In the race for Suffolk County legislator, Jay Schneiderman of Montauk, who is seeking his sixth — and what would be his final — two-year term, is facing Chris Nuzzi, a two-term Southampton councilman who has been campaigning on the theme that Mr. Schneiderman is part of an entrenched problem with a county government that can’t balance its budget.
During an interview on Friday with members of The East Hampton Star’s editorial staff, Mr. Nuzzi returned to his theme that Suffolk County is relying on one-shot revenue gimmicks to plug a $180 million deficit in its projected $2.75 billion budget for 2014. Included among those measures is a plan to sell the Lee Dennison County Center in Hauppauge for $70 million and lease it back for 20 years.
“I don’t see that as a way to manage budgets,” Mr. Nuzzi said.
What makes this different than most campaigns in which there are sharp lines of demarcation between the candidates is that Mr. Schneiderman, a former two-term East Hampton Town supervisor, who said he was proud of not raising property taxes while in public office, pretty much agrees with his opponent.
“You can’t run government on one-shot deals,” he said. “It’s like paying your mortgage with garage sales. Sooner or later you run out of furniture.”
Mr. Schneiderman said the problem facing the county is that since the recession took hold in 2008, it has seen sales tax revenue, which funds the lion’s share of its budget, fall off precipitously, while it has had to increase services to a growing population that was feeling the pinch and take on the burden of unfunded mandates to the tune of $300 million.
In response, the county, he said, has slashed its payroll by 20 percent, mostly by attrition and simply not filling vacant positions.
Mr. Schneiderman said the county has aggressively sought new revenue sources, including red-light cameras mounted on stoplights in western Suffolk, that are expected to eventually bring in as much as $30 million annually in fines, and video lottery terminals that are projected to generate up to $20 million a year.
Mr. Nuzzi dismissed those efforts as “new ways to tax people and call them fees.” He said that with only 9 percent of the county’s population, the East End accounts for 38 percent of its assessed property value and a similar percentage of its sales tax revenues. “We don’t get back what we put in,” he said.
Mr. Nuzzi said that the county’s fiscal problems have meant that funds earmarked for land purchases and drinking water protection have been diverted to other uses.
That’s misleading, countered Mr. Schneiderman, who said that while it’s true the county is strapped, it did borrow $300 million for land purchases and is using current income to pay debt service on those bonds.
Mr. Schneiderman said he has been an effective legislator for the Second District, which includes all of East Hampton and Southampton towns. He touted a $20 million widening of County Road 39 in Southampton, the planned repaving of Long Lane in East Hampton, the installation of a long awaited sidewalk on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, improvements to the eastern campus of Suffolk Community College, including plans for a new swimming pool, dredging of East Hampton harbors, and the extension of Sunday bus service, as among his accomplishments in the Legislature.
“I’m not sure we’re really getting ripped off,” he said.
Mr. Nuzzi countered that many of the projects Mr. Schneiderman has touted were simply “the county fulfilling its obligations,” adding that the county was too slow in responding to the need to widen County Road 39.
He also chastised Mr. Schneiderman for voting for a measure that allowed legislators to refuse pay hikes but then accepting his own cost-of-living increase.
Mr. Schneiderman also poked at his opponent, asking Mr. Nuzzi why he refused to vote to hold a public hearing in Southampton on a measure that would prohibit members of political committees from serving on regulatory boards such as the planning board or zoning board of appeals, where nearly 40 percent of the board members are Republican committee members. Mr. Nuzzi responded that he did not believe that political party affiliation should prohibit anyone from serving in such a capacity.
Before entering politics, Mr. Schneiderman, who has a degree in chemistry from Ithaca College, a master’s degree in education from the State University of New York, and an educational administrative degree from C.W. Post College, was a school teacher. He is also a part owner of the Breakers Motel in Montauk. He is divorced and has two children, Magdalena, 14, and Ruben, 10.
Mr. Nuzzi, who grew up in East Hampton and graduated from East Hampton High School, has a psychology degree from the State University of New York at Albany and a master’s degree in public policy from Stony Brook University. He is in the title insurance business. He now lives in Westhampton Beach with his wife, Sandy, and four sons, C.J., Joseph, John, and Anthony.