Over $20 million in county projects blocked
SUFFOLK COUNTY—Things got a little heated during last week’s meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature when the Republican minority blocked over $20 million in capital projects, after Democratic county executive Steve Bellone bundled together bond resolutions to pay for public safety and public works projects.
The seven-member GOP caucus, which had enough votes to prevent Bellone from getting the required two-thirds majority for bonding, said Democrats have abandoned 40 years of precedent by lumping together 29 bonding projects into two single votes. The Republican minority added that the move prevents legislators from representing their constituents’ interests on separate issues, and attempts to force legislators to vote for projects that are unrelated to each other.
“This new practice is a slap in the face of transparency and good government and is a cowardly attempt to bully the Legislature into supporting projects we simply cannot afford,” said legislator and leader of the Republican caucus Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip).
The Republicans argue that since the Suffolk County Legislature’s creation, introducing one bond resolution at a time is how borrowing money for projects has always been done. This allows each legislator to make a determination based on the merit of each project, according to the GOP minority. “Worthy projects are being used as a shield for wasteful pork barrel projects,” said legis. Steve Flotteron (R-West Islip). “This ‘our way or the highway’ approach to spending by the Democrats is how the county got into this fiscal mess in the first place.”
Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) said, “Lumping bonds together prevents the Legislature from being able to pass necessary bonds versus those bonds which are luxurious in a county currently dealing with a deficit.”
Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), on the other hand, said the county executive, “in an effort to find efficiencies in government,” changed how he brings bond resolutions to the Legislature. “Under the new format, which every comparable-sized county in the state and most towns in Suffolk County use, similar projects (like public works or parks) are bundled together in the bond vote,” Calarco added. “This saves taxpayers thousands of extra dollars as bond resolutions are drafted by outside counsel. More importantly, this does not preclude the Legislature from doing its job to fully vet projects. Each project is brought to us for individual votes, first at committee, and then at the full Legislature. Those appropriating resolutions contain details on the project, its cost and method of payment (bonds versus cash).”
One bond resolution would have used a little over $4 million to finance a dozen public safety projects, including the replacement of a police patrol boat and mobile data terminals in police cars, as well as fixes to the bathrooms at the Suffolk County Police Department Headquarters in Yaphank. Another bond resolution would have funded 17 projects, including road improvements in Islip, Shelter Island and Huntington, a new fiscal computer system, and weather and energy conservation projects.
Lawmakers did, however, approve one bond measure to settle a $1.8 million liability lawsuit involving illegal dumping at West Hills County Park in Huntington.
Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Republicans, who picked up one seat during the last election cycle, have mostly voted in favor of recent bond resolutions, but are currently playing “political games” with “important projects” that create jobs and keep people employed. Gregory also said he felt it was hypocritical of Republicans to support a project but vote against the bond that would pay for it.
Legis. Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook) reinstated that Democrats felt it was best to “package” everything together. However, Lindsay said he “wasn’t crazy” about the move, and wished his party had “worked with the [Republicans].”
In a recent social media post, Cilmi said that Republicans have voted “yes” to the “vast majority” of individual bonding resolutions over the last few general meetings, but voted against a “handful,” which he says his party believes should have been paid for out of the “nearly $3 billion” tax dollars that have already been paid. Cilmi continued by saying that in the last 12 years that Democrats have controlled the Legislature, the county’s debt has nearly doubled. “When you hear about Republicans voting in favor of a project but against the bond,” he added, “it’s because we believe that county executives should manage this county’s finances and use some of the taxes [residents] already paid, rather than spending taxes they haven’t even collected yet.”
The resolution will be introduced at the next general meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday, June 19 in Riverhead. n
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