Throughout Suffolk County, tens of thousands line up to vote early, while absentee and mail in ballots add to the enormous turnout for the 2020 elections.
In the midst of this near chaotic election cycle, wouldn’t you know that Suffolk County government, through a proposition on the reverse side of every ballot, is back to its old tricks? And they’re doing just that with absurdly misstated wording.
“SHALL RESOLUTION _ 2020, ADOPTING LOCAL LAW _ 2020, A CHARTER LAW TO TRANSFER EXCESS FUNDS IN THE SEWER ASSESSMENT STABILIZATION RESERVE FUND TO THE SUFFOLK COUNTY TAXPAYERS TRUST FUND, AND TO ELIMINATE THE REQUIREMENT THAT INTERFUND TRANSFERS BE MADE FROM THE GENERAL FUND TO THE SEWER ASSESSMENT STABILIZATION FUND, BE APPROVED?
The first prize for drafting trickery goes to this ballot proposition. It is but the latest in a continuing saga by the present county executive administration to play fast and loose with earmarked funds for drinking water protection.
That this scam has come so far reflects, among other things, the drag of prolonged one-party rule that is bad for any municipality. Prop 2 is yet another ploy to plug holes in their irresponsible budgeting, about which they were warned time and again over the years by their own budget analysts, and even by state officials. Yet Suffolk created a real crisis of choice long before the pandemic.
The fact is that Suffolk County politicians cannot simply cancel the county’s legal obligations to repay more than $200 million to Suffolk County taxpayers’ “lock boxes.” Prop 2 sets us up for legal and Election Day issues due to the misleading wording found right in this proposition.
The N.Y. State Comptroller warned several years back that the county had to change its ways. He issued a report exactly a year ago declaring Suffolk the most fiscally stressed county government in the state, worse than even Nassau and Westchester, and that was for the second year in a row.
Based on the comptroller’s criteria, Suffolk scored 76.7 for 2018 and 2017. Scores of 65 or greater indicate “significant fiscal stress” according to the comptroller.
Now with this clumsy and sneaky Prop 2, the Suffolk leadership would unilaterally repeal a settlement to a 2014 lawsuit won by citizens. But you would never know it from the wording. The Suffolk administration wants to break its pledge to repay funds it improperly diverted from environmental protection funds, and then take more.
If Prop 2 gains unwary voter approval, Suffolk County would no longer be obligated to repay an earlier, interest-free “loan” it decided to grab from Suffolk’s Drinking Water Protection Program in the amount of $171.3 million, to be repaid from 2018 to 2029. So voting for Prop 2 wipes out the county’s remaining debt of $154.17 million to this environmental fund.
Prop 2 also erases a court judgment of $29.4 million arising from an earlier lawsuit. And to add insult to injury, Prop 2 takes at least $15 million from another voter-approved program: the Sewer Assessment Stabilization fund, in order to plug holes in the mess Suffolk made of its operating budget for this year and next.
Prop 2’s deceptive and misleading phrasing alone calls for its rejection. Note also that the electorate has voted six times in referenda since 1989 to create a quarter-cent sales tax.
Set up to last till 2030, this specially dedicated sales tax will fund 32.15% for tax stabilization, 25% for sewer rate stabilization, 11.5% for water quality programs, and 31.10% for the acquisition of groundwater sensitive land.
Newsday, usually quite protective of the county executive and his crew, labeled Prop 2 as “hanky panky,” and “making mischief.” Then there’s the Suffolk PBA, ever the county executive’s campaign underwriters (as long as he continues to negotiate huge, unaffordable contracts with them). The PBA now lays it on thick with robo calls in favor of Prop 2, for obvious reasons.
Suffolk voters deserve much credit as a community for repeatedly voting to fund clean water. Yet the county executive and his legislative pals repeatedly play unseemly games with those earmarked funds to help pay for their excessively careless fiscal policies.
Don’t they see the risk their unlawful tactics create? Will the voting public grow to distrust even honest ballot propositions in the future, at the expense of vitally necessary drinking water preservation so essential for LI’s future?
Prop 2 deserves a no vote. Suffolk County should allow the Drinking Water Protection Program to continue on its vital mission. If Suffolk’s in-crowd continues to target this program with underhanded raids, loans and deceptive ballot propositions, we should be grateful that the courts and, above all, the people, will be ready and willing to stop them, again and again.
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