04/18/11 8:49am
04/18/2011 8:49 AM
Southampton Republican leader Ernest Wruck (from left), County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, Riverhead Republican leader John Galla, Southold Republican leader Denis Noncarrow, and East Hampton Republican leader Trace Duryea at Friday's screening.

COURTESY PHOTO | Southampton Republican leader Ernest Wruck (from left), County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, Riverhead Republican leader John Galla, Southold Republican leader Denis Noncarrow, and East Hampton Republican leader Trace Duryea at Friday's screening.

Republicans from all five East End towns gathered at Polish Hall in Riverhead Friday to jointly screen candidates to replace Steve Levy as the GOP nominee for County Executive.

According to Riverhead Republican leader John Galla, the groups screened three potential candidates: County Treasurer and former County Legislator Angie Carpenter, state Assemblyman  Michael Fitzpatrick of St. James, and state Senator John Flanagan of East Northport. He said county Commissioner of Jurors Michael O’Donohoe has screened with other town committees, but was not present Friday.

Others who were rumored to be possibly screening Friday, but did not, were former Congressman Rick Lazio and Randy Altschuler, who narrowly lost a Congressional race to incumbent Tim Bishop last November.

Mr. Galla said County Comptroller Joe Sawicki of Southold has withdrawn his name from consideration for a county executive run, and County Legislator Ed Romaine, who represents the North Fork, was present Friday but has not asked to be screened.

It is believed to be the first time the East End Republican committees have jointly screened for county executive, although they have done so for other races.

03/31/11 5:22am
03/31/2011 5:22 AM

Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki

County Comptroller and North Fork native Joe Sawicki is considering jumping into the county executive’s race, and said this week he’s “50-50” on whether to seek the GOP nod to run in place of Steve Levy, whose decision last week to drop out of the executive’s race instantly altered Suffolk’s political landscape.

“I’ve been getting a lot of encouragement, which is extremely flattering,” said Mr. Sawicki of Southold, who served in the state Assembly for 11 years. “It could develop into a very interesting scenario.”

Topping his list of concerns is the potential impacts on his family, which he cited as the reason he left Albany in 1993 to become comptroller and chief financial officer for Suffolk Off Track Betting.

“The Albany life was really difficult on my family,” Mr. Sawicki said, adding the same could hold true in serving as county executive.

“As chief executive of the county you’re working 24/7,” he said. “There’s a part of me that’s excited about that challenge. I’m sure I could do a good job.”

Even so, “I really relish my private family time,” said Mr. Sawicki. “In politics you live most of your life in a fish bowl and it would be more so as county executive. I don’t need to be in the press seven days a week like some politicians.”

Mr. Sawicki, who met with Suffolk’s 10 town GOP leaders on Friday, said, “I’ll know in a week or two. I’m on the fence, 50-50, but giving it serious consideration.”

Should he decide to run he’ll be fighting for the nomination against County Treasurer Angie Carpenter of West Islip, who announced her candidacy Monday. The list of potential Republican candidates includes State Senator John Flanagan and

Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick, both of Smithtown. Mr. Sawicki said he expects have a dozen Republicans to throw their hats in the ring.

He left OTB to serve as chief deputy county treasurer, a job he held until up until his winning the comptroller’s seat in 2002. He’s enjoyed Democratic cross-endorsement in his last two elections. He developed a friendship along the way with Democratic

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, who appeared on the same ballot as Mr. Sawicki and received GOP support in his last two elections.

The district attorney figured prominently in Mr. Levy’s shocking announcement Thursday that he will not seek reelection.
Mr. Bellone, the Babylon Town Supervisor since 2002, is the current favorite to earn the Democratic nomination. Mr. Bellone said he was “seriously considering running for county executive” against Mr. Levy during a county-wide “listening tour” stop at the Riverhead Free Library earlier this month.

Republicans would be foolish to underestimate Mr. Bellone, Mr. Sawicki said.

“He’s a very formidable candidate,” the comptroller said. “Clean image, good fiscal reputation. He’s also got a million and half in campaign contributions so it wouldn’t be a cakewalk against him.”

Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), whose district covers eastern Brookhaven, Riverhead and the Southold towns, said he had fully expected Mr. Levy, who ran unopposed four years ago, to square off with the Babylon supervisor come November.

“I was surprised and shocked,” said the legislator, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Levy in 2003. “But Steve Levy has always accepted responsibility for his actions. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Supervisor Bellone called the news of Mr. Levy’s decision “indeed surprising and concerning. But the challenges and opportunities facing us are greater than any one person and I am confident Suffolk County will grow and thrive with new leadership.”

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer said Mr. Levy’s decision not to run opens the door for the Democrats’ return to the county executive’s office.

“I remain as confident as ever that in November we will have a terrific new county executive, Steve Bellone,” he said.

Michael White, Vera Chinese and Grant Parpan contributed to this story.

