East End police departments and villages across Suffolk County will benefit from a collective $6 million in sales tax revenue over the next three years, thanks to a new agreement announced by County Executive Steven Bellone during a press conference at Southampton Town Hall Wednesday afternoon.
The deal is one step in the right direction for securing a fair split in sales tax revenue for the twin forks — which aren’t policed by Suffolk County Police Department — a budgeting issue Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montuak) said he had been working on for more than a decade.
Currently, state law does not outline how revenue earmarked for public safety is to be shared between Suffolk’s departments, with a larger portion of revenue historically being funneled into the Suffolk County Police Department. It leaves East End towns and villages relying mostly on property taxes to fulfill public safety needs, explained Mr. Schneiderman, who drafted the three-year deal with the help of fellow Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).
“When they started using sales tax for police, all we wanted was our fair share. It [Suffolk’s percentage] has fluctuated through the years, and we’ve seen up to 5 percent, and one year even zero,” he said. “We all pay sales tax, and we are all struggling to keep our [property] taxes down … The towns rely on their portions of sales tax revenue. All we’ve been asking for is a fair shake.”
Mr. Bellone called the deal “an issue about fairness and what is the right thing to do.”
Legislator Krupski said he hopes to work with Mr. Bellone on developing a permanent solution to the problem, drafting legislation to quantify how the sales tax revenue is to be distributed throughout all of the county’s departments, so the East End town’s have a dedicated cash flow they can depend on.
Southold Town received a total of $104,000 for the 2015 budget, which it has used to help hire eight new police officers.
“We appreciate the county working together to give the East End its fair share,” said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell. “This has been on ongoing issue for years. They were able to secure an amount that is fair, right and just.”
The distribution of the $6 million in additional funds between area departments was decided on by the county executive and the county Legislature, Mr. Schneiderman said.
The Riverhead Police Department will benefit from an additional $178,555 in sales tax revenue, according to the 2015 spending plan, with increases expected over the next two years.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter thanked Mr. Bellone for making the deal, saying “this will make my job that much easier come budgeting time.”
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the department has hired six new officers for 2015, and is still figuring out how to best use the money coming its way in the future, noting that “more officers are always a good thing.”
Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town is receiving about $300,000 this year, which will increase to $600,000 in 2016, and $900,000 in 2017.
The town will be using its additional funding to hire one new full-time officer this year and two new officers come 2016, calling it a “much more fair and robust share” coming to the town, she said.