10/15/13 9:00am
10/15/2013 9:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county's fiscal situation.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

New York state’s highest court has blocked a Suffolk County ballot referendum to combine the county’s Comptroller and Treasurer offices, upholding lower courts’ rulings that the county improperly added an amendment to the referendum.

The county’s plan would have consolidated the offices of the Treasurer, Republican Angie Carpenter, and current comptroller Joseph Sawicki. While Mr. Sawicki — a Republican from Southold — and Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone praised the merger as a way to cut costs and trim down government, noting that Suffolk County is the only county in the state with both a Comptroller and Treasurer.

But Ms. Carpenter and others had argued the merger was politically motivated as a way to force her out of office and allow Mr. Sawicki to continue to serve past his term limit. Ms. Carpenter ran against Mr. Bellone for his seat in 2011.

The County Legislature had approved the referendum in July, which would have been voted on this November. But last month, a New York Supreme Court judge threw out the measure, saying the county improperly altered the language of the referendum. The original referendum stated the move would save the county $1 million, while the changed version instead claimed the merger was “for the purposes of streamlining and improving government efficiency.”

The court ruled that the change altered the previously stated intent referendum. The county appealed the ruling, but a state appellate court denied the claim. On Monday, the New York Court of Appeals upheld that lower court ruling, refusing to hear the appeal.

Mr. Bellone slammed the ruling, calling the court’s decision “outrageous.”

“A supermajority of the Suffolk County Legislature voted to put the referendum on the ballot and the opponents of reform know that an overwhelming majority of voters support it,” he said. “While the referendum will not be on the ballot, the issue is alive this November because voters can choose between legislative candidates who support improving efficiency and those who want to maintain the status quo.”

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08/22/13 8:00am
08/22/2013 8:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county's fiscal situation.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

Suffolk County’s plan to merge the elected comptroller and treasurer positions into one job with one staff is supposed to save more than $800,000 annually. Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, now with the overwhelming support of the county Legislature, has been pushing the measure, saying it would eliminate duplicative jobs.

The consolidation proposal goes to voters countywide through a referendum on Election Day, when it will likely pass. (Who wouldn’t vote to trim county jobs?)

But current county Treasurer Angie Carpenter, who is running for re-election in November to a position that’s likely to be eliminated, has screamed foul. She calls this a cynical, purely political move meant only to allow Republican Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, expected to be appointed as interim chief financial officer, to sidestep his expiring term limits and be able to run for that new position in 2014. Ms. Carpenter, a Republican, has also argued that consolidating the positions would rob the county of necessary checks and balances when it comes to fiscal matters — although, last we looked, those checks and balances haven’t worked so well in recent years in Suffolk County, which faces massive budget deficits.

It’s entirely possible that revenge politics are involved, as Ms. Carpenter — Mr. Bellone’s Republican rival in the 2011 race for county executive — has alleged. But pundits could also speculate that Mr. Bellone is trying to prevent Mr. Sawicki — county government’s one elected Republican outside the Legislature — from challenging his re-election bid. Either way, so what? No matter the motivation, a good idea is a good idea. Keep in mind that Suffolk is the only county in the state that still has two fiscal positions; this consolidation should have been done years ago. If the politics are finally right for such a move, the opportunity should be taken.

08/15/13 4:56pm
08/15/2013 4:56 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county's fiscal situation.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki pushed back this week against claims that a proposal to merge two county financial offices is politically motivated, saying the plan will save the cash-strapped county about $833,000 per year and make county government more efficient.

Mr. Sawicki, a Republican from Southold, said the merger, which would combine the county treasurer’s and comptroller’s offices, makes fiscal sense.

“In these extremely difficult financial times facing every municipality and school district across the country, the county has to pursue any and every avenue of cost savings,” he said in an interview this week. “A consolidation of two financial offices in the county is definitely an idea whose time has come.”

The comptroller said residents want a “meaner and a leaner government” that works more efficiently, adding that the combined departments would total about 100 employees. Suffolk is the only county in New York State in which comptroller and treasurer are both elective positions, he said.

Voters will make the final decision on the plan when they vote on the referendum this fall.

“This is simply a taxpayer issue and the good thing is the taxpayer will get [to make] a decision on this issue,” he said.

County Treasurer Angie Carpenter — another Republican who challenged current County Executive Steve Bellone for his seat in 2011 — has come out against the proposal, arguing that the merger would weaken the office’s ability to independently oversee county finances. She has also said the consolidation is designed to eliminate her from office and allow Mr. Sawicki to run again in 2014, circumventing his current term limits.

Mr. Sawicki said none of the criticisms hold water. He provided letters from independent auditors stating that control over county finances would not be damaged by a merger.

He also disputed claims made by Ms. Carpenter that the merger is a political ploy, noting that he is a Republican while Mr. Bellone is a Democrat.

Mr. Sawicki said the original plan was to have an appointed official take over the combined position in 2014, but that was scrapped. He said he was approached by the Legislature, not by Mr. Bellone, to continue in the position.

“It’s unfortunate that [Ms. Carpenter] is making this such a personal argument,” Mr. Sawicki said. “I prefer to stick to the merits of consolidation and the savings it brings to the taxpayer.”

Mr. Sawicki admits that he opposed a similar plan when it was floated six years ago by then-county executive Steve Levy. But he says times have changed. In 2006, the county was operating on a $155 million surplus, he said; last year, the county ran up a $154 million deficit.

“Now it’s a whole different world,” Mr. Sawicki said. “You’ve got to go back to the drawing board. Now everybody’s considering everything.”

The Suffolk County Legislature voted 12-3 last month to let voters decide whether or not to combine the offices of the county treasurer and comptroller.

Mr. Sawicki, a Southold resident, would head the new department starting in January 2014 if voters approve the merger and would be eligible to run again for the position in the fall.