03/30/11 12:30pm
03/30/2011 12:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced Thursday that he will not seek a third term in office.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced Thursday that he will not seek a third term in office.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy dropped a bombshell last Thursday in announcing he would not seek a third term in office amid a 16-month investigation into his campaign finances by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

And he hasn’t been seen since.

His absence had at least one elected leader, Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), saying that if Mr. Levy continues to be a distraction, the county executive should consider resigning.

“Some people know where he is; I don’t know,” Mr. Cooper said. “He’s already a distraction with him being AWOL. I can understand why he’s away with his family at this time; I can’t imagine the embarrassment for such a proud man. But for all the weeks to take off. We have a state budget getting approved that will have tremendous impacts for Suffolk County.”

“It’s going to be day-to-day, to see what evolves,” Mr. Cooper continued. “And right now there is this moral cloud that’s hanging over Levy’s head. And if God forbid there are revelations about, say, what, if anything, he was going to be charged with. Or if any new allegations emerge about others. It would be unsustainable. He’ll have to go.”

Dan Aug, a spokesman for Mr. Levy, told the News-Review only that the county executive was out of state, with his family.

“He will be away for several more days or the rest of the week,” Mr. Aug said.

Meanwhile, questions are swirling as to what District Attorney Thomas Spota meant when, in a statement released shortly after Mr. Levy’s announcement, he referred to “serious issues with regard to fundraising” that were turned up in the Levy probe.

Mr. Spota’s spokesman, Bob Clifford, would not give details of the probe’s findings, citing an ongoing investigation.
“The investigation will continue with respect to the conduct of others,” the district attorney’s statement read.

Mr. Levy, a longtime Democrat who turned Republican in a bid to run for governor last year, issued a press release Thursday afternoon saying he would not be seeking the nomination, citing a desire to “look to new challenges,” among other reasons. Then, at the end of the release, he indicated he would be turning over his $4 million campaign war chest to the district attorney.

“Questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign,” Mr, Levy said. “Since this occurred under my watch I accept responsibility. In order to resolve these questions, I will be turning over my campaign funds to the Suffolk County District Attorney.”

Mr. Spota said he was confident Mr. Levy never profited from his actions, and that the “forfeiture of his $4 million campaign fund demonstrates his acceptance of responsibility for these failings.” He said those monies would be returned to donors who want a refund following the Nov. 11 election. The rest will be given to charity.

Mr. Spota, a Democrat, said there would be no further investigation into Mr. Levy’s conduct and that the district attorney’s decision to “allow Mr. Levy to complete his term was carefully considered and involved weighing his conduct, the need for stability in government in these difficult economic times while affording a smooth transition after the 2011 elections.”

After referring to Mr. Levy’s “deal with Mr. Spota,” Mr. Cooper said he also worried about how a publicly shamed county executive would now deal with the public and other government officials during the nine months remaining on his term.

“The county executive is the primary negotiator for Suffolk County to New York State,” Mr. Cooper said. “If he’s in a weakened position as a result of his being tainted by the scandal, that’s not good from that point of view.”
But he also said county government may have no better alternative.

“If he resigned, that means for the next three months, Chris Kent, the chief deputy county executive, would fill in,” Mr. Cooper said. “I’ve worked with Chris but I don’t know if he’s qualified to be chief financial officer of a $2.7 billion operation. And we would have to run a special election, which would cost at least $1 million.”

Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), whose district covers eastern Brookhaven, Riverhead and the Southold towns, said he was surprised by Thursday’s announcement. But he didn’t call for his longtime rival to resign.

“It’s unfortunate that he’s the first county executive in Suffolk’s history to be forced from office,” Mr. Romaine said, adding that he trusted Mr. Spota, who said Mr. Levy did not personally profit. “[Mr. Levy] politically profited, there’s no doubt, so I have to think the punishment he’s going through, well, the DA’s charged with justice, and that’s what he sought. I have nothing but high regard for the DA and I trust his decision on this.

“I will tell you it is a sea change for Suffolk County,” he continued. “And this comes at a time when we desperately need leadership. The county is facing a $175 million budget gap, and we’re facing more cuts from the state.”

mwhite@timesreview.com

03/24/11 9:37pm
03/24/2011 9:37 PM

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy hinted he might not seek re-election in an unpublished September 2010 interview with Times/Review web editor Grant Parpan.

The following audio was excerpted from that interview, which was conducted in Mr. Levy’s office and recorded by his staff:

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy hinted he might not seek re-election in a Sun interview conducted in his office last September.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy hinted he might not seek re-election in a Times/Review interview conducted in his office last September.

03/24/11 5:08pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced Thursday that he will not seek a third term in office.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced Thursday that he will not seek a third term in office.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced Thursday that he will not seek a third term in office following a 16-month investigation into his campaign finances by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Mr. Levy said Thursday that he has turned over his entire $4 million war chest to the DA.

READ MR. LEVY’S STATEMENT

“Questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign,” Mr. Levy said. “Since this occurred under my watch I accept responsibility.

“In order to resolve these questions, I will be turning over my campaign funds to the Suffolk County District Attorney.”

