Suffolk County is facing a budget deficit that could reach $530 million or more by next year. From the perspective of many who live on the far eastern end of Long Island this doesn’t seem to matter a fig. That is not really true, of course. The county will find new ways to pass its problems along to taxpayers no matter where they live or what services they receive. That the massive money crisis does not appear to register with more people here can be read as an indication of just how distant many feel from the county centers of power. The feeling is apparently mutual; Steve Bellone, during his successful run for county executive, never officially made it east of Sag Harbor, as far as we know.
To be fair, although Suffolk government is no great presence in most people’s lives here, it is often behind the scenes. Local criminals are housed in the county lockup, and the district attorney weighs in on occasion. Now and again a county dredge clears harbor inlets. The Suffolk Health Department is said to keep an eye on places where the public gets food. There is a county health clinic in East Hampton. The county also does mosquito spraying, keeps property records, and oversees new septic systems. And, of course, there are the county parks at Cedar Point and Montauk. It’s something, but not as much as is provided in the western Suffolk towns, which do not have their own police forces and are covered by the county department.
South Fork politicians, and East Hampton Town officials in particular, have long complained that we have never gotten back in services what our residents give the county in property and sales taxes and fees. Once upon a time, many people here dreamed of a breakaway Peconic County. And last fall, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle introduced bills in Albany that, in part, called for a study of the feasibility of the five East End towns going it alone.
As Suffolk grapples with a budget nightmare that the East End had very little part in creating, could the time for Peconic County be now?