Two matters for voters to decide in the form of propositions are included on the Nov. 3 ballots for most Suffolk residents. (Riverhead voters will see a third proposition.) The first would lengthen the term of office for county legislators. The second would allow the county to avoid repaying money it borrowed from a sewer-tax reserve fund. We recommend “no” votes on both propositions. Here is why:
If two-year terms are good enough for members of the United States House of Representatives, they are good enough for the Suffolk legislators. For many people on the East End, county government seems remote and this region an afterthought to its leadership. Legislators seeking re-election every two years have to go out and connect with voters relatively frequently. Giving them four-year terms, and they could well all but disappear entirely. With the vast bulk of legislative sessions and other county meetings held in Hauppauge, interests east of the Shinnecock Canal get much less attention than they deserve. Holding legislators to two-year terms is one of the few avenues of getting their attention and should not be changed.
About the money — and this may sound a little familiar in East Hampton Town — successive county executives took a total of $183 million away from a drinking water program created by voters in 1987 by an 87 percent majority to paper over current budget problems. Some of that money has been repaid, but the debt still stands at more than $150 million. But now, the county wants to grab an additional $15 million from the same water fund to help with its current budget problems.
In a court settlement that was approved by voters in a 2014 ballot measure, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone agreed to repaying the fund through 2029; now he wants to undo it. No way should voters allow the county to go back on a deal it agreed to only a few years earlier. By the way, the money comes from a quarter-percent sales tax that was authorized in the 1987 landslide vote with the express purpose of assuring a safe water supply for generations to come, which means all of us have been paying into the fund for a very long time. The Long Island Pine Barrens Society and the South Fork chapter of the Surfrider Foundation oppose Proposition 2. Both described the measure as a “raid.”
This is important on the East End. With the prospect of new sewer districts in Montauk and East Hampton Village, the fund could come into play, spreading the tax burden more equitably and protecting individual taxpayers. Local governments already have gone big on water protection, mandating low-nitrogen wastewater systems in most new construction and controlling road runoff with wide public support. Money set aside for clean water should under no circumstances be drained away for other purposes.
Thinking back, East Hampton Town’s scandal involving moving money from the community preservation fund to close budget gaps resulted in the resignation of the town supervisor and the arrest of a subordinate. There is no way that East Hampton voters in particular should sanction a similar shell game, especially one weakening a program the purpose of which is protecting drinking water.