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01/02/13 11:23am
01/02/2013 11:23 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The trailer for homeless sex offenders on the Suffolk County jail property in Riverside.

County Executive Steve Bellone is urging Suffolk County Police Department officials to come up with a comprehensive plan to better protect residents from registered sex offenders.

No matter what the plan is, it must end the county’s policy of housing homeless sex offenders in trailers on the East End, Mr. Bellone said Wednesday.

The county currently provides overnight housing for homeless sex offenders who receive Department of Social Services assistance in two construction trailers, one in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside and one on county police property in Westhampton.

Both are located in Southampton Town.

The trailers, which the county initially said would move to different locations, have remained in Southampton Town since 2007.

“We will develop the most stringent monitoring and enforcement program in the nation,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release about a larger plan to better protect the public from sex offenders living in Suffolk County.

Mr. Bellone has vowed to end the county’s current policy regarding homeless sex offenders within the first year of his administration but missed his January 1 deadline to close the trailers.

Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said although he’s “disappointed” Mr. Bellone failed to keep his promise, he’s “encouraged” about his new approach.

“I think those who are affected are losing patience, but hopefully not losing hope,” said of his Riverside and Westhampton constituents.

The Legislature approved last year a plan to create a “mini shelter” in each town that would provide 24 hour housing to no more than six sex offenders at a time. The program’s design would only allow housing for up to 36 homeless sex offenders, which Mr. Bellone’s spokesman Jon Schneider said the county executive has “concerns” about.

Since the county is currently responsible to provide housing for over 40 sex offenders, Mr. Schneider said the law would already have to be amended to either allow more than six sex offenders in a shelter or place more than one shelter in a town.

Mr. Schneiderman, whose district includes both homeless sex offender locations, agreed the mini-shelter plan is problematic but said he believes it’s the best way to “share the burden.”

On Tuesday, former County Executive Steve Levy criticized Mr. Schneiderman on Twitter saying, “Leg. Schneiderman says can’t move east end sex offenders on his own, but he blocked voucher plan that would have had them moved 2 years ago.”

Mr. Schneiderman described Mr. Levy’s comment as “inaccurate” and “phony” since he and former North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine cast the only “yes” votes for the voucher program.

Mr. Schneiderman said he voted in favor of the voucher program, which involves providing homeless sex offenders $90 a night to stay in a motel, even though he didn’t like it because he believed it was a better plan than the current trailer policy.

“He could have implemented the plan on his own as county executive if he wanted to, but instead he brought it to the Legislature when he knew it would fail, overwhelming” Mr. Schneiderman said.

When asked if the police department is taking another look at a voucher program in addition to de-clustering homeless sex offenders housing on the East End, Mr. Schneider said “everything is on the table.”

“The only thing not on the table is maintaining the trailer policy, which the county executive firmly believes is a burden on East End communities,” he said.

Mr. Schneider said the police department will work with other local agencies, advocacy organizations and mental health experts to determine how to strengthen the county’s overall approach in dealing with over 1,000 sex offenders.

He stressed there has been “far too much focus” on how to deal with the four percent that are homeless and believes the new direction of the discussion is needed in order to come up with ways to track and monitor the majority of county sex offenders.

The new plan is expected to be submitted to the Legislature later this month. County officials said the earliest the plan could be voted is at the Legislature’s Feb. 5 meeting.

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03/05/12 9:36pm
03/05/2012 9:36 PM

JOHN GRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | Steve Levy went on the offensive Monday night, one day before a Suffolk County task force is expected to announce its findings regarding county finances.

Fifteen hours before a task force formed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is expected to announce its findings regarding county finances, his predecessor had the first word.

Former County Executive Steve Levy released a six-page memo titled “The Real Story Behind the 2012 Suffolk County Budget” to members of the media Monday evening.

In the report he compares Suffolk to other New York Counties, while defending his own record as County Executive. He says in the memo that the County’s credit rating was only downgraded after the Suffolk County Legislature made amendments to his 2012 budget.

“It was only AFTER the legislature radically changed the executive budget in November that the agencies downgraded the rating in December,” Mr. Levy wrote. “They were especially critical of the legislature having raided the tax stabilization fund as a one-shot revenue, and having restored the nursing home and hundreds of employees without properly paying for the them. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY THAT THE SUFFOLK LEGISLATURE ADOPTED A SIX-MONTH, RATHER THAN A FULL YEAR, BUDGET.”

Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay said in a press release that he’s looking forward to Tuesday’s 10 a.m. presentation, which will be made before the Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee.

“We know the news is going to be bad, but we finally have a County Executive who is willing to work with the County Legislature to solve Suffolk’s extraordinary financial problems,” Mr. Lindsay said.

The Riverhead News-Review will report live from the announcement, so be sure to check back at 10 a.m.