District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement Thursday that while the investigation revealed “serious issues in regard to fundraising,” he is confident the county executive never profited from his actions.

READ MR. SPOTA’S STATEMENT

Mr. Spota said the entire fund will be forfeited and monies will be returned following the November 11 election to parties seeking a return on their contribution. The rest will be given to charity.

“There is no question that while the investigation revealed serious issues with regard to fundraising and the manner in which it was conducted, including the use of public resources, I am confident that Mr. Levy did not personally profit,” Mr. Spota said.  “The forfeiture of his $4 million campaign fund demonstrates his acceptance of responsibility for these failings.”

Mr. Spota said there will be no further investigation into Mr. Levy’s conduct and he “will allow Mr. Levy to complete his term was carefully considered and involved weighing his conduct, the need for stability in government in these difficult economic times while affording a smooth transition after the 2011 elections.”

COUNTY EXECUTIVE HAD HINTED HE WOULDN’T RUN

Locally, county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), a longtime political rival of Mr. Levy’s, said Thursday’s news that the county executive would not square off with likely challenger Steve Bellone (D-Babylon) in November came as a surprise.

“I was surprised and shocked, but Steve Levy has always accepted responsibility for his actions,” Mr. Romaine said. “I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Mr. Bellone, the Babylon Town Supervisor since 2002, is the current favorite to earn the Democratic nomination. Mr. Bellone said he was “seriously considering running for county executive” against Mr. Levy during a countywide “listening tour” stop in Riverhead last week.

“Today’s news is indeed surprising and concerning,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement Thursday. “But the challenges and opportunities facing us are greater than any one person and I am confident Suffolk County will grow and thrive with new leadership.”

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer said Mr. Levy’s decision not to run opens the door for the Democrats’ return to the County Executive’s office.

“I am shocked by today’s announcement that the County Executive will not run for re-election and that he has forfeited his $4 million campaign fund,” Mr. Schaffer said. “I remain as confident as ever that in November we will have a terrific new County Executive, Steve Bellone.”

gparpan@northshoresun.com

02/16/11 10:37am
02/16/2011 10:37 AM
JOHN GRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | The complete transcript of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's State of the County address, delivered Tuesday at the West Sayville firehouse.

JOHN GRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | The complete transcript of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's State of the County address, delivered Tuesday at the West Sayville firehouse.

Thank you Warren. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and our elected officials here this evening. Thank you to News12 and FIOS ONE for bringing this address to the people of Suffolk County.

Most of all, thank you to the brave volunteers of the West Sayville Fire Department for hosting us tonight, and to all of our volunteers across the county, to whom we dedicate this evening.

I present this State of the County at a time when governments throughout the nation are facing extremely difficult circumstances. The federal government has a One Point Five Trillion dollar deficit. New York State’s is ten billion and growing. Here in Suffolk, however, the state of our county is strong.

It’s strong because we’ve been willing to make the tough decisions. It’s strong because we’ve followed through on smart government initiatives. It’s strong because we took on the status quo. It’s strong because when we were told that the system could not be changed, we were not deterred. We rolled up our sleeves, got to work and reformed our government.

We must continue to do everything we can to keep county taxes under control. Property taxes are public enemy number one.  They prevent businesses from being competitive.  They prevent young people from affording a first home.  They prevent grandparents from staying here to see their grandchildren grow up.  They drain our families of disposable income that could be going towards college tuition, health care or even a needed vacation.  They drain dollars that businesses could be investing in equipment, expansion and jobs.  In short, excessive property taxes drain us of hope.  That is why I have made controlling property taxes my number one priority over the last seven years.

Despite the challenges of the national economy, we in Suffolk are on solid footing, prepared to face the future. We have produced real and recurring savings in our budgets that have allowed us to say what few in the state of New York can say: no General Fund tax increases for the last seven years.

The changes we made did not come easily. In almost every instance, it was said by some — “that can’t be done.”

It was said that our employee health plan, which had lost over 30 million dollars, could not be remedied. Well, we put the system out to competitive bid, negotiated plan changes and improved oversight — and we have saved more than two hundred million dollars for our taxpayers over the last seven years. While annual health care costs nationwide have been rising by double digits, our smart management has held our increases at thirty percent below the national average.

When I said we could save even further by requiring our employees and retirees to utilize generics rather than name brand prescriptions, it was said that people would lose the ability to get needed medications. We stood firm and in the end, everyone got their prescriptions, and our taxpayers are saving twelve million dollars a year, every year.

After New York State refused to provide troopers to patrol its highways, I made the bold decision to replace police officers on those roads with lower paid deputy sheriffs. Critics called it illegal and said the move would lead to carnage on the highways. Again, we stood strong. The result? We won the lawsuit, saved 20 million dollars over the last two years, redeployed 55 police officers into neighborhood patrols and the number of accidents on those roads actually went down.

