Leg. Tom Cilmi With The Republican Response To Suffolk County's 2018 State of The County Address

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi

Good evening and thank you for joining us.  I’m Tom Cilmi, leader of the Republican minority caucus of the Suffolk County Legislature.  Before I share with you some of my views on the State of the County, let me begin by first saying Happy Anniversary to my wife Anna…31 years today…love you babe.

I want to also take a moment to thank every one of the thousands of County employees for their hard work day in and day out.  As a result of the County’s fiscal challenges, our employees have had to work harder than ever to do their jobs.  I want each of you to know that your effort is very much appreciated.

On a more somber note, to those whose families have been impacted by addiction, I know I speak for every one of my colleagues in County government as we reach out our hands together and say, we will walk beside you every step of the way as we fight this battle.  Whether it’s strengthening the social host law, improving education, allocating more resources for prevention, treatment and recovery, suing drug companies that irresponsibly promoted the use of opioids, or increasing law enforcement and prosecution efforts for drug dealers, we will leave no stone unturned as we fight to end addiction.  And we will do it together. 

Last, with Memorial Day upon us, let me offer my thoughts and prayers for all those who paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation.  Thank you to our veterans and all those serving in our military, as well as to all those men and women in uniform who protect us here at home day in and day out.

I began this address a moment ago by wishing my wife a Happy Anniversary.  Anna and I have two grown children.  Family is very important to me, as I know it is to you, but I’m watching as our families get torn apart…torn apart by the promise of a better job in another place…where the cost of living is less…where the quality of life is greater.

The County Executive just painted a picture for you that even Picasso would be proud of, but if you’re like me, it felt disconnected from our reality.  Our reality is that we are struggling to make ends meet in one of the highest taxed areas in the country.  Our reality is that we worry about crime, despite the County Executive’s statistics.  Our reality is that for the billions of dollars we have spent on our environment, things just seem to get worse.  Our reality is that piling another fee on top of our already high taxes may mean the difference between buying our kid the birthday present that she really wants, or writing a check to Suffolk County.  Our reality is that we are watching as our kids leave the nest, never to return.  Nobody WANTS to face that reality, but it’s what we are facing, like it or not…and all the flowery language and eloquence in the world will not change it.  Actions speak louder than words, so let’s examine some of the County’s actions over the last few years.

You heard the County Executive speak at length tonight about improving water quality.  Protecting our aquifer and improving the quality of our surface waters is important to our economy and our quality of life.  We wonder then why he took more than $170 million out of our sewer fund and used it for general operating expenses.  That money could have and should have been spent improving the County’s sewer infrastructure.  Instead, he has already set the wheels in motion which could lead to a requirement that homeowners replace their own cesspools with a select few systems which could cost $20 to $30 thousand dollars.  We believe there’s a place for this new technology, but we are not closing the door on much less expensive options and we certainly oppose any mandate which is going to cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

I heard no mention in the County Executive’s address about the multitude of fees he’s imposed on our residents.  There’s the Alarm Fee, the Red Light Camera Fee, the increased vehicle registration fees, the mortgage recording and tax map verification fees.  There’s even a cremation fee which they recently raised.  Did you know that unless you pay the county a registration fee, one false alarm on your burglar system, could cost you more than $100.  Did you know that when you open or close a mortgage or home equity loan, you’ll write a check to Suffolk County for more than $500?  That’s $500 when you open AND $500 when you close the loan.  In fact, the County is currently defending a lawsuit against some of these high fees.  If the County loses this suit, which very well could happen, our taxpayers will be on the hook to pay tens of millions back to those who paid the fees.  Under County Executive Bellone, some fees have increased tremendously…50%...even 100%.  That’s why Republicans have introduced legislation to CAP fee increases to just 2%.

 

Even with all these fees, the County continues to run a budget deficit well in excess of $100 million annually yet, despite our front line workers struggling, the County Executive seems to always make room for another six figure political appointee.

So don’t let his talk of turning the corner fool you.  The fact is the budget that Mr. Bellone presents each year is anything but balanced. It’s filled with phantom revenues and under-estimated expenses.  This year the County will authorize hundreds of millions of dollars of short term borrowing just to make ends meet.  Thanks to mismanagement, our County is more than $2 billion in debt, which translates to annual debt service well in excess of $100 million.  That’s a hundred million dollars that’s not being spent on critical services…like road maintenance, substance abuse prevention and traffic enforcement.  Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”  We agree.

I spoke earlier about the fact that the County is being sued for overcharging residents for a variety of fees.  In fact, our County taxpayers are currently facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.  Every municipality expects to get sued every so often, but imagine getting sued because your chief executive intentionally breached a contract.  I’m speaking about a law suit the County recently lost to a company that installed solar carports at County parking lots.  Despite our contractual obligation, the County Executive decided not to allow the carports in one of the lots specified in the contract.  The County was sued.  Naturally we lost.  We appealed.  We lost again.  We tried to get our insurance company to pay.  They said no.  We sued them.  We lost that suit.  Now we’re appealing that decision.  All total, between the cost of the $10.5 million judgment, legal costs, interest, and lost revenue from the contractor, the taxpayers took it on the chin for nearly $15 million.  The Newsday Editorial headline read, “Suffolk Exec Bellone Bungled Exit from Solar Panel Pact.”  The editorial went on to say, “Suffolk County could have, should have done something – anything – to avoid making the taxpayers pay for the county’s failure to follow the correct process, again.  This is not skillful management.”

The County Executive has a lot of big ideas…stadiums, underground roads with driverless cars, bicycle sharing, bus rapid transit…and big ideas are great, but just like at home you have to fix the toilets and mow the grass, and put some food on the table before you worry about a new boat or a home entertainment center.  The nuts and bolts of this county are rusting away.  The fabric of our families is coming unwound.  It’s frightening to see it happening right before our eyes.

As Republicans, we are fighting against unnecessary borrowing and spending while saying yes to necessary infrastructure improvements. We’re fighting against corruption and against an out of control red light camera program which appears to be more about revenue than it is about safety.  We’re fighting against excessive borrowing which places the financial burdens of today on our children.  We think we should spend what we receive and not a penny more.   And we do not think we should balance our budget on your back with fee upon fee upon fee.  

So far, many of our efforts have suffered a partisan death, but we’re hopeful that we are finally starting to make some progress.  We will not give up.

But the most important part of all of this…is you.  Without your involvement, Suffolk County will continue to move forward, as the County Executive likes to say.  But make no mistake, there is a cliff in front of us, and there isn’t a safety net big enough in the world to save us.  So call your Legislator.  Ask about his or her position on the issues.  Make your position known.  We can turn this around, together.  In the end, as William Shakespeare once said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”  Thank you and God bless you and your family.

 

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