Read Mr. Levy’s complete memorandum below:

Memorandum Suffolk Budget 2012

10/11/11 9:00pm
10/11/2011 9:00 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County envisions turning the North Fork Preserve in Northville into Suffolk's last great county park.

The Suffolk County Legislature approved a measure Tuesday night to purchase the 300-acre North Fork Preserve property in Northville.

Legislator Ed Romaine, who represents the North Fork, described the North Fork Preserve property as “Suffolk County’s last great park” and said the county plans to turn it into a camping spot.

“Today was a good day for the North Fork,” Mr. Romaine said outside the meeting, which took place in Riverhead.

“This will be another great staycation destination for our residents.”

About 120 acres will remain in its natural state for passive recreation, such as hiking.

The $18.3 million deal includes $500,000 from Riverhead Town, which agreed to contribute funding so long as trap and skeet shooting and all-terrain vehicles are not permitted in the park.

Third District Legislator Kate Browning sought to table Mr. Romaine’s bill in order to find out the feasibility of relocating the county’s trap and skeet shooting range in Yaphank out of her district.

“I would like not to see a trap and skeet range at the North Fork Preserve, but I would like to keep it as a viable option until we finalize a plan for another location,” she said, before later voting in favor of preserving the land.

Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay, who opposed the bill, said he wanted to table the legislation until after the next year’s budget is finalized.

“I think this is inappropriate because we’ve notified a bunch of people that they are going to be laid off,” he said. “I just think it sends a horrible message to our employees.”

The bill passed 14-3, with Mr. Lindsay, Ricardo Montano and Jack Eddington opposing. Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher was absent from the meeting.

County Executive Steve Levy is expected to approve the acquisition, which will be paid for through the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

Mr. Romaine said the next step is to secure funding to build the park.

“We saved it,” he said. “The county executive is going to sign it into law and we’re going to have to wait until we have the money to build this park, but we will build it.”

In addition to preserving the property in Riverhead, the Legislature approved planning steps to acquire the 17.7-acre Starkie Farm property in Southold.

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10/05/11 3:00pm
10/05/2011 3:00 PM
Mark Lesko, Steve Bellone, Scott Russell

COURTESY PHOTO | A group of Suffolk County town supervisors gathered this week to blast County Executive Steve Levy for a bill that would shift payment of out-of-county tuition tax to the towns.

Both North Fork town supervisors blasted Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy this week for shifting the out-of-county state community college tuition tax over to the towns in his 2012 preliminary budget.

The statewide tax is charged for all students who attend New York community colleges outside their home counties and is paid to the county where the student is enrolled. To date, the tax for Suffolk students has been paid by the county.

During a press conference in Hauppauge, members of the Suffolk County Supervisors Association criticized Mr. Levy for giving them no warning about the change, which would collectively add more than $10 million to town budgets across the county.

Based on data gathered between Sept. 1, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2011, county comptroller and North Fork native Joe Sawicki said the out-of-county tuition tax for 30 affected students from Riverhead would cost the town $141,130. Southold Town would pay $85,300 to educate similar students.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday that Mr. Levy’s office first reached out to him about the change on Sept. 30 — the same week local supervisors presented their preliminarily spending plans.

“At the 11th hour, [Mr. Levy] handed us a bill,” Mr. Russell said, describing the move as “passing the buck” over to the towns.

Mr. Russell said he and other town supervisors believe the county should remain responsible for the out-of-county tuition tax because towns “have no seat at the table” with state community colleges’ decisions.

Dan Aug, a spokesman for Mr. Levy, said in a statement that he believed the tax should be handled on a town-by-town basis, since some towns have a larger percentage of students attending state community colleges outside their home county.

“We believe that state law should be changed so that no local taxpayers have to subsidize the tuition of a student who freely decides to go to an out-of-county community college and we invite town supervisors to join us in lobbying Albany,” Mr. Aug said.

Mr. Aug, who described the move as a “more equitable system,” noted that Nassau County has been using the town-by-town system since 2004.

But Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter described Mr. Levy’s justification as a “stupid argument,” since Nassau towns receive more sales tax revenue than Suffolk towns.

Mr. Walter said Riverhead Town generates $25 million to $30 million in sales tax revenue, but only received about $1 million of it back from the county.

“This is another unfunded mandate rolling downhill,” Mr. Walter said of the out-of-county tuition tax.

The Legislature has until Nov. 9 — the day after Election Day — to come up with a final budget.

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09/27/11 2:00pm
09/27/2011 2:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Presiding Officer William Lindsay, left, said Tuesday County Executive Steve Levy's budget is shorty by nearly $124 million.

Ten days after Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy presented his 2012 preliminary budget, some county lawmakers said on Tuesday they believe it’s off balance by more than $124 million.

