County executive Steve Bellone offered his view of a thriving Suffolk County during his State of the County address last week. Improvements include a new 311 data management call system to relieve 911 calls, a charitable donation fund to combat tax cuts and efforts to tackle the opioid and drug epidemic.
Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone touted the successes of the past few years in his eighth State of the County address at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood on April 17. The speech was given to an audience of local officials and community leaders and was broadcast live.
Bellone said the county is on the “slow march” to recovery, as he pointed out the ways his administration aimed to reel in county finances, which were in disarray when he took office in 2012, including a mounting $500 million in debt. As recently as this year, the county executive submitted new legislation to establish multiyear budgeting, a debt management plan, and reduce circumstances for short-term borrowing. He added that the county’s debt service payments are decreasing.
“This administration’s steadfast determination to make the difficult decisions in partnership with like-minded legislators has delivered significant results,” Bellone said.
Bellone also spoke about his efforts to reform government and make it more efficient. The shared services plan the county has been pursuing has collected over 100 municipalities as members since its inception. He added that processes countywide have been under scrutiny to make them cost- and time-effective.
“We make decisions based on not what is most convenient, but what is right,” Bellone said.
The county executive also announced that Suffolk County would become the first suburban county in New York to utilize a 311 data management system. The 311 program began as a nonemergency line for law enforcement and in the early 2000s was utilized for the first time as a route to municipal services. Former mayor Michael Bloomberg brought the practice to New York City, which reformed many practices of their government. Another goal is to reduce nonemergency calls to 911. Bellone said the system will be active in 30 days.
Bellone also talked about the capping of SALT tax placed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. He has been a vocal opponent, along with other high tax state officials, saying it unfairly targets Long Island residents. This tax day was the first under the new law, and taxpayers are seeing larger-than-normal bills due to the changes.
“For too many Long Island families this year, this was a day unlike any other,” Bellone said, adding that he would challenge an IRS ruling that challenged the county’s plan to mitigate the damage. “We will not take this without a fight.”
The county plan is to set up a charitable gift fund that provides tax credits to those who make a voluntary contribution. It complies with a state law passed last year and is the first county-sponsored version of the plan. Bellone has been collecting signatures for an online petition and plans to take them down to Washington to support the effort to repeal the cap.
Bellone highlighted the efforts of his colleagues, district attorney Tim Sini, police commissioner Geraldine Hart, and police chief Stuart Cameron, in reducing crime and tackling issues like MS-13 and the opioid epidemic. Crime is down to “historic lows,” according to data from the county. Sini has made strides to combat human trafficking, including being more sympathetic to victims and infiltrating the organizations that prey on them.
“MS-13 is on the run in this county,” Bellone said.
Since 2016, there have been 500 arrests of 300 affiliates. The police department has also been targeting vulnerable youth to prevent them from entering the recruitment pipeline. On the opioid front, Bellone reported that narcotic drug warrants are up 300 percent since 2015, but law enforcement is not enough to address the issue. The county has invested in prevention and treatment methods, and Bellone said for the first time in years, deaths have decreased related to overdose.
In schools, Bellone said 95 percent of Suffolk districts have signed on to the RAVE panic program, which connects buildings to law enforcement through buttons. The text-to-tip line, started last year, also gives residents a chance to report suspicious activity to law enforcement anonymously.
“Just as no young person should ever fear for their safety in school, neither should anyone attending a house of worship,” Bellone said, referencing recent shootings that have prompted increased police presence and collaboration to make communities safer.
Bellone also highlighted the new sewer program coming to Mastic and Shirley, which is the biggest investment the county has seen in sewers in half a century. The county executive also promoted renewable energy, saying there is new opportunity for economic growth and job creation by bringing the industry to Long Island.
“Suffolk County can serve as the epicenter of the renewable wind industry in the 21st century,” he said.
Bellone concluded his speech by reiterating the successes the administration has seen, while encouraging people to work together to build on what has been done already.