a proposal approved by Suffolk voters in 2014. Some $154 million is still owed. This referendum also proposes to take another $15 million from the fund for budget relief.

In other words, Suffolk wants voters to overrule a court order and to undo an agreement they previously voted to approve. That’s wrong. And it’s bad faith, and it might make voters distrust the entire referendum process.

Newsday recommends voting no on Proposal Two.

Proposal Three: This would lengthen the term of office for the Riverhead Town supervisor to four years from the current two years. Though Riverhead voters have rejected similar proposals, this is a good idea. Town supervisors, like other executive positions in government, need time to develop the plans they were elected to implement, and by the nature of their position must think of the long-term future of their towns.

Newsday recommends voting yes on Proposal Three.

— The editorial board

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