We said we could save millions by civilianizing non-public safety jobs that were being performed by police officers. We said we could shrink the size of government through an early retirement package and then leave those positions vacant. We said we could allow the private sector to purchase our county HMO. Again, the protectors of the status quo said it couldn’t – or shouldn’t – be done. But we did. And we are saving more than ten million dollars through civilianization and redeployment, more than ten million dollars annually by shrinking the workforce and three-and-a-half million dollars every year by ending our unnecessary competition with private HMO’s.

Some said we would never be able to obtain concessions from our unions. They were wrong again. When times were roughest, the unions stepped up and provided the County with thirty-six million dollars in savings. And we negotiated one of the most taxpayer friendly contracts we’ve ever had here in Suffolk County. Our faculty association at the college worked with us in these tough times on a four year contract with wage freezes for the first two years, and an average of one percent increases per year over the life of the contract.

The closure of our nursing home will save us eight million dollars not just in one year, but in every year thereafter. These savings are not one-shots. They will be recurring year after year. This type of restructuring has allowed us to take nearly 100 million dollars off of the county’s spending each and every year. That’s 100 million dollars BACK into the pockets of our taxpayers.

We have maintained balance and tax stability over these many years because we did not duck the difficult decisions.

Those governments around the nation that shied away from bold moves – that have protected the status quo – are today faced with large tax increases or budgets that are disintegrating before their eyes. Or, as in the case in Newark, New Jersey and Oakland, California, laying off police officers.

Suffolk County has demonstrated that it is possible to save money by making smart decisions and using common sense to maintain and even enhance services.

The 16-week permit backlogs that we inherited were cut to four to six weeks. The number of patients we were able to serve at some of our health centers was increased by eight percent – not by spending more money but simply by making the system work better. Child support collections are at record high levels. Prenatal deaths have been cut significantly through early health intervention. And the number of young people sent to institutions or placed in foster care has been cut dramatically, saving us millions annually.

Bus service was doubled on our busiest East End route and expanded in other areas, without raising fares. We continue to set the standard for preserving our land and drinking water. And over the last seven years, total crime is down by more than twenty-one percent.

But hard work, and tough decisions, remain.

While we have weathered past economic storms through quick action and tough decisions, we continue to face challenges ahead. We recently received the sobering news that the county will be hit with the largest cut in state aid in our history – exceeding forty million dollars. The state has stopped reimbursements for adult chronic care at our health centers, and has also dramatically reduced aid for our crime lab and emergency services training

Next year, we will have to come up with an additional 50 million dollars in pension costs while absorbing a 20 million dollar loss in federal assistance for Medicaid. Further clouding our budget concerns is the county legislature’s recent decision to join a lawsuit to stop the closure of the nursing home — even though the legislature approved the closure in the budget, and then took the expected savings to fund its discretionary spending.

I will not sit back and just hope these concerns resolve themselves. I will do what I’ve done for the last seven years. I will be proactive and I ask the Legislature to join me. Last week I implemented a 10-percent across the board cut in spending, to help maintain a balanced budget and stability as the year progresses.

For every difficult decision we will face, the protectors of the status quo will continue to push back. The status quo is comfortable. You don’t have to do anything to maintain the status quo. The status quo doesn’t require making a difficult decision, casting a controversial vote or upsetting a special interest.

Unfortunately, the status quo in this day and age is unsustainable. It is: The Unsustainable Quo.

The Unsustainable Quo is our state pension system, which is requiring Suffolk to make up for investment losses with a forty-three million dollar payment this year and an additional fifty million dollars next year – above and beyond what we regularly pay into the system. A system in which our local mandated payments have grown by more than one thousand percent over the last nine years. One thousand percent. That is not a typo!

The Unsustainable Quo is a mandatory arbitration system that creates leap frogging of generous public safety contract awards between Nassau and Suffolk counties — to the point now where it costs us an average of two hundred thousand dollars per police officer between salary, benefits and pension costs. Again, that is not a typo!

The Unsustainable Quo is our local employee health care plan that does not require any worker contribution towards coverage.

The Unsustainable Quo is a state-imposed MTA tax on our businesses to pay for New York City transit improvements. Businesses on the North Fork of Long Island – Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island – have paid an approximate four-and-one-half million dollars in MTA payroll tax, and barely have train service. It is time for Albany to end this unfair tax.

And The Unsustainable Quo is a mindset by some in government who simply shrug their shoulders and say that spending and tax increases are inevitable. To those who think that raising taxes is inevitable, I say –  think again.

Some of these items we can change on our own; for others, we need relief from Albany.

We can, and we have, held down our discretionary spending. But those efficiencies are more than offset by increases in mandated spending. So we are saying to Albany: give us the tools to control our mandated costs.

Pension costs are the fastest growing component of our budget. It is well-documented that the system is gamed by some in their last few years of employment, in order to maximize their pensions. In one instance, we are paying an additional twenty-six thousand dollars per year, each and every year, on just one employee’s pension because of the massive amount of overtime that was factored in to his final salary, because of contractual seniority requirements. It is time to eliminate overtime, comp time, holiday pay, longevity pay and up to 30 days unused vacation time from being calculated into the base of a public employee’s pension.

