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Bill to reduce size of Suffolk County Legislature stalls

A vote on a bill to let the public vote on reducing the size of the Suffolk County Legislature from 18 members to 13 appears unlikely.

The Legislature’s ways and means committee voted last Thursday to have the proposal “tabled subject to call.”

“You probably won’t see this being considered by the [full] Legislature,” said East End Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), chairperson of that committee.

The bill was first introduced last November and has been tabled several times at committee. Now that it is “subject to call,” a majority of the seven committee members would need to vote in favor of placing it back on the agenda. Ms. Fleming said only one member of the committee supports the bill.

“There wasn’t an appetite on the committee at this time to approve it for consideration by the full Legislature,” she said.

Legislator Bill Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) proposed the bill in November and estimated in December that it would save $4.5 million.

“We have reached the point where we cannot add any further burden on the taxpayers, and in order to make up the difference, some services, including the Legislature, need to be consolidated to allow for taxpayer dollars to be invested back into the community,” Mr. Lindsay said at the time.

“Our residents pay for 18 legislators to receive a $100,000 a year salary, 18 individual district offices with two county centers, other benefits of a county car and cellphone and other incentives that come at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said.

Five residents spoke at a pair of December public hearings on the measure, with four of them opposed to shrinking the size of the Legislature.

“If you add 35,000 more constituents to the remaining districts, you’re going to have to hire people, not make savings,” said Mary Anne Johnston of the Association of Brookhaven Civic Organizations.

North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said the bill had very little support among elected officials. He added that he would be in favor of debating the issue of a smaller Legislature, but that debate would need to be focused on how it might impact public services.

Ms. Fleming said she opposed the bill.

Her district, she said, comprises 240 square miles, stretching from Montauk to eastern Brookhaven Town and Shelter Island.

“Sometimes I spend upwards of three hours in the car,” Ms. Fleming said. “I’m all for saving money, and its a great idea to look at, but if we want the Legislature to be responsible to the public, you can only go so far.”

Mr. Lindsay says he plans to reintroduce the bill next year.

“What’s wrong with letting the people choose what type of government they want?” he asked. “All the bill does is set a referendum.”

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