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Schneiderman on county exec’s budget bringing increased revenue to East End police: ‘Steve Bellone kept his promise’

Lisa Finn
Southold Local

North Fork and Riverhead police departments will get a larger share of the pie next year under Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed budget, which allocated $1 million in sales tax revenue sharing to the East End’s men and women in blue under a three-year deal struck last year.
Bellone announced his recommended budget of $2.917 billion for fiscal 2016 last week, and the plan increases revenue sharing with the East End police departments by 13 percent.
For years, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman worked for a more equitable distribution of sales tax revenue for the East End. The East End traditionally did not get its fair share of the revenue, but in 2014, Bellone worked with Schneiderman and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski to seal an agreement that would send $3 million from 2015 to 2017 into the coffers of each of the East End police departments.
2016 marks year two of that agreement.
“Revenue sharing is about fairness and all residents can be assured that public safety dollars are being fairly disbursed to all local police departments,” Bellone said. “And I will keep my commitment in next year’s budget to continue to treat the East End fairly, as well.”
In 2014, Southold police received a payment of $885,473. In 2015, the town received $1,019, 873, and the budget for 2016 allocates $1,154,273, a 13 percent increase. Riverhead police received $1,178,655 in 2014, $1,357,555 in 2015, and are slated to garner $1, 536,455 in 2016, also a 13 percent increase.
The East End towns, which operate and fund their own police departments using local property taxes, were supposed to receive a fair allocation of revenues from an increase in the county sales tax rate set aside by state law to fund public safety, Schneiderman has said. But the state law authorizing the sale tax rate hike did not distinguish between the county police department and the East End town departments — or the many village police departments throughout the county. It simply said, “dedicated for public safety purposes.”
Initially, the sales tax revenues were distributed on a per-capita basis, with the towns and villages getting more than 10 percent of the “public safety” sales tax revenues. But since 1998, distribution of the sales tax revenues has been anything but fair, Schneiderman argued for years, with the county police department getting a disproportionate share of the revenues. And in recent years, the disparity grew worse, he says, sinking to 7 percent in County Executive Bellone’s 2014 budget. In contrast, the population of the towns and villages that maintain their own police departments represents 10.97 percent of the county’s total population.
Over the years the five East End towns have collectively been shortchanged nearly $57.4 million, Schneiderman calculated — some $18.5 million since 2005 — because until the deal was struck, the county did not distribute public safety sales tax revenues to the East End towns on a per-capita basis. In 2014 alone, Riverhead Town should have gotten nearly half a million dollars more in public safety sales tax revenue than it received, according to Schneiderman; Southold should have seen almost $386,000 more than it got, he said.
Schneiderman voted against the 2014 budget because of the sales tax inequity issue, he said. The legislator actually sued the county over the issue in 2008. He was joined in the suit by then-First District legislator Ed Romaine. He and Romaine soon agreed to drop the suit, however, in a deal struck with the late presiding officer, Bill Lindsay
Last year, Schneiderman introduced a bill to amend the county charter to require adopted budgets to contain fair share payments to municipalities beginning in 2015. It would also require the county to use one-quarter of the 1 percent sales tax for public safety and mandates that the money be used only for police services.
Due to the new agreement, the East End police departments will now receive approximately $7 million in 2016.
Schneiderman said yesterday that the percentage of sales tax allocated for non-county police has “long been unfairly biased. County Executive Steve Bellone recognized the past unfairness of the sales tax distribution for police services.”
Schneiderman said Bellone has shown leadership by addressing the inequity. “Steve Bellone kept his promise,” he said. “We’re two years into a three-year deal and he honored his commitment and the result is an additional $1 million in the 2016 budget for our police.”
This week, Krupski reflected on reaching the revenue-sharing agreement last year. “A lot of concerns I got from my colleagues were, ‘Where does the extra money come from?’ It’s not extra money, This is revenue sharing.”
Krupski said the problem began when a previous county executive came up with a set amount that wasn’t changed. Working with Bellone and Schneiderman, the agreement was reached so that each East End town’s police would receive the $1 million each year for three years.
“On the one hand, this is really good, for last year and the next two years,” Krupski said. “On the other hand, it’s not forever. We still need to hammer out a long-term formula so this doesn’t have to be negotiated every few years. This is a work in progress, trying to find a balance between the East End, with its own police departments, and the western legislators…trying to find that spot where everyone’s comfortable.”