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OpinionOpEd

Suffolk elected officials state their case

Photo Credit: Michael Osbun Illustration

Thomas Spota is Suffolk County's district attorney. Joseph Sawicki is comptroller. Vincent DeMarco is sheriff. Judy Pascale is county clerk. Angie Carpenter is the county treasurer.

The district attorney is responsible for prosecuting criminals. The county clerk is responsible for the timely filing of court and land records. The sheriff is responsible for running the jail, and the comptroller and treasurer for auditing and balancing the books.

If any of these jobs isn't done, or isn't done properly, voters notice and take action. Who pays the price? Certainly not the county executive.

Currently before the Suffolk County Legislature is a bill to allow these countywide elected officials to fill critically needed, previously budgeted positions. as their expertise deems warranted. As the current officeholders, we believe this is crucial to our ability to fulfill the responsibilities the people of Suffolk County elected us to do.

This legislation will not enable us or those who follow us to "create" new positions, but rather - when critical for operations - it will let us fill already-budgeted positions in an appropriate and expeditious manner.

To put this in perspective, there are 12,286 employees in Suffolk County, and 10,396 of them would remain under the total control of the county executive.

The process to enact the county's operating budget starts with the county executive's proposal and ends with amendments and veto overrides by the legislature. Our departments plan our activities around having these budgeted positions filled. We cannot effectively complete the public services demanded and expected by the electorate if we are denied crucial workers.

Clearly, we - and not this or any other county executive - have the expertise to run our respective offices most efficiently. We have the expertise to determine which positions are essential and which can be left vacant to save taxpayer money - something we consistently do every budget year. And when it comes to the comptroller's office, it's worth noting that U.S. General Accounting Office guidelines say that comptrollers should have independence from all political appointing authorities.

Yet we have continually been frustrated by the staffing that the county executive has chosen to block. Some are positions that generate significant revenue for the county. Ironically, some were critical to cost saving measures. The sheriff is continually waiting for approval to hire individuals as part of the highly touted civilianization initiative; We can't civilianize if we're not allowed to hire the civilians.

The county charter delegates the power to set policy to the county legislature, but it contradicts this authority by enabling the county executive to unilaterally nullify laws through his ability to refuse the personnel needed for implementation. Yet, understandably, the public expects that what is budgeted for will actually happen. When it doesn't, that erodes public confidence.

Without adequate staff, auditors cannot scrutinize county contracts in an effort to protect taxpayers; scandals cannot be thoroughly investigated; delinquent taxpayers and those seeking to avoid paying their fair share can go undetected; the timely filing and recording of court documents and land records is jeopardized; millions of dollars in overtime are incurred due to inadequate staffing at correctional facilities; and crimes are committed everyday without the dedicated resources to appropriately fight them.

This proposed law should be viewed as pro-taxpayer legislation - a bill that would make it clear that the executive only has the budgetary powers expressly granted by the county charter and not the implied powers he has usurped. Importantly, the legislation also provides many opportunities for the county executive to demonstrate the need to not fill budgeted positions, and he can block hiring by declaring a fiscal emergency.

Its adoption will create a more appropriate mechanism for these five countywide elected officials to better protect and deliver services to Suffolk County taxpayers.

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