Furthermore, the State should establish a Tier 6 for all new public employees that will utilize a Defined Contribution Plan, similar to the 401-k plans that folks in the private sector are used to. It is simply unsustainable — and unfair — for the taxpayer to meet a guaranteed rate of return regardless of market conditions.

In terms of public employee contracts, for far too long the system of arbitration has enabled Suffolk’s police union to point to the generous awards granted to Nassau. Then, Nassau points to what was given to Suffolk. And so on and so on. This runaway train is unsustainable.  And so I am calling upon the State of New York to follow New Jersey’s lead and cap mandatory arbitration salary awards to no more than two percent per year.

What can we do locally to change The Unsustainable Quo?

The State of New York is wisely considering a cap on local property taxes. I am strongly supportive of this cap. Our taxpayers simply cannot take it anymore. Who would have thought we would have reached the point where many homeowners are more worried about their property tax bill than the mortgage on the home itself.

Here in Suffolk, we have lived within our tax cap year after year  — in fact, we have never raised general fund taxes since I have been in office. And spending in 2011 is lower than it was in 2008.

Tonight, I am proposing we go one step beyond. If a government caps property taxes, but fails to control its spending, it will only seek to make up the difference through other sources of revenue such as fee increases.  I will be proposing a 2-percent cap on the county’s discretionary spending, and I will be asking voters to approve the spending cap this fall. After all, it’s your money. You should have a say in how much we spend.

Spending caps force elected officials to prioritize. Rather than determining all the programs we want to spend on, and then finding the money, we must instead first ask how much money we have, and then prioritize how to spend it. That is how our residents sit at their kitchen tables and draw up their budgets. That is how businesses deal with their bottom line. Government should be no different.

While many will express concern about the potential loss of services through a spending cap, let me bring us back to the motto by which I have always governed: “All the programs in the world are irrelevant if we can’t afford to live here in the first place.”

As we prioritize spending, we should remove the pressure placed on our budget by the step system. Many in the private sector might not be aware of this method that provides an automatic bump in pay on top of negotiated wage increases. Think about it. In the public sector, you get a percentage increase in January, and then six months later you and everyone else get another automatic increase. A few years ago, the County Legislature — over my veto– gave these step increases to management personnel. Given the lean times we are in, now is the time to end step increases for management employees, because double raises for management in this day and age are unsustainable.

It is also time for our management employees to lead by example by paying towards their health care benefits for the first time. Few, if any, in the private sector get one hundred percent of their insurance paid by their employer. But here in Suffolk, it has never been required for an employee buy-in. While such a change for our union employees can only come about through State legislation or collective bargaining, we can make this change for management. I therefore propose that incoming non civil-service employees in Suffolk County be required to pay a portion of their health benefits.  I proposed this change two years ago, and the County Legislature refused to act on it. But it is time to stop protecting The Unsustainable Quo.

In the crowd with us tonight is Sean Cullington. At this time a year ago, Sean closed on a home in Shirley, purchased under the county’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program which allows municipalities and not-for-profit agencies to acquire foreclosed homes, rehabilitate them and make them affordable once again.

But if we take our eyes off the bottom line – the need to control taxes and spending – then all the great strides we have taken to get good people into good, affordable homes will be for naught. And to Sean and his family I say: we are not going to let that happen.

We CAN change thinking and we CAN effectuate change.

Last year during this address, I reached across county lines and proposed the Long Island Purchasing Council. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano wholeheartedly embraced the idea and both counties have worked feverishly to bring in other municipal partners and combine our purchasing power. Our first competitive bid, for paper, showed impressive results. Suffolk will be saving as much as ten percent on our future paper purchases, while the Village of Lindenhurst will be saving an astounding twenty-seven percent per case.

And the potential for savings is about to get even greater. Now, more than ever, school districts are looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars without impacting educational quality. So tonight, I am pleased to announce that through a landmark partnership with Suffolk BOCES, all of the county’s 69 school districts will have the ability to purchase paper, fuel, natural gas and other common products with the council. We will now be able to go to the marketplace representing extraordinary local buying power – with a combined population larger than 19 states –and attract the best pricing available.

Our efforts to control taxes will be aided by expanding our tax base through economic development. Henry Ford once said, “As business goes, so goes America.” The same holds true for Suffolk. That is why we worked so hard to bring two thousand jobs here with Canon’s North American headquarters, which broke ground in Melville this past year. Another four hundred high quality jobs were brought in through Leviton. And dozens of other high tech firms have created hundreds of jobs along our economic corridors through our efforts.

And we’re not done yet. We need to make it easier to do business on Long Island. We cannot thrive if this island has a reputation as being hostile to business. That is why I convened my Economic Development Consortium last year. We brought together the finest minds in the business, industrial and educational sectors with our Planning and Economic Development Offices. The results have been very promising.

