Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone withdrew a controversial proposal he was floating to divert money from the quarter-percent sales tax program to help offset the anticipated budget deficit from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution would, for three years, increase the percentage of sales tax that is allocated to the Suffolk County Taxpayers Trust Fund, which is used to stabilize the county’s property taxes. In order to do so, the bill would have decreased the percentage of the quarter-sales tax that is allocated to the Suffolk County Environmental Programs Trust Fund, used to offset the county cost of the acquisition of land for environmental protection purposes.
Last week, the legislature passed a bill that allows residents to vote in November on the transfer of excess funds from the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund, also to help plug the budget hole. But, when they failed to even close the public hearing on the other tax stablization bill, Bellone had called a special legislature meeting for Tuesday to consider the resolution and get it approved in time for the November ballot. He canceled it at the last-minute.
“After hearing directly from our partners in county labor as well as our colleagues in the Legislature, we have come to an agreement to withdraw this resolution in order to focus our efforts on ensuring the passage of the ballot referendum regarding the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund,” Bellone said in a statement late Tuesday.
Legislator Al Krupski, who represents Southold, Riverhead and parts of eastern Brookhaven Town, said as a strong advocate for land preservation, he did not support the proposal and voted against closing the public hearing on two occasions. “I want to thank County Executive Bellone for withdrawing the legislation, it was the right thing to do, even in the context of acute budget issues that need to be addressed,” he said in a statement.
Krupski said his office received hundreds of comments from residents throughout the county asking him to vote against moving the legislation forward. “They understand the importance of open space to our well-being, and of farmland to food security and the economy,” he said.
“Budget issues will come and go, but land preservation is our legacy,” he continued. “Once land Is preserved, it is preserved for future generations.”
Dick Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, came out against the proposal, sparking some choice words from the county executive.
“I am also pleased that several key players within the environmental advocacy community have indicated that they will not jeopardize the approval of this pending ballot measure and instead leave it in the hands of the voters,” Bellone said, though he did not mention Amper by name. “While this resolution would not have any negative impact on the County’s environmental programs, the taxpayer savings that the ASRF referendum will deliver is too great to risk during this unprecedented financial crisis.”