Proposal 2, which would allow Suffolk County to tap into a sewer stabilization fund to combat the economic effect of the COVID-19 shutdown, was close to passing during the election this week.
The proposal, which environmental groups including the Long Island Pine Barrens Society indicated they would likely challenge in court, would allow the county to use sales tax revenue from a drinking water protection program. It would also changing an agreement to repay close to $30 million borrowed from the sewer stabilization fund, while using another $15 million from the fund.
During a call with reporters Wednesday, the day after Election Day Nov. 3, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the measure would provide financial support for first responders, emergency services workers, and fire and rescue workers.
“I want to thank the people of Suffolk County for passing this common sense measure,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. The proposal will “protect taxpayers, first responders and essential workers during a pandemic.”
Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the proposal was about 30,000 votes ahead with about 170,000 absentee ballots still uncounted.
Trotta called the proposal an “affront to the taxpayer,” and that the money was “supposed to be put in a lockbox.” Trotta, as has become customary between the two electeds, also questioned Bellone’s management of the county’s finances before the pandemic.
Trotta alleged Bellone was using the clean water fund to pay for “unaffordable contracts.”
The Suffolk County legislator said that if the Pine Barrens Society didn’t file a lawsuit against the use of these funds to rebuild the county’s finances then he would find a wealthy benefactor for a lawsuit.
Separately, Bellone urged court and election reform during his call.
“We had this perverse situation where voters had to wait in line for hours at a time to exercise their fundamental right to vote, only to find when they were finally handed their ballot” that many court races had been “pre-decided,” Bellone said.
Bellone urged court reform and a process to professionalize the elections.
Amid an upswing in COVID-19 cases around the country, Suffolk County, which was once at the epicenter of the deadly virus, has been experiencing an increase in cases as well. Last week, the county averaged a 1.5 percent positive test rate, while the number of people hospitalized with the virus that has caused the pandemic has climbed to the 40’s. Bellone said the county hadn’t been below the one percent level since Oct. 21st.
“The fact that they are ticking up is a concern within the context of where we are with the cold weather, with winter approaching,” Bellone said. “These numbers are a concern. We remain focused on that, keeping people healthy, keeping these numbers down, and enabling an economic recovery to continue. We can not afford to slide back.”
Bellone said the county has experienced a few clusters of cases. One was at a Southampton polling site and the other was a gathering of people at Shoreham-Wading River schools, which led the high school to go to an all-remote learning model for several weeks.
At this point, Shoreham Wading River High School is closed for in person learning through Nov. 11.