Point of View: Unbundled is best
Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi

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Point of View: Unbundled is best

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7/19/2018


BY SUFFOLK COUNTY LEGIS.
TOM CILMI (10th District)

 

I read with disgust county executive Bellone’s “Point of View,” published in the July 12 edition of the Suffolk County News entitled, “Don’t Play Politics With School Safety.”  He should take his own advice.  It is not me and my six Republican colleagues on the Legislature who are playing politics with public safety; it is one Democrat…Steve Bellone.

First of all and perhaps more important than Bellone’s crying politics, the county executive’s proposal to have county taxpayers borrow $2 million to provide school districts with the Rave panic button app came to us in the final week or two of classes at schools throughout Suffolk.  They told us, with scant detail, that fewer than 20 of the approximately 60 school districts in Suffolk had expressed interest in the app.  How “interested” those districts are is a good question.  And what of the other 40 districts plus private schools in Suffolk?  Perhaps they were too busy preparing for testing and graduations; perhaps they didn’t get enough information; perhaps they are just not interested.  In fact, one local superintendent told me that the app is unnecessary…that the district had its own app…and that other districts are deploying a variety of school security safety measures with other sources of funding.  So questions still remain about interest.  I personally reached out to most of the superintendents in Suffolk by email to gauge interest and received only three or four replies.  Despite these and other questions, the project bill passed.  The funding…that is a different story.

After decades of providing individual bond resolutions with each project, and after Republicans supported 35 of 42 individual bonding resolutions through May of this year, the county executive chose to bundle this funding resolution along with a handful of unrelated projects in a brazen attempt to bully legislators into supporting these other projects.  After all, who would vote against funding for a public safety app, right?  Well I and my Republican colleagues refused to be bullied into supporting an all-or-nothing bundle of bonds and voted NO.  No sooner did this vote occur, did the county executive have a press release issued criticizing Republicans for jeopardizing public safety.  He could have presented this bond resolution to us individually as has been done in Suffolk for decades.  He chose not to, and apparently (given the speed at which his press release went out) did so with the intent on making this political.  Shame on him.  And to write to you, the taxpayers, and tug at your heartstrings using school tragedies as a backdrop for his argument…that’s just disgraceful.

 In the days and weeks that have followed, the county executive has had a handful of press conferences, sent letters to residents, sent tweets and posted on Facebook criticizing me and my fellow Republicans.  The Republican response has not been to criticize Democrats, but rather, the county executive’s bundling and bullying tactics.

As for those tactics, Mr. Bellone says Republicans are flip-flopping by supporting a project but not the funding.  No.  The funding vote is separate and requires a supermajority for a reason.  In a county with the dubious distinction of being $2 billion in debt, we must be discerning about how we pay for things.  Sometimes we support a project but believe the funding should come from operating funds…you know…the $3 billion of taxes you pay the county every year.  The county executive says bundling bonds saves money.  No.  Our contract with bond counsel specifically states there shall be no cost for the preparation of bond resolutions.  He also says that many other counties in the state do it this way.  In size, in population, in the size of our budget, Suffolk is unlike most counties in New York.  In terms of our debt and given the fact that mismanagement has led us to deficits in excess of $100 million year after year, we are unlike most other counties.  So his comparison is irrelevant.

Nevertheless, despite all his hysteria, recently the county executive announced that he would return to unbundling bonds.  That is a win for the integrity and independence of the Legislature and more importantly, a win for the taxpayers.  I am proud of the principled position Republicans took on this issue and, in the same nonpartisan way that I conduct myself every day, my colleagues and I will continue to fight for transparency, fiscal responsibility and good government in Suffolk County.