During a press conference in Hauppauge, Presiding Officer William Lindsay said the Legislature’s bipartisan budget working group has found Mr. Levy’s spending plan has a revenue shortfall of about $90 million and an expenditure shortfall of nearly $35 million.

“If he’s right and we’re wrong, then we’ll be very, very happy,” Mr. Lindsay said, adding that Mr. Levy’s budget overestimates sales tax revenue by $30 million. “Our analysis just doesn’t show that it’s there in this tough economy.”

Mr. Lindsay, along with fellow Democrats Vivian Viloria-Fisher, Ricardo Montano, Wayne Horsley, DuWayne Gregory and Independent Jay Schneiderman, said while “everything is on the table” as they proceed with finding a solution to balance next year’s spending plan, raising property taxes won’t be a realistic move because the new mandated 2 percent tax cap would only generate about $1 million.

Mr. Lindsay also said a preliminary analysis of Mr. Levy’s budget shows it doesn’t include $5 million in unemployment insurance for the 700 county worker layoffs proposed in Mr. Levy’s spending plan. Mr. Lindsay added that he believed that if those layoffs were to move forward, then the county won’t be able to plow snow from county roads and health clinics would be severely cut next year.

After the press conference, county Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, a Southold resident, described Mr. Levy’s projections for next year as “unreasonable.”

“I agree with the working group that Mr. Levy left a bomb for the Legislature to work with,” Mr. Sawicki said. “It’s a horrific budget and full of revenue gaps.”

The Legislature has until November 9 — the day after Election Day — to come up with a budget. Mr. Levy needs 12 out of 18 votes from the Legislature in order for his budget to gain approval.

“We’re way beyond cutting the fat,” Ms. Viloria-Fisher said about tackling next year’s budget. “We’re now cutting into bone marrow.”

First District Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said in a telephone interview that he disagrees with Mr. Levy’s method of determining the layoffs.

“Mr. Levy made cuts across the board, which means there was no priority,” Mr. Romaine said. “I believe we need to maintain core county services, such as Social Services and Public Works.”

Mr. Romaine said he’s meeting with his fellow GOP legislators this week to discuss the preliminary budget and will ask them to consider consolidating some county services with other townships.

“I believe we need to rethink how we deliver county services,” he said. “We’re facing the worst budget crisis the county has seen in a long time.”

Mr. Levy blasted back at the Legislature Tuesday saying his past projections have always been conservative and “more accurate than the Legislature’s.”

“For eight years, I have balanced the budget and held the line on taxes while legislators have made the same claim,” he said in a statement. “Mr. Lindsay is cagily crafting an excuse so they can raise taxes as a buffer for a new county executive and claim they had no choice. This is a balanced budget that doesn’t rely on speculative revenue from the state and actually implements layoffs if union concessions don’t materialize.”

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09/26/11 6:00pm
09/26/2011 6:00 PM

Members of the Suffolk County Legislature said Monday that County Executive Steve Levy’s proposed budget for 2012 is $130 million out of balance, according to a press release from presiding officer Bill Lindsay’s office.

Mr. Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said he will be joined by other members of the Legislature at a press conference Tuesday to discuss Mr. Levy’s budget proposal.

“A preliminary examination of County Executive Steve Levy’s budget reveals that it is more than $130 million out of balance,” the announcement states. “[The spending plan] has gaping holes in revenues, greatly underestimates many expenditures and eliminates or severely reduces key county services.”

“The County Executive has abdicated his legal responsibility to present a balanced budget and instead has left that basic responsibility up to the County Legislature,” the release continues.

Check back Tuesday for coverage of the press conference and reaction from the County Executive.

09/22/11 12:36am
09/22/2011 12:36 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy blasted back over charges by environmentalist Richard Amper that the county illegally raided the drinking water protection fund.

Environmentalists are charging county lawmakers “illegally raided” funds slated for open space preservation and drinking water protection programs to balance next year’s budget without getting voter approval in the form of a mandatory referendum.

But in defending the move, County Executive Steve Levy called charges by Pine Barrens Society head Richard Amper “outrageous lies.”

During a press conference Thursday at the steps of the Suffolk County Legislature’s offices — where he was joined by other environmentalists — Mr. Amper announced the groups are suing the county over its actions. The bill, approved by the Legislature in August and endorsed by Mr. Levy, allows Suffolk to draw 37.5 percent of surpluses over $140 million from the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program for non-preservation purposes.

That money would be taken from a budget line for sewer tax rate stabilization to help plug the county’s $150 million overall budget gap. Other budget lines include land acquisition and water quality and land stewardship.

Mr. Amper said the county’s move was illegal because the program, created in 1987 to safeguard drinking water by purchasing land and preventing development, can only be altered or repealed through the adoption of a Charter law that’s subject to a mandatory referendum.

