Suffolk Republicans Seek New Ideas to Solve County Problems

Republicans in the Suffolk County Legislature at a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 announcing the GOP task force. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)
Republicans in the Suffolk County Legislature at a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 announcing the GOP task force. Legis. John Kennedy (center) said the task forces will look at the budget and taxation and mental health and substance abuse. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

Heroin overdoses and onerous taxes are the hot topics of two new Suffolk County Republican task forces recently formed by the six GOP legislators who plan to go on the road, so to speak, to solicit ideas from county residents on how to solve them.

Flanked by his fellow Republicans, Legis. John M. Kennedy, Jr. (R-Nesconset), head of the county legislature’s GOP minority caucus, explained during a press conference Tuesday how these task forces—one on the budget and taxation, the other on mental health and substance abuse—reflect his party’s priorities for 2014.

“It’s time to take a look at the way Suffolk County delivers these services and turn it upside down,” Kennedy said. “How can we deliver these services better?”

Legis. Thomas F. Barraga (R-West Islip), who will chair the task force on budget and taxation, said he’s hoping to receive recommendations that will generate new revenues for the county.

“Anybody can come to a public hearing and complain, moan and groan,” Barraga said at the press conference. “I don’t want that. It’s not easy to come in with an innovative idea—something we haven’t heard before, something that’s well thought out, something that makes sense.”

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who will head the task force on mental health and substance abuse, wants to see if the $51 million the county is currently spending on mental health and substance abuse programs could be more effectively allocated.

“It is heart-wrenching to watch our residents succumb to this plague of drug abuse,” Cilmi said. “It is heart-wrenching to hear about residents who have sought help with their substance addiction, particularly heroin, only to be turned away by local facilities whose beds are full.”

Given the county’s budgetary constraints, it is unclear what these task forces will be able to accomplish legislatively, assuming they can get to that point considering that the Democratic majority holds 12 of the 18 seats on the legislature.

“These issues are not partisan issues,” Cilmi insisted. “They’re important to everybody.”

No matter what new ideas are ultimately offered to the task force, these legislators—“all steadfast conservatives,” Kennedy said at the press conference—are sure that the public is already in agreement on one key precondition.

“Folks are hurting,” Kennedy said. “They don’t want to see taxes go up any more—not one dime!”

Both task forces plan to hold public hearings at several venues around the county starting late in the afternoon to make it more convenient for people to come after work and share their ideas.

Budget and taxation will be the topic of the first task force hearing to be held at the West Islip American Legion Post 1738, 340 Union Blvd., on March 13 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. For more information, go to facebook.com/SuffolkRepublicanCaucus.