Urging fiscal responsibility
Republican comptroller John Kennedy is challenging Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone for his post in the upcoming elections. Kennedy says his big issue is fiscal responsibility.
“It’s something every elected [official] is supposed to have,” he explained. “In one respect or another, we’re fiduciaries.”
The comptroller noted that before being elected to his current post, he served as a county legislator for 10 years. Now, as county comptroller, Kennedy says his administration has saved the county $56 million.
Kennedy went on to say these savings “pale in comparison” to the losses under the current administration. The comptroller says in order to rectify what he sees as a mismanagement of the county’s finances, every department needs to be examined from the bottom up. He noted that Suffolk County has 25 departments. When he joined the county government in the 1980s, under former county executive Peter Cohalan, there were 26 departments.
Kennedy pointed out the only consolidation to take place in that time was in 2016, when the comptroller’s office and treasurer’s office merged. He says his office has saved $1 million every year since the consolidation.
“Every department needs to be examined from the bottom up,” he said. “We need to implement effective technology and, in some cases, merge [more] departments.”
Kennedy says he’s seriously considering bringing the Parks Department under the Department of Public Works. “[Parks provides] a seasonal function,” Kennedy said. “Yet, we procure equipment and pay separately for human services. It’s unjustified.”
The comptroller says the county also needs to stop an increase in borrowing and establish more reserve funds to improve the bond rating and prepare for a potential recession, which would likely create a decrease in sales tax—the county’s primary income stream, as he describes it.
Kennedy also wants to address contracting out funds. He argues that rather than using its own internal resources (carpenters, electricians, mechanics, etc.), the DPW often uses outside contractors and sometimes, pays double or triple the cost.
“I am absolutely convinced we can save millions of dollars by bringing a lot of those functions back in-house,” he said.
Kennedy doesn’t appear to either support or oppose the Heartland and Island Hills developments in Brentwood and Sayville, respectively. He explained that he still lives in the same three-bedroom ranch that he bought with his wife in 1985. “But people have told me that I need to acknowledge that lifestyles have changed,” the comptroller said. “I do believe there is room for responsible [and] prudent development. I don’t think we should be looking [to] build on every square-inch that we can find, nor am I overly enamored about multi-level housing everywhere.”
Kennedy applauded both the New Village in Patchogue and mayor Paul Pontieri. “The key [in Patchogue] has been sewering,” the comptroller said, adding that he has been a proponent and supporter of the Ronkonkoma Hub.
He stressed that proper sewage treatment is vital for potential development. The comptroller also said he could embrace a regional construction of “municipal [and] conventional” sewage treatment plants.
When asked about crime and the opioid problem, Kennedy said that if elected, he would work in conjunction with the federal government and put additional police details in the areas that are most impacted.
“I am going to examine the police department from the bottom up as well,” he said. “Nobody has done a critical examination of the way we deploy, the way we patrol, or the way we confront and engage.”
The comptroller also says the homeless and mental illness problem, within the county, isn’t being addressed and called for reopening the John J. Foley building, in Yaphank, and establishing a long-term substance treatment facility.
Kennedy lives in Nesconset with his wife, Leslie, who succeeded him as legislator in the 12th district. They have four adult children and seven grandchildren.