The Suffolk County Legislature tabled a resolution Tuesday that proposed providing village and town police departments in the county funding based on the percentage of county population they cover.
The 10-8 vote to table followed a lengthy discussion on the merits of providing what supporters such as East End Legis. Ed Romaine, R-Center Moriches, and Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, see as equitable distribution of funds versus concerns over the county's fiscal health.
"Folks, we're broke," said Presiding Officer Bill Lindsey, D-Holbrook, who voted to table. "When are you going to realize that?"
Romaine and Schneiderman, who sponsored the bill along with Legis. Jon Cooper, D-Lloyd Harbor, argued that because the majority of funding for the Suffolk County Police Department comes from sales tax revenue, the special police districts should be entitled to their fair share.
Schneiderman said that those departments — which collectively comprise 11 percent of the county's population — saw 7 percent of the sales tax revenue back last year.
"We don't have equity," Schneiderman said. "Why? It's completely arbitrary. Because that’s what's been done through the years. This bill is attempting to end that inequity."
The five East End towns — Riverhead, Southold, Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island — along with 14 other villages throughout the county voted more than 50 years ago not to join the Suffolk County Police District and maintain their local police forces. In 1998, the county started using sales tax revenue to fund the county police department.
Schneiderman called the formula created in 1998 "confusing," adding that compliance has been "uneven."
The County Budget Review Office said the proposal would cost the county anywhere from $634,000 to $4.2 million next year if police services remain on par.
The proposed bill would provide the Suffolk County Police District anywhere from one-quarter to three-eighths of all sales tax revenue generated in the county. The difference between $634,000 and $4.2 million, said BRO Director Gail Vizzini, accounts for the disparity between how much it could cost the county in the future if the districts receive one-quarter or three-eighths.
One sticking point was the fact that special police districts receive special services — such as homicide, helicopter, arson, etc. — from Suffolk County Police.
According to the BRO, however, funds for special services are taken from the county's general fund, while the sales tax revenue funding patrols comes from a separate 'headquarters fund.' Schneiderman's legislation would equalize sales tax revenue placed into the headquarters fund.
Schneiderman said he believes he has enough votes to pass the bill eventually. However a few colleagues he believes would approve the bill voted to table on Tuesday since they didn't think it had enough support, Schneiderman said.
"The timing may be better in the future," he said.