In his annual State of the County address, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) touted recent initiatives while also keeping an eye on both the near and distant future. The executive spoke for more than an hour from the auditorium stage at Newfield High School in Selden in front of a crowd of county, town and village lawmakers, students and others.
“I can tell you that the state of Suffolk County — this amazing place that we all call home — is strong,” Bellone said. “I remain committed to making Suffolk County a model for effective and efficient government, a government that is as good as the people it is there to represent. We can build a stronger economic future, we can protect our water quality, we can transform this government, and we can do big things in Suffolk County and on Long Island if we do them together.”
Though he admitted the state of the county government, “remains a work in progress,” Bellone called on both political parties to look past the issues that divide them and remember the things that unite Americans. He honored the four Suffolk County native airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing, based out of Westhampton, who died as a result of a helicopter crash while carrying out a mission in Iraq in March, including Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso and Port Jefferson Station resident Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs.
“These are the individuals that make our country great,” Bellone said.
The executive spent a large chunk of his speech on public safety and the work of the Suffolk County Police Department, specifically a decreasing rate of opioid related overdoses and violent crime and reported that last year 222 arrests were made in connection with the violent gang MS-13.
While discussing public safety, Bellone detailed the recently implemented SHARE initiative. The program — Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry — allows participating school districts to connect closed circuit security camera systems directly to SCPD, who can access surveillance footage in real time in the event of active shooter situations on school campuses.
He gave a nod to the students locally and across the country organizing marches and walkouts to protest for stricter gun control laws in the wake of more high-casualty school shooting incidents around the U.S.
“It has been inspiring to see young people speak out on issues, organize rallies, run for school board and demand more of their elected officials,” he said. “Your voices will be heard.”
The county executive made numerous references to the state of government and politics in Washington D.C., specifically in making a pledge that he and his colleagues “will not rest” until the State and Local Tax deduction, which was repealed as part of the federal tax overhaul bill passed in 2017, were restored. The elimination of the deduction stands to cost residents in high-property tax areas — like Suffolk County — thousands of dollars more than previous years.
Bellone stressed the importance of economic development through downtown revitalization projects — like upper Port Jefferson’s “Uptown Funk” plan — and streamlining public transportation around these hubs as a means to foster an environment in which young people can afford to live in Suffolk County going forward through the creation of quality jobs.
“We spend a lot of money educating our kids here,” the county executive said. “Too many of them have left for other parts of the country, where they are helping to power their regional economies. We have to stop that.”
Bellone called water quality a critical issue for all Suffolk County residents. The county has made funding available for septic system improvements for homeowners, which would help reduce the amount of nitrogen polluting Long Island’s waterways. He also recently implemented a recycling program for six county school districts.