“Voters have approved hundreds of millions of dollars to protect their drinking water and Suffolk government raided it,” Mr. Amper said during his press event. “We want it back.”

But Mr. Levy said both the county attorney and the counsel to the Legislature agreed that a mandatory referendum was not required. In addition, Mr. Levy, who described Mr. Amper as a “gadfly” who doesn’t represent all environmentalists, said the bill was coauthored by environmental groups Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment and The Nature Conservancy. The executive had said the Group for the East End backed the bill, but later said that was in error.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, later said the organization believes the public should be given the chance to vote on the change.

County officials said the bill includes applying 62.5 percent of the surplus over $140 million to sewer capital projects, including septic tank upgrades near impaired bodies of water.

The rest could go toward helping to balance the budget.

During his own press conference in Hauppauge on Wednesday, Mr. Levy refuted Mr. Amper’s claims, calling them “outrageous lies.”

“The ultimate irony here is that Mr. Amper claims that this law that we are passing is going to hurt the environment [but] it is doing the exact opposite,” Mr. Levy said. “It’s his opposition to this bill that will hurt the environment because it will stop us from funding improvements to septic systems and sewer districts through out Suffolk County.”

Mr. Levy said the public vote clause in the water quality law is “not enforceable” because the state is the only entity that can mandate a referendum.

In addition, Mr. Levy cited a recent court decision when Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term limits were challenged.

“It has been upheld time and time again that a law that was passed by referendum in the first instance does not need a mandatory referendum in the second instance to make tweaks or changes, which is what we’re doing here,” Mr. Levy said.

Ms. Esposito said that while she’s in favor of using some of the sewer tax stabilization monies to fund sewer infrastructure, she believes the public should have ultimately made the decision to use a percentage of it to help fill the budget gap.

“I wasn’t aware this wasn’t going up for a referendum,” she said. “If the Legislature and the county executive wish to do this, they must put it up for a referendum and Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment would oppose it.”

Kevin McDonald of The Nature Conservancy wasn’t immediately available to clarify his group’s position on the bill.

Jennifer Juengst of the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, another litigant in the case against the county, said Thursday that “voters have been defrauded” through the government’s actions.

“We urged voters to support the Drinking Water Protection Program most recently in a 2007 referendum, so it’s our responsibility to prevent elected officials from committing voter fraud by ripping taxpayers off,” Ms. Juengst said.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 15 in state Supreme Court in Riverhead.

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09/06/11 4:40pm
09/06/2011 4:40 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | County legislators Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine took a ceremonial bus ride on the S92 July 3, the day the service began.

Despite calls to extend Sunday bus service on the East End beyond the summer, a spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the service will likely stop next weekend and not continue until July 2012.

Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca sent a letter to Mr. Levy on Aug. 26 urging him to consider continuing Sunday service on the S-92 and 10-C bus routes.

Mr. DeLuca wrote in his letter that statistics he received from county Legislator Jay Schneiderman indicate the service has been a success.

Mr. DeLuca wrote that 3,400 riders took advantage of the new service in its first seven weeks, and the increased ridership brought in $6,500 in revenue to the county between July 3 and Aug. 7.

“Clearly this service expansion has met a demonstrated need and continues to offer a substantial revenue-generating public benefit to the service areas where it exists,” Mr. DeLuca wrote. “Increased Sunday ridership has also reduced traffic on our roadways and harmful auto emissions in our atmosphere.”

In exchange for the added service this summer, the county increased the fare on just the S92 and 10C lines from $1.50 to $2. The S92 line runs from Orient Point around the island to East Hampton and the 10C runs from East Hampton to Montauk.

Bill Faulk, an aide to county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), said Tuesday that the legislator joined the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association, which also sent a letter to the county executive, in advocating for an extension of the Sunday service.

“The ball is in the administration’s court, since the resolution authorized the pilot program subject to available appropriations,” Mr. Faulk wrote in an e-mail. “With the higher fare being charged since June and running until the end of the year, halting the bus service would actually create a surplus.”

But Mr. Faulk said legislation needed to extend the service couldn’t be approved for another month, “rendering it moot.”

Levy spokesperson Dan Aug wrote in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon that the Sunday bus program will continue next summer and future plans for service extension will likely only occur after that time.

Mr. Aug said the County Executive has said all along that he would only support East End Sunday bus service if it paid for itself, which was not the case this summer. He said the fare increase on the two lines generated about $50,000 in revenue, but the service cost the county about $70,000 to operate this year.

Mr. Aug said that if East End legislators wanted the program to last more than 10 weeks they should have crafted legislation that provided a more permanent service plan.

The County Legislature approved the measure for East End Sunday bus service by a 16-1 vote on March 22 and Mr. Levy signed the two-year pilot program into law on April 8, following a survey of bus riders showing overwhelming support for the idea.

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