One of the most exciting developments is the Suffolk Unified Permit Portal – SUPP – which will expedite the permit process for businesses and residents alike. Applicants can apply for their permits online. The permit will be a uniform application for each of our ten towns, over 30 villages and for the county itself. Applicants will be able to track their progress in real time. Just as importantly, an applicant will no longer have to go through the town process, which can take over a year, and then and only then begin the county process. This is important because for our businesses, time is money.

The portal also has promising opportunities for homeowners seeking to track their permits for new construction, expansions or even the installation of a new pool.

There is a need for our businesses to have a talented, educated workforce. And there is a need for our young to have high-paying career opportunities that will enable them to take root here. So I established a forward-looking initiative with the presidents of the colleges and universities on Long Island. The leaders of Suffolk Community College, Stony Brook University, Long Island University, Dowling College, Five Towns College, and Farmingdale State College are committed to working with our major companies and develop courses that meet the ever changing needs of our business community. And our local companies have agreed to provide internships to those students with the promise of a job at the successful completion of the program. This is a win for our students, a win for our colleges and a win for our business community.

Nothing is more challenging to today’s families than the cost of a college education. Residents squeezed from every direction by tax increases hardly have a fighting chance to save for a higher education for their children. And by the time their children reach college age, tuition costs are likely to be dramatically higher than they are today. Talk about The Unsustainable Quo. I will therefore be convening a panel to explore having New York State adopt a pre-paid tuition plan for public universities and colleges. These programs, which have been implemented in 17 states, allow parents to lock-in today’s tuition prices by purchasing credits now for their children’s education in the future.

Two major studies over the past year, one from the Long Island Index and another from the Long Island Regional Planning Council, focused growing the economy through transit-orientated developments in downtown areas near railroad stations. When properly situated, workforce housing near transit hubs can bring life to these areas beyond the rush hours, while also bringing patrons to local shops and restaurants.

Our investment in next-generation downtown housing has worked extraordinarily well. Patchogue, which once had a forty percent storefront vacancy rate is now ninety percent occupied. And walk down Main Street in Bay Shore any weekend and you will be amazed by the excitement and the activity. These successes are the result of partnerships the County has developed with our towns and villages.

The good news is that this is just the beginning. We’re working with Brookhaven and Islip towns to develop a transit-oriented hub in Ronkonkoma, one of the busiest railroad stations on the Island.

Perhaps our boldest initiative is in Wyandanch. The eleven million dollar waiver of County sewer connection fees that I initiated will help the Town of Babylon’s revitalization of this hamlet become a reality.

We know that investment in our downtowns works, so let’s not stop with these successes. I am asking the Legislature to join me in a multi-million dollar infrastructure initiative that will support transit-oriented development in other downtowns. We need that housing for our young, we need those jobs for our tradesmen, and we need those vibrant downtowns for our economy.

The federal government bailed out the banks to the tune of 800 billion dollars, but forgot that one clause that would have required banks to actually lend that money to our businesses. But we have not forgotten our businesses in Suffolk, and we have taken the initiative to bring together local banks ready to lend with businesses seeking capital. That is why I recently established by Executive Order, the Small Business Advisory Council, to help grow this important sector of our economy. We are putting entrepreneurs in touch with the financial, marketing and operational resources needed to take their ideas to the next levels and beyond. And most importantly, to allow them to do it right here in Suffolk County.

Our trade labor community has been one of the hardest hit by the national recession. Some building trades are at thirty percent unemployment. In order to provide a catalyst for work in these industries, tonight I am announcing a revamping of our Capital Projects Prioritization Program. This proposal will have a multiplier effect on our economy and will assess our future capital projects with a greater emphasis on job creation for the maximum economic benefit. This is not new money; this is reprioritizing how we spend money already within our capital budget in order to get people working again.

While we are expanding our roads and sewers, we must remain cognizant of the importance of preserving our precious environment. Our beaches, parks, farms and open spaces make this area one of the most desirable places to live, or visit.

I have always said that economic development and environmental preservation are not mutually exclusive. To that end, I recently hosted representatives from the environmental and business communities to sit down and explore opportunities for Preservation Development Partnerships.

Together we will draw out those areas that are critical for environmental preservation and those areas suitable for economic growth and re-development. And we will explore ways the private sector can work with us to protect these vital lands, while redeveloping blighted areas.

While other governmental preservation programs have grinded to a halt, Suffolk remains a vibrant, national model on how to preserve land. At no time in our County’s history have we invested more in saving open space in any one period than in the past seven years.

Seventy six farms have been preserved, as have eight thousand acres of pristine properties that will be forever green for future generations and will protect our water supply.

Suffolk County’s many efforts and initiatives to reduce the emission of harmful greenhouse gases have gained the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now, it’s not always good news to hear you are on an EPA list. But in this instance, I couldn’t be more proud. Suffolk County is on the list of the Top 50 Green Power Purchasers in the nation. And, we are sixth among all governments.  The 117 million kilowatt hours of green power that Suffolk County purchases represents ninety percent of our total electricity consumption.

