Suffolk voters may be divided when it comes to which political party’s candidates they align with, but they nearly spoke with a single voice on Tuesday in rejecting a ballot proposal to change the length of county legislators’ terms. By a nearly two-thirds majority, a plan to double the time between consecutive elections, from two years to four years, was decisively rejected.
The message in the proposition’s defeat is clear: Voters want to keep county legislators coming around and listening to community concerns more rather than less. The Suffolk government seems remote to much of the population. Had the terms been extended to four years, that sense of distance would have only widened.
On a second ballot measure, voters were mixed. Part of this might have stemmed from uncertainty about what was being proposed — raiding money in a dedicated environmental lockbox to paper over budget problems elsewhere in county government. This passed, though not by as much as the term change was beaten back.
County Executive Steve Bellone should not take the vote regarding the money as a sign that voters supported or even understood what they were voting for. The language of Proposition 2 was outrageously misleading, calling a voter-approved 2014 court settlement “excess funds” and allowing the county to weasel out of an obligation to pay back $154 million to its own Drinking Water Protection Program. Our guess is that the vote was little more than a coin-flip, with people filling in the yes or no bubbles more or less on impulse.
Mr. Bellone’s willingness to rob water quality funding to cover general budget shortfalls should not go unnoticed. While he and other county officials pat themselves on the back with one hand for unproven environmental programs, such as a septic-upgrade mandate, they are pulling a fast one on the public’s trust with the other.