Suffolk County voters will decide this fall whether to merge the elected offices of treasurer and comptroller, even though a planned referendum to do the same thing was nixed in a lawsuit last year.
The county legislature voted 12-6 to pass the resolution granting the new referendum at their meeting Tuesday. Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) crossed party lines to vote for the plan with the Democratic majority and their minor-party allies.
“It’s the power to the people,” said Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai), who introduced the bill with Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) last month. “This will allow them to make that decision.”
If voters approve the referendum on Election Day, a Department of Audit and Control to be headed by the comptroller will assume the treasurer’s responsibilities in 2018, when the term for the current treasurer expires.
The elimination of the county treasurer, chief deputy county treasurer, and deputy county treasurer could save $585,000 in ‘18 and $707,000 in ’19, but could cost the county in financial control and accountability, said Robert Lipp, who heads the office of legislative budget review.
“There could be other issues that would be problematic to savings,” Lipp said, “those being the possibility of impact on controls—it’s beyond our ability to determine if there would be an impact there—and the fact there is a shortage of staffing to begin with.”
The legislature approved a plan to hold referendum to merge the two offices last year when County Executive Steve Bellone first proposed the measure. Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican who lost to Bellone, a Democrat, in the 2011 county executive elections, filed a lawsuit to stop the referendum. A Suffolk judge ruled in favor of Carpenter—a ruling that was upheld on appeal.
“The treasurer is not sitting there doing nothing,” Carpenter said. “To think that, without the treasurer or the deputies, the kinds of things that we do could be done isn’t going to happen.”
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he supports the referendum but criticized the merger itself.
“I’m not necessarily 100-percent convinced, but I don’t believe that my personal opinion should obstruct the voters,” he said.
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) remained unconvinced, saying that she believes the treasurer and the comptroller should continue to be independently elected.
“What’s the potential for corruption?” she said. “Absolutely the potential is there with only one set of eyes.”