Good Morning
Good Morning

Editorial: Move ahead on imperfect plan to merge offices in Suffolk

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed merging the elected offices of treasurer and comptroller. Treasurer Angie Carpenter, left, is up for re-election to a four-year term this fall. Joseph Sawicki, right, has been comptroller since 2003, and term limits prohibit him from running again in 2014. Credit: James Escher; Kathy Kmonicek

It doesn't make sense for Suffolk County to be the only county in the state that elects both a comptroller and a treasurer. Though it isn't possible for Suffolk to merge the offices and eliminate the elected treasurer post in a way that's perfectly snag-free, the consolidation is worth doing. It will save money by eliminating jobs in departments that have always been heavy on patronage positions and cluster in one office responsibilities that are best handled together.

The promise of saving as much as $1 million per year and unifying the computer systems of the two departments are sensible goals, and no convincing argument for having both elective posts has been made. The Office of Treasurer simply does not have a substantial policy-making role.

The county legislature, scheduled to vote Tuesday, should approve a referendum placing the reorganization on the November ballot.

But consolidation is messy because Comptroller Joseph Sawicki's term isn't up until 2015 and Treasurer Angie Carpenter's ends in 2014. Both are Republicans. The timing makes it impossible to elect one person to take over the new role, called chief financial officer, just as the old roles are vacated by their previous holders. Carpenter, running unopposed, will be re-elected in November, to a post that may be eliminated in the same election that made her a victor.

County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, pursued the consolidation in a rather convoluted way. Rather than starting with an ironclad plan that left doubters no ammunition, he's once again had to morph midstream to solidify support. Furthermore, his plan to appoint Sawicki, in the last year of the last term for which he is eligible, to the CFO post for 12 months -- making him the incumbent in the 2014 election for the new post -- smacks of politics. But that shouldn't stop what is a good idea.

Saving money and streamlining departments and systems are priorities right now. The referendum ought to reach the ballot.