East End county legislators, who both supported the proposal to put the referendum on the ballot, agreed with Mr. Sawicki.

“If you look at the way county government is set up right now and the serious amount of debt that the county’s in, the only way to change things is to look at everything,” said Legislator Al Krupski. “It’s good to have that kind of public debate. It’s good to look at restructuring these things.”

Mr. Krupski said he has been assured the move would save the estimated $833,000 in benefits and salaries.

“I’ve met with Angie [Carpenter] twice about this. I have a lot of respect for her and how her office runs … but you have to look at how the county runs,” he said. “This is not about Joe, this is not about Angie.”

Legislator Jay Schneiderman said his vote to approve the resolution wasn’t an endorsement of the plan, but a way to let Suffolk County residents make the decision.

“How was I going to explain to the people I represent that I didn’t give them a chance to decide?” he asked. “This was not merging the two departments; this was letting the voters decide.”

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08/09/13 3:00pm
08/09/2013 3:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

The Suffolk County treasurer has slammed a plan to merge her office with that of the county comptroller, saying the move is a “cynical” attempt to circumvent term limits for current comptroller Joseph Sawicki.

Angie Carpenter — a Republican who challenged County Executive Steve Bellone for that position in 2011 — said the plan approved by the county Legislature last month would not save the county money and would limit two offices’ ability to examine county finances.

“This is a cynical and calculated attempt to blend these two separate and distinct functions in an effort to diminish the necessary and prudent fiscal controls of Suffolk County and its $2.8 billion budget,” Ms. Carpenter said in a statement.

Supporters have said the proposed merger cuts away at inefficiencies in government.

“With our fiscal crisis, it is critical that we look at all opportunities where we can consolidate departments, improve efficiency and protect Suffolk County taxpayers,” Mr. Bellone (D-Babylon) said, adding that Suffolk is the only county in the state that has an elected treasurer and comptroller.

The Legislature approved the plan July 30 by a vote of 12-3, with two abstentions. County voters will decide the issue through a ballot referendum in November. The plan would combine the two offices and create a new administrative position called chief financial officer, which Mr. Sawicki would fill starting in January. He would be eligible to run for that position again in 2014. The Southold Republican is currently in his final term as comptroller.

Mr. Sawicki was out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment.

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11/01/11 1:09pm
11/01/2011 1:09 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Republican candidate for county executive Angie Carpenter unveiled her 'East End Access' plan Tuesday at the Riverhead County Center.

Republican candidate for county executive Angie Carpenter said Tuesday she wants to reopen some offices at the Riverhead County Center in order to provide East End communities with closer access to government services.

Ms. Carpenter said she believes reopening the Riverhead offices for the county executive and Consumer Affairs, which have been closed for about eight years, would cut down on travel time for residents and businesses owners who would normally have to travel to the county’s offices in Hauppauge.

“Many people on the East End feel that they have been ignored,” said Ms. Carpenter during a press conference at the Riverhead County Center. “This will deliver government services right there to the people.”

Ms. Carpenter said her plan, which is called “East End Access,” is budget-neutral because the offices would be staffed by existing county workers that live on the East End. In addition, the offices would offer extended hours for people to stop by after work.

Ms. Carpenter added that her plan aims to help improve the quality of life for the 136,000 people who live full-time on the East End, which provides 33 percent of property taxes, as well as 25 percent of sales tax, to the county.

“It’s important to help to protect our tourism because it contributes to the overall economy,” she said. “Simply put, we would be bringing Suffolk County government to the people.”

North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine, who attended the press conference along with fellow Republicans Legislator John Kennedy and Southampton Town Councilman James Malone, said he was pleased with the plan.

“Riverhead is the official county seat of Suffolk County, not Hauppauge,” he said. “People on the East End should not have to commute to Hauppauge for county services when they can be offered right here in Riverhead.”

09/07/11 2:16pm
09/07/2011 2:16 PM

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | The County Executive campaigns for Democrat Steve Bellone (pictured) and his GOP opponent Angie Carpenter took aim at each other's economic policy this week.

Suffolk Democrats blasted the Republican candidate for county executive Angie Carpenter this week for not yet releasing her plan to revive Suffolk’s economy, saying it was preventing a proper debate between her and her opponent.

“We’re trying to jump-start her or shame her into releasing her plans for the county,” Suffolk Democratic Committee chairman Rich Shaffer said during a conference call with local media outlets Tuesday.

Democratic candidate for County Executive Steve Bellone released a plan last month that calls for a uniform set of standards for town and county business development agencies, reforming the county health department to streamline the permitting process and funding for community planning in downtown areas.

Mr. Bellone is currently the Babylon Town supervisor.

But Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman John Jay LaValle fired back, saying that Mr. Bellone’s plan lacked substance and did not outline a clear action course.

“He submits a five page document that really doesn’t take a position on any issue,” he said. “That’s not a plan. That’s a political outline.”

He added that Ms. Carpenter would soon be releasing a plan for job creation, that “is going to empower residents and business owners rather than empower government and use tax dollars to get Long Island’s economy back and up running.” He declined to give further details or to say when the proposal would be presented to the public.

Mr. LaValle accused Mr. Shaffer of calling the conference call to distract reporters from a Newsday article published Saturday that noted Mr. Bellone raised on average the amount a Babylon resident pays in general taxes by 108 percent since 1999, when he first voted on a town budget as a council member. The amount was raised $166 from $346 in that time.

But Mr. Shaffer said he thought the article vindicated Mr. Bellone by noting that most of Babylon Town’s tax increases came from school district taxes which the Town Board has no control over. He said the GOP had been positing that Babylon is the most taxed town.

“LaValle admitted that they inaccurately calculated the figures they’ve been putting out there,” he said.

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