By Victoria Espinoza
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he hopes to continue his work addressing the county’s top issues, including affordable living, financial issues and wastewater management. But in order to do that, he first has to get past Republican challenger Jim O’Connor.
O’Connor (R), a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Maroney O’Connor LLP, said he was hoping to unseat Bellone and get a handle of the county’s finances, which he argued are currently in bad shape.
“We are in massive amounts of debt,” O’Connor said. “Our taxes are a significant problem.”
Bellone said that he inherited a $500 million deficit when he arrived to his position in 2012, and during his short time in office he said he has been able to resolve a “legacy of issues” left to him — including minimizing that deficit.
O’Connor also said one of the issues looming over the next several years is the county’s handling of negotiations with police salary contracts.
“They are back-loaded contracts,” O’Connor said. “The real impact of these contracts won’t be felt until 2017 and 2018.”
O’Connor said he does not know how the county will pay for those salaries, and proposed to freeze them if he is elected.
“One of the things we can control is our labor costs,” O’Connor said.
Since his election, one of the examples Bellone heralded as evidence that he was working to streamline government efficiency and cut spending was his proposal — approved by public referendum last year — to merge the offices of the county comptroller and treasurer to cut costs. Bellone said it should save more than $1 million annually. He also said he has reduced the government by more than 1,100 positions.
Bellone said he is focused on shoring up the county’s water quality in his re-election bid.
“Unless we reverse the decades of decline that we’ve seen in our water quality, we are mortgaging our future,” Bellone said of why improving the county’s wastewater management is so crucial. Bellone celebrated SepticSmart Week over the summer, when he encouraged residents to stay informed on how to properly maintain their septic systems.
Both candidates discussed how they planned to fully utilize the county’s resources and make living in Suffolk more affordable.
To get there, Bellone said he wants to better utilize Stony Brook University, because “as Stony Brook University goes, so goes Suffolk County.” He said one the challenges and opportunities residents in the area have is enacting initiatives that better link Stony Brook University with other North Shore assets like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
O’Connor said he and Bellone have a fundamental difference on how to go about dealing with affordable living in Suffolk County.
“I don’t agree that the way to do this is more [government] programs,” O’Connor said. “The way to do this and stimulate more economic growth is by turning things around and making sure Suffolk isn’t the second-most expensive place to do business and live in the United States. The only way to do that is by reducing the costs.”