Suffolk Comptroller, Treasurer Merger Bill Seen as Ploy

Suffolk merger referendum
Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, left, and County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, right.
Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, left, and County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, right.

Critics blasted a proposal to merge the offices of the Suffolk County comptroller and treasurer as a political ploy while supporters contend it will save taxpayer money, should voters decide the issue.

Treasurer Angie Carpenter and some lawmakers questioned whether the bill is designed to allow Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, who’s term limited, to run for another 12 years under a new title and oust Carpenter, the former Republican rival to County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat.

“This is not a merger, this is a hostile takeover,” Carpenter told the legislature Monday at a public hearing. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The comments came at a special meeting of the panel that is expected to decide July 30 whether voters in a November referendum should weigh consolidating the two elected posts into a new office of the chief financial officer.

“Sooner or later, with taxpayers wanting leaner and meaner government, this is going to happen,” said Sawicki, a Republican who acknowledged his prior opposition to the same idea in 2006. “The world has economically changed in the last five years. We have to rethink everything.”

If approved, Sawicki would lead the new, consolidated office starting in January and would be eligible to run for the post in the 2014 elections.

The majority of speakers—including town-level elected officials, bankers and members of the public—voice opposition to the proposal, although a handful of supporters also spoke.

“This timing appears politicized and politics and finance are very poor bed fellows,” said Lisa Scott, president of Suffolk County League of Women Voters, adding that the group supports government consolidation, but has doubts about this proposal.

“It’s not about politics and it’s not about personalities,” said Huntington-based attorney Paul Sabatino, a former council to the legislature hired by Sawicki. He noted that the comptroller is paying him out of campaign funds and not public money.

Republican lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled legislature also balked that an amended version of the bill was submitted less than an hour before the public hearing, which left little time for anyone to digest the changes.

Legis. Rick Montano (D-Central Islip) pointed out that since the district attorney, sheriff and clerk sued to overturn the term limits—a ruling that is pending appeal—only the comptroller, treasurer and legislators remain term limited.

So is the county executive. But now the Comptroller Sawicki may have a chance to run for an office equivalent to his current title.

“If this bill is past and the referendum passes, then [Sawicki’s] able to maintain his current functions beyond the 12-year period that the public voted for,” Montano said while referring to the referendum a decade ago that created term limits. “We have effectively taken the public’s vote and thrown it in the garbage can.”