The five East End towns and the 14 incorporated villages in Suffolk County that maintain their own police departments will together see an additional $1 million in sales tax revenues for public safety expenses in 2015 under an agreement reached between Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the County Legislature.

The deal will increase public safety revenue sharing by an additional million in 2016 and still another million in 2016, bringing the total increase in revenue sharing to $6 million over three years.

The agreement will mean $178,900 more in sales tax revenue for the Town of Riverhead in 2015, bringing its share in police sales tax revenue to $1,357,555. Riverhead’s adopted budget already includes the additional revenue. The town’s share will be increased by like amounts in 2016 and 2017 under the new agreement.

Bellone and Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who has led the charge for sales tax revenue-sharing reform for more than a decade, announced the agreement at a press conference in front of Southampton Town Hall Wednesday afternoon with Legislator Al Krupski and East End town and village officials.

County legislators and a succession of county executives have been fighting for nearly 20 years over how sale tax revenues earmarked for police services should be shared among the county, town and village police departments. The state in 1990 allowed Suffolk County a sales tax rate increase to help fund police services. Under the state law, the county must allocate from one-eighth to three-eighths of 1 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue to police services. But the law doesn’t establish a revenue-sharing formula to address the town and village police agencies.

Initially, the sales tax revenues were distributed on a per-capita basis, with the towns and villages getting more than 10 percent of the “public safety” sales tax revenues. But the revenue-sharing arrangement has always been at the discretion of the legislature and the county executive. In 1997, then-county executive Robert Gaffney “zeroed out” sales tax revenue-sharing with the towns and villages, Schneiderman said. The legislature restored some of it, but since then, it’s been a perennial battle, with the county police department getting a disproportionate share of the sales tax revenues. The disparity had grown worse in recent years, sinking to just 7 percent in Bellone’s 2014 budget — which Schneiderman voted against for that reason. In contrast, the populations of the towns and villages that maintain their own police departments have grown; they represent about 11 percent of the county’s total population, Schneiderman told RiverheadLOCAL in July.

The South Fork legislator has been fighting throughout his 11-year tenure to amend the county charter to establish a formula based on the current populations served by the various police agencies, but the legislature — dominated by western Suffolk legislators whose constituents are served by the county police district — won’t go for it.

Schneiderman actually sued the county over it in 2008, but later withdrew the suit in a deal struck with the late presiding officer, Bill Lindsay.

“They had us 16 to 2,” Schneiderman said. “They told us if we won the lawsuit, they would change the law.

“I believe in doing the right thing and what is fair,” Bellone said yesterday.

Overall, this year’s deal provides the five East End towns and 14 incorporated villages in 2015 with nearly $7.6 million in sales tax revenue sharing for police. The 2015 budget allocates $47.8 million in sales tax revenue to the county police district.

The county police district sales tax allocation dropped dramatically — by almost half — in 2015 compared to 2014. At the same time, however, the 2015 budget, reflecting “structural changes” to the police district, shifts $36.7 million in Traffic and Parking Violations Agency revenue from the general fund to the police district and shifts the cost of 69 sworn officers from the police district to the general fund, according to the legislature’s budget review office.

Under the new agreement, the funds are divided among the towns and villages proportionately — based on their population numbers from 1997, Schneiderman said.

“Nobody’s re-evaluated whether one town should go up or down,” he said. That’s something that needs to be done going forward.

Schneiderman currently has a bill pending in the legislature that would amend the county charter to require the police sales tax revenue to be shared among the county town and village police departments proportionately according to the current populations of the municipalities served by the departments. That bill will be withdrawn in light of the deal announced yesterday, he said.

But the fight for fairness will continue, Schneiderman acknowledged. He is about to begin his last year in the legislature, due to the county’s term limits law.

North Fork Legislator Al Krupski vowed to continue the fight. He said other legislators perceive the issue in terms of “giving the East End more money” not sharing more equitably sales tax revenues that belong to the East End too.

“We shouldn’t be having a press conference on this because we reached a three-year agreement,” Krupski said. “What we need is legislatively passing something so that this becomes part of the budget going forward in an equitable manner, so that the budgets of the police departments and local municipalities can have that kind of stability going forward.”

Easthampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he is pleased the county executive acknowledged the existing inequity but urged county and town officials to continue to work on the issue.

“It’s our sales tax, too,” Cantwell said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has said he’d like to see a breakdown by town showing how much sales tax is collected for the county by retail stores, restaurants, attractions and accommodations on the East End. That breakdown has not been made available, he said.

The sales tax is the county’s single largest source of revenue, according to the budget review office. The county budget includes sales tax revenues of nearly $1.4 billion in 2015.

Prior coverage:  Schneiderman: East End towns shortchanged millions in county sales tax revenues for police departments

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.