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Edward Romaine Suffolk County Legislator
August 27, 2010 @ 12:00 am EDT
This morning our speaker was Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine. His topic was "The Future of County Government". Frankly, I was not sure of what the topic would entail. Ed began by giving an historical look at how our present political structures evolved. In the early days of the County, there was no County Government. The Towns were the centers of local government. Later, the County was governed by a Board of Supervisors, which was comprised of all the Town Supervisors. This all changed after a law suit was launched by William Bianchi, an orchard grower from Bellport. Bill Bianchi’s suit resulted in the formation of our present day County Legislature. Bianchi was subsequently elected to that legislative body. The Executive Branch was also formed, and the first County Executive, H. Lee Denniseon was elected.
Prior to this time there were no County services, and no police department. Police departments were a function of the Towns. Some Towns opted out of the County Police Department, and retained their own police. For example, the Town of Southold still has its own police force.
Legislator Tomaine represents an Eastern Long Island District. The East End has 10% of the Long Island population, but supplies 30% of the tax dollars. This is the same inequity we speak about when we talk about the whole of Long Island providing a disproportionate amount of New York State financing. "We have no reliable source of recurring income ", said Romaine. We do have a property tax, but it contributes just a small fraction of our $2.2billion budget. The bulk of County income comes from sales taxes, which change dramatically with good times and bad. The result has been an endless ‘feast or famine’ roller coaster. "That needs to change if we are to plan in any rational way", per Romaine.
Romaine then proposed that there needs to be a radical change in how we are governed. "We must redefine the mission and purpose of local government." He suggested that we should diminish the role of County Government, and increase the role of Town Government. Ed recognized that the State of Connecticut redefined their government in the opposite direction-they decreased Town Government and increased County authority. He believes that changing government incrementally , or using short-sighted fixes will not solve our financial problems. Leaving County workforce positions open to save money is not the answer. That has a tendency to slow operations down, and the backlogged workload becomes even more expensive later. In addition, major opportunities may be missed.
Mr. Romaine proposed that we convene a conference of non-government people in business and the general public to look at everythingbefore reconstituting the way we are governed. This group should look at how government collects its operating revenue. Ed suggested that organizations such as LIMBA take some leadership in this effort.