Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who announced last week he would run for Suffolk County comptroller in November, said the opportunity to “represent the county I’ve spent my entire life in” was simply too big to pass up, despite what he says are financial difficulties lurking around the corner.
“This is an unprecedented time in the history of Suffolk County,” he said. “Our finances are in critical condition and Suffolk County residents need a comptroller who will help get the county back to fiscal health.”
Schneiderman said his experience as the chief financial officer of two towns and his 12 years in the county legislature, which included a stint as deputy presiding officer, would allow him to be “an independent voice and vigilant fiscal watchdog for the taxpayers of Suffolk.”
He said the county is borrowing nearly $500 million a year in future revenues to get through the current fiscal year, a practice he called unsustainable. Schneiderman promised to help the county establish a structurally balanced budget and said he would participate in regular meetings of the county’s Audit Committee and work to find ways to save taxpayer dollars.
“We are not going to be able to fix this overnight. It could take 10 years,” he said of correcting the county’s spending woes. “But you can’t keep borrowing against future tax revenues.”
Schneiderman said when he was in the legislature, “we weren’t perfect,” but lawmakers were at least willing to confront budget issues and made some hard decisions, including layoffs and selling county property.
If his bid to unseat Republican John M. Kennedy Jr. falls short, Schneiderman said he would complete the year remaining on his term as town supervisor and would entertain running for a third term as the town’s top elected official.
There has been speculation for months that Schneiderman, who changed his party affiliation to the Democratic Party from the Independence Party late last year, would seek county office. His decision has been supported by his Democratic colleagues on the board.
“Jay is a qualified public servant and he would excel in the position of comptroller,” said Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. “He understands municipalities and he understands municipal finance. It would be the county’s gain and the town’s loss.”
“I wish him all the best,” said Councilwoman Julie Lofstad. “He’s a smart guy and he cares a lot about the people he represents.”
“He brings a lot to the table,” added Councilman John Bouvier. “He’s has a lot of talent and we’ll miss him if he prevails.”
Councilwoman Christine Scalera, the sole Republican on the board, did not see it quite the same way. She criticized Schneiderman for considering county office so soon after his election and Councilman Schiavoni, a schoolteacher who is retiring this year, for not telling voters he would not be fully available to do his job until the school year ends.
“Given past performance, I can’t say I’m surprised,” she said, “but I can say it’s a little sad when, in retrospect, you see that at least two-thirds of his ticket in the last election was less than transparent and forthcoming with Southampton voters.”