The New York State Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings Tuesday that effectively kills a referendum to merge the Suffolk County offices of treasurer and comptroller.
The decision by the state’s highest court ends—for now—a controversial proposal by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone that he touted as a cost-cutting maneuver that would have saved the county $1 million annually by eliminating seven jobs, including two elected positions.
The referendum was slated to appear on Election Day ballots Nov. 5 after the Suffolk County Legislature approved the referendum this summer.
But Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, who is running for re-election, quickly filed a lawsuit to stop the referendum after questioning the efficiency of a merged office without employing the proper manpower.
Bellone, in a statement, called the court’s decision “outrageous” because it denied voters the opportunity to decide on the merger themselves.
“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,” Bellone said.
“While the referendum will not be on the ballot,” he added, “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.”
At issue was language in the referendum that was altered after the fact.
“The alteration of this clearly specified goal to a more generally stated goal is an impermissible deviation,” the lower court said in its decision.
The decision was a huge victory for Carpenter, Bellone’s Republican challenger in the 2011 county executive race, who will run for re-election next month and will be able to retain her staff.
Carpenter acknowledged that “it’s been a difficult couple of months,” but said the court’s decision to deny Suffolk’s appeal was “very validating of all of our efforts.”
“I just feel that they talk about the possible savings and it’s bogus, it’s bogus,” she added.
County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, also a Republican, loses twofold as he’s term-limited and would’ve ran the merged office as interim CFO until elections for the post could be held 2014.
Democratic Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner Anita Katz said the board waited for the court’s ruling before printing the ballots.