Our Green Power efforts will continue. Suffolk was the first county in the state to waive the sales tax on the purchase and installation of solar panels. Two years ago, I signed an Executive Order that all new construction of county facilities over 10,000 square feet must generate at least 10-percent of its power usage through solar panels.

Our new Fourth Precinct, which I cut the ribbon on this summer, was constructed with state of the art energy conservation products, including solar panels, and nearly one hundred thousand dollars a year will be saved through the energy efficiencies designed into this building.

Solar has opportunities large and small. This year we will even explore the use of solar to recharge electric golf carts at our parks. And we will install receptacles at our facilities that use solar power to compact trash, saving money by reducing the number of garbage pickups.

We have begun a first-of-its-kind partnership that will turn seven large county-owned parking lots into solar power producing locations. These projects will put people to work locally,  building carports with solar panels on top. The cost to the taxpayer is zero. And the benefits to the taxpayer — which come from the lease payments — and to the environment are substantial.

And I would be remiss if I did not point out that tonight we are being hosted by the first fire department in the state of New York that has constructed solar panels on some of its facilities. Congratulations to the West Sayville-Oakdale Fire District for leading the way.

This year, we will continue to retrofit our buildings for energy conservation, because even though we are leaders in purchasing Green Power, the better alternative is to purchase less power. Promoting conservation and Green Power was a promise I made when I first came into office and I am proud to say that over the past seven years, we have now saved more than ten million dollars in energy costs via these retrofits.

And as a way of further reducing our reliance upon foreign oil from unstable regions of the world, we are working to increase the use of natural gas by installing two county-sponsored Compressed Natural Gas facilities in Suffolk.

Being environmentally friendly also means protecting our residents from toxic materials. My Cancer Prevention Task Force has produced a website and brochure for those who wish to keep their households as toxic-free as possible. Did you know that vinegar or baking soda can be just as good in cleaning household items as are products with ammonia or dangerous compounds? Well, our grandmothers did. Sometimes it’s best to look back in order to move forward.

We are significantly limiting the amount of fertilizers filtering into our waterways. We are providing brochures where fertilizers are sold to advise our residents on least toxic ways of attaining a green lawn. We are also educating landscapers and have outright banned the use of fertilizer during the winter months, in order to prevent Nitrogen and chemicals from running into our waterways. And we have invested over thirty million dollars in preventing storm water runoff from reaching our surface waters.

You can’t come to historic West Sayville without being reminded of the important role our bays and waterways have played in our economy for centuries. Our efforts to restore our once rich shell fishing heritage are continuing to pay off. Suffolk’s investment with The Nature Conservancy has placed 4 million adult clams in the Great South Bay, and the number of baby clams is increasing for the first time in decades. And county efforts to revive scallop populations on the East End with partners like the Town of East Hampton and Cornell Cooperative Extension are showing similar signs of encouragement. With us tonight are William Zeller and Karen Rivera.  Both have built their livelihoods from our waterways. William began as a clammer, working the waters just down the road from here. Today, he runs Captree Clams, the wholesaler that buys product from our baymen and brings shellfish to the marketplace. Karen runs a family-owned aquaculture operation in the Peconic Bay.  Let us all commit to continuing our work to make our bays healthier and our shell fishing industry strong again so that hard-working people like William and Karen can continue their rich tradition of farming the seas.

Our beautiful waterways are just one of the reasons people want to live and stay in Suffolk. Another is that year in and year out, Suffolk County is listed as one of the safest suburban communities in the United States of America.

But we are not resting on our laurels. Last month we graduated 70 new officers from the academy – 15 percent of whom were minorities, because of our intense recruiting efforts. That’s  twice what the usual percentage had been Another class of 70 officers is currently in training, and a third class will begin later this year, giving us a total of two hundred new officers who will be hitting our streets.

Despite our lowered crime rate, we need to continue to combat the rise in gang activity and heroin use, both of which have spread through suburban communities nationwide.

Last year, I set forth a plan of action combining law enforcement, educational expansion, and rehabilitation to combat substance abuse. The newly consolidated Heroin Task Force made an astonishing 1,300 arrests alone last year, an increase of forty-six percent from before the creation of the task force.

More importantly, the dialogue we’ve begun with parents, school districts and the treatment community in order to enhance cooperation, communication, and coordination will continue.

Our Police Department has also addressed the growth of gangs in suburbia. The consolidated gang unit that I established, along with other special operation teams, can be deployed to saturate an area, and it is showing results.

Undercover operations with the FBI and District Attorney have netted dozens of gang and drug kingpins, severely limiting the operations of many of these gangs. The consolidated gang unit garnered 438 arrests last year, a fifty six percent increase over the year before this consolidated unit was established.

We have inundated select communities with these gang and special operations units. We have worked with the community to obtain critical information about hotspots. We have set up police checkpoints and surveillance cameras in various troubled areas. The results have been extremely positive. In 2010, violent crime was cut by ten percent in Brentwood, and by twenty two percent in Central Islip. Huntington Station saw the largest decrease of all — a thirty one percent reduction in violent crime.

