Suffolk County Executive Bellone Presents 2017 State Of The County Address

Implement Governor Cuomo’s Shared Services Initiative by Promoting Inter-Municipal Cooperation with Local Municipalities.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Photo by: Suffolk County

Suffolk County, NY - May 18, 2017 - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today presented his sixth State of the County Address that outlined an ambitious set of proposals to reinvent government, strengthen ethics and public integrity, and continue to make historic strides in combatting the water quality crisis on Long Island.  While crime in the County remains at historic lows, the County Executive reiterated his commitment to strengthen public safety, which includes an expansion of anti-gang prevention programs and supporting state and local efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
“In order to meet today’s challenges, we need to re-think and reinvent government, to make it more efficient and cost-effective, and ultimately create a leaner operational structure,” said County Executive Bellone. “Whether it is championing the most aggressive water quality program across the State or strengthening public integrity, we will tackle the important issues head on to do what is right by those who elected us to serve.”
County Executive spoke before hundreds of attendees – including County, Town, and Village officials – at the Brentwood Campus of Suffolk County Community College on the need for greater collaboration and thinking of new ways to approach regional challenges.
Since the Great Recession, the County has made significant progress in its recovery.  The current unemployment rate remains at a ten year low and down nearly 50 percent since the recession.  Vacancy rates for office and industrial space for the first quarter of this year are the lowest they have been in five years.  The median home price in Suffolk County has increased by more than 12% since 2011, with home sales surging by a whopping 160% since March 2012.
At the same time, the County, like many municipalities across the State, is forced to operate within new fiscal realities.  Even after the County Executive slashed a $500 million deficit that he inherited from the previous administration, reduced the workforce by more than one thousand positions, and shifted health centers to the private sector, the County faces new challenges it must confront.
Governor’s Shared Services Initiative
A major cornerstone of the County Executive’s effort to reinvent government is helping local governments – including the County, towns, villages, and school districts – increase collaboration and streamline services.  While many have already been working together to reduce costs over the years through various inter-municipal programs and projects, the Governor’s Shared Services Initiative would take that ad hoc approach and convert it into a comprehensive plan to deliver services more efficiently and less costly to taxpayers.
The County Executive has directed his Administration to begin mapping all of the shared services projects that our local governments have initiated over the past several years.  In addition, members of the County Executive’s administration have already begun reaching out to the ten town supervisors, 33 mayors and 69 school districts across Suffolk County to invite them to participate in this historic effort and solicit their ideas for shared service opportunities.
There will also be financial incentives for plans to achieve real cost savings.  For example, if costs were reduced by three percent through inter-municipal cooperation, local governments would collectively save approximately $384 million.  The State would also match the savings that were to be achieved.
SuffolkSTAT: Utilizing Performance Measurement
Suffolk County is the 24th largest County out of more than 3,000 counties in the country. Thus, it is essential to have the performance measurement tools that can properly analyze data and evaluate the effectiveness of all aspects of County operations.   In 2015, County Executive Bellone announced the creation of SuffolkSTAT as part of his government reform agenda. The first phase of the program was completed in 2016 and this year the rollout will expand to become a tool used across the County to measure key performance indicators and more carefully manage County resources.
Combatting Blight
The Suffolk County Landbank will continue to eliminate blight by renovating zombie homes into new housing opportunities for first time homebuyers by leveraging over $2.6 million in grant funding from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.  Over the next two years, the Landbank Corporation will partner with Town Supervisor Ed Romaine and the Town of Brookhaven to expand its efforts by focusing attention on North Bellport – a community hard-hit by the mortgage crisis that currently has over 100 homes in foreclosure.  The Landbank is also collaborating with United Way of Long Island to transform zombie homes into net zero energy homes with innovative alternative septic and leaching systems.
Revitalization and Economic Development
County Executive Bellone believes that only by expanding job opportunities and creating vibrant downtowns will Suffolk County be able to attract and retain young talent and grow our tax base.  The Ronkonkoma Hub project is the type of collaborative approach that includes town officials, community residents and innovative developers all working together to rebuild a once blighted area surrounding the Ronkonkoma train station.  These local investments have paid dividends and leveraged $50 million in infrastructure funding through New York State.
National Model for Integrity
Whether elected or otherwise, those who serve in public office should be held to the highest ethical standards.  The County Executive recently signed sweeping ethics legislation into law – sponsored by County Legislator Bridget Fleming – that clearly states that financial disclosure statements cannot be withheld from the public upon submission of a FOIL request.  However, there is more work to do to restore the public trust and establish clearer lines of accountability and authority on matters related to ethics and corruption.
The County Executive is committed to implementing a series of changes that will help make Suffolk County government a national model for efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity.  To that end, the County Executive has directed top to bottom examination of the County Charter.  As part of this process, the County will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify a partner with expertise in government reform and ethics.  This will be a collaborative effort as the Administration will work closely with its partners in the legislature, seek outside input from county residents, business leaders and community stakeholders to develop a series of recommendations with the goal of putting the final recommendations before the voters next year.
Ending the Water Quality Crisis on Long Island
Nearly four years ago, County Executive Bellone declared a water quality crisis on Long Island.  In order to address the issue that has manifested itself over decades, the County Executive launched the “Reclaim Our Water” initiative – a multi-faceted effort that will begin to reverse the decades of nitrogen pollution while also creating local jobs and new industries.  This includes connecting parcels to sewers where it is practical and economically viable, and using new individual active treatment systems in situations where connecting to sewers is not feasible.
The County Legislature recently voted to authorize the Reclaim Our Water: Septic Improvement Program, a pilot that will provide grants of up to $11,000 using funds from the County’s Drinking Water Protection Program, which will effectively cut the cost of purchasing the systems by more than half.  Residents who opt to participate will be able to finance the remaining cost of the systems, up to $10,000 over 15 years, at a low fixed interest rate.  Altogether, the grant and loan program could eliminate the initial out-of-pocket cost of a system costing nearly $18,000 to less than $650 per year, or $54 per month.  The program sets an initial goal of replacing 200 systems per year over the first two years of the program.
The County has also begun design work for sewering other projects. These include the industrial area surrounding MacArthur Airport and an extension of a sewer main to Sayville.  Design work is also underway on the four projects that make up the Suffolk County Coastal Resiliency Initiative, which will use $388 million dollars from post-Superstorm Sandy resiliency funding to connect nearly 10,000 parcels along the Carlls, Connetquot, Patchogue, and Forge Rivers to active treatment.
Strengthening Public Safety Measures
While violent crime is at historic lows, there is more work to be done to protect Suffolk County residents. As the Suffolk County Police Department continues to work closely with its partners in federal and state law enforcement to eradicate MS-13, the County Executive understands that we must do everything we can to undermine this violent gang’s ability to recruit the most vulnerable into their criminal organization. As such, the County will continue to expand its CHANGE program in Brentwood, which has already had initial success in Wyandanch and North Bellport, which focuses on early intervention strategies to prevent young people from joining gangs in the first place.
The County will also continue to support efforts in combatting the opioid crisis.  The Administration will continue to create and support programs that prevent substance abuse and increase opportunity and access for individuals suffering from addiction to enroll in OASIS certified treatment programs, so that they can begin their journey to recovery.  At the same time, the Administration will support the efforts of the Suffolk County Police Department that has led to arrests of drug dealers that peddle this poison on our streets.  Last year, the Suffolk County Police Department launched the Long Island Heroin Task Force in partnership with the Nassau County Police Department.  To date, this has resulted in the first ever manslaughter charge against a drug dealer who sold drugs leading to an overdose, and the dismantling of a major drug organization selling drugs along the 110 Corridor.