Pushing for economic development and improved water quality
Steve Bellone is running for a third term as Suffolk County executive.
Bellone says he “feels good” about the upcoming election. “We have a strong record over the last eight years dealing with a number of crises, starting with a financial crisis where we had to make some really difficult choices to prevent this county from going into bankruptcy,” he said.
The county executive says he “led by example” in this case. When he was first elected, Bellone decided to cut his own salary, pay into his own health care plan and refuse other services like a county vehicle.
Bellone couldn’t recall his exact salary, but according to reports, he has taken a salary of $187,000 every year since taking office in 2012. As of this year, he is legally entitled to a little over $232,000.
“Between my voluntary health care contributions and giveback of my salary, I have given back to taxpayers about $300,000 personally,” he said.
Bellone says the “key for our region” is to create more high-paying jobs. “We’re a high-cost region,” he said. “So in order for us to retain young people, we need to continue to expand business growth and get new businesses to locate here.”
The county executive noted his economic development plan called Connect Long Island, which he says looks to “[retain] and [attract] young people” and address challenges that prevent these efforts.
The plan, Bellone says, is “about leveraging our assets” and creating innovative jobs within “vibrant downtowns” that are well connected through transportation. “If we can become a region that is competitive for that young talent, then businesses will grow here.”
When asked about his stance on the controversial Heartland and Island Hills developments in Brentwood and Sayville, which is ultimately a town issue, Bellone stressed that the county’s focus is “transit-oriented” development.
“We believe, very strongly, the region is going to reach its economic potential by developing more densely around transportation [hubs],” he said, adding that the move hopes to create communities where young people want to live and cut down on vehicle use.
The county executive plugged Bethpage Ride, a bike-share program that has been implemented in Patchogue and Babylon, and is coming to other downtown communities in the future. Bellone called the program a “good example” of the approach the county is taking.
“We want Suffolk County to be known as a bike-friendly place,” he said. “And we should, with 50,000 acres of parks and open space.”
Water quality has always been a big issue for Bellone and his team. He called his water quality efforts the “most comprehensive” in New York State. “Even nationally, in some respects,” he said, adding that hundreds of millions of dollars have been secured during his administration to improve related infrastructure. The county executive noted the recent sewer funding for Oakdale and installations in Patchogue.
He also mentioned the county’s septic improvement program, which uses county grants to help homeowners replace old septic tanks that leak nitrogen into the groundwater.
“We have to improve water quality,” he said. “We cannot see our water quality decline.”
Bellone is opposed to fusion voting, an arrangement where more than one political party nominates the same candidate.
His campaign manager, Derek Poppe, says he turned down endorsements from other parties. Earlier this year, though, the county executive filed more than 8,000 signatures to qualify for a second ballot line called Protect the Taxpayer.
Bellone refutes his challenger’s claims that Suffolk is on the brink of financial disaster. “[Suffolk County comptroller John Kennedy] is flat wrong on debt,” he said, adding that his opponent has opposed numerous cost-cutting measures that his team proposed since taking office.
When asked to reflect back on the last eight years, Bellone stated: “It’s difficult to change large organizations. There’s a desire to protect the status quo. But the truth of the matter is, if we want to make this place better, more livable, more attractive to young people and to families, if we want to bring down costs and create more high-paying jobs, we have to change. You can’t do business as usual.”
Bellone previously served as Babylon Town supervisor. He currently lives in West Babylon with his wife, Tracy, and their three children, Katherine Ann, Mollie Elizabeth and Michael Jack.