State court blocks merger of Suffolk County Comptroller, Treasurer

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county's fiscal situation.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

New York state’s highest court has blocked a Suffolk County ballot referendum to combine the county’s Comptroller and Treasurer offices, upholding lower courts’ rulings that the county improperly added an amendment to the referendum.

The county’s plan would have consolidated the offices of the Treasurer, Republican Angie Carpenter, and current comptroller Joseph Sawicki. While Mr. Sawicki — a Republican from Southold — and Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone praised the merger as a way to cut costs and trim down government, noting that Suffolk County is the only county in the state with both a Comptroller and Treasurer.

But Ms. Carpenter and others had argued the merger was politically motivated as a way to force her out of office and allow Mr. Sawicki to continue to serve past his term limit. Ms. Carpenter ran against Mr. Bellone for his seat in 2011.

The County Legislature had approved the referendum in July, which would have been voted on this November. But last month, a New York Supreme Court judge threw out the measure, saying the county improperly altered the language of the referendum. The original referendum stated the move would save the county $1 million, while the changed version instead claimed the merger was “for the purposes of streamlining and improving government efficiency.”

The court ruled that the change altered the previously stated intent referendum. The county appealed the ruling, but a state appellate court denied the claim. On Monday, the New York Court of Appeals upheld that lower court ruling, refusing to hear the appeal.

Mr. Bellone slammed the ruling, calling the court’s decision “outrageous.”

“A supermajority of the Suffolk County Legislature voted to put the referendum on the ballot and the opponents of reform know that an overwhelming majority of voters support it,” he said. “While the referendum will not be on the ballot, the issue is alive this November because voters can choose between legislative candidates who support improving efficiency and those who want to maintain the status quo.”

[email protected]