We will continue to tackle the influence of gangs head on. Shortly, Suffolk County will be going into court to seek a civil injunction against known gang members within the Wyandanch community. This injunction will give police the ability to disperse gang members who are congregating near schools, in parks and on the streets of our communities – a power that, believe it or not, police currently do not have.

This landmark program is modeled after successful initiatives in California that have been shown to decrease the presence and influence of gangs and lower crime rates.

To make our efforts more successful, I am also seeking a change in the State Penal Code that will for the first time in New York define gang affiliation as a criminal activity. Such a provision does not exist here, and the lack of this vital enforcement tool is exploited by gangs.

Our safety is protected not only by professional law enforcement but by our many brave volunteers in Fire and Ambulance companies across the county. The reason I selected a fire house venue tonight is to show that we are proud in Suffolk County to have what I believe to be the finest and most prepared volunteer services in the United States.

Our Emergency Services volunteers are trained to the highest degree and they have put that training to use time after time. Anyone visiting the emergency bunker in full operation during a snowstorm, or threat of hurricane, will leave with a sense of confidence about how our highly-trained volunteers work seamlessly with governmental agencies and paid first responders.

Just an hour or so after midnight on New Year’s Day, a leaking thirty-thousand gallon propane tank threatened the lives and safety of thousands of Mastic residents.  The bravery of our many volunteers, who put themselves at risk in responding to what could have been an unprecedented disaster, was outstanding.

When I arrived on the scene early that morning, scores of volunteer agencies were already coordinating evacuation, establishing a shelter and providing care and comfort. In total, 80 volunteer units from Suffolk County responded to Mastic throughout New Year’s Day – from Orient to Huntington. Not since the Sunrise Wildfires of 1995 have we seen such a response. Coordinating that effort were Mastic Fire Chief Dwight Blankenship and First Assistant Chief James Mickert, and I ask that you join me in recognizing not only their actions but all of the volunteers who responded that hectic day.

We are proud of our volunteers, and that is why over the last year I successfully lobbied the federal government to restore our SAFER grant, which provides free Suffolk Community College tuition to fire and ambulance volunteers. There is nearly 2.6 million dollars in tuition grants available to Suffolk volunteers and I cannot think of a better way for us to say thank you to those who answer the call, day and night, year-round.

The sacrifice and bravery of all of our volunteers should never be taken for granted. Nor should we ever forget those who served our country in the armed forces. I am proud of the many efforts we have made to work with our veteran community. Job fairs. Affordable housing preferences. Special efforts to connect struggling veterans with the services they need. And this year, we are working with the Long Island Builders Institute to construct homes that can accommodate our disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are establishing an expanded Suffolk County Veteran Savings Card, and will create a listing of businesses that provide discounted goods and services to our well-deserving veterans.

We have also begun work with a national organization known as Dignity Memorial, to bring to Suffolk their program of free burial for veterans who died indigent.   Veterans served our country with honor and our efforts with Dignity Memorial will ensure that no veteran in Suffolk will ever die a forgotten veteran.

I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to remember all of those who have died in service to our country.

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our county is strong because of the dedication of our veterans who have served this country over many decades. The state of our county is strong because of the bravery of our fire and ambulance volunteers.

The state of our county is strong because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector.

The state of our county is strong because of our dedicated public works employees who have kept snow off the roads during a challenging winter. The state of our county is strong because of the professional job done each and every day by our police and sheriffs to keep us one of the safest communities in the nation. The state of our county is strong because of the guidance given each and every day to our children by our teachers.

And the state of our county will remain strong as long as residents have the confidence that their government is looking out for them.

Folks are working hard for a living. Often more than one job. They don’t have time to lobby in the halls of government as special interests do.

And they don’t ask for much. Manage well. Provide our core services. But beyond all else, do not tax us out of our homes.

Too many elected officials far too often forget that very basic principle. But to the people of Suffolk County I say: I hear you.

While I can’t control spending or taxes on other levels of government, I will do all within my power to ensure that we keep your county taxes under control for an eighth consecutive year.

I have had the privilege of growing up in Suffolk County. I want to make sure that the seniors, older than I am, can stay here in their golden years. I want to make sure that the people younger than I am can raise a family, find a great job and experience the American dream right here in Suffolk County.

When some frustrated friend or acquaintance tells you there is no hope for Long Island, that costs and taxes cannot be controlled, or that it’s just not manageable, I ask you to tell them about our story here in Suffolk.

We have shown you CAN clear the snow and run the buses on time and still keep spending and taxes under control. And we will show that you CAN change The Unsustainable Quo.

Because nothing is unmanageable if you have managers willing and able to implement simple common sense, and to make the tough decisions when needed.

Americans have incredible resolve and ingenuity and so do the great people of this great county. And that is why the State of Suffolk County will remain strong for years to come.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.