By Jerry Kremer
There are all kinds of events that take place over an anticipated period of time. Locusts are usually on the way every seven years. The Cicada bug makes an appearance every 17 years. Halley’s Comet is said to flash through the skies every 86 years. And just about once every ten years a group of true believers will call for the creation of Peconic County.
The Peconic County dream envisions that the five eastern Long Island towns of Riverhead, Southold, East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island will officially secede from Suffolk County and plant their new flag on East End soil. The last attempt to establish Peconic County was in the form of 2011 legislation introduced in Albany. It called for a constitutional amendment to set up a procedure to create Peconic County.
Secession is not new to the people of New York State. In the mid-1990s, the residents of Staten Island spoke out forcefully for the need to break away from New York City and have an independent Richmond County. The leaders of the secession movement were many of the respected state and local elected officials of Staten Island who fought unsuccessfully to get state approval for their breakaway borough.
Could the East End towns secede from the rest of Long Island and could it be a successful experiment in modern government? Would the residents of those five towns be better off being fully independent from Suffolk County? Over the past fifty years there has been a periodic cry by East Enders that they are frequently neglected in favor of the more populous western towns. Often the cry of angst follows some major storm when residents complain about unplowed streets, delays in restoration of power and rising school taxes.
There is no doubt that the East End of Long Island is distinctly different than the rest of Suffolk County. It is more agricultural in nature, less densely populated, and in some areas, there are enormous pockets of great wealth. Overall, the average East Ender tends to think of themselves as a breed apart from the western residents. But redoing the structure of government is more than just an idea; it is a challenge of enormous proportions.
Could a Peconic County manage its own resources, finances and administration better than a county seat in Hauppauge? Independence sounds great and sexy, but its costs require a deep rethink of our municipal government priorities. A new county needs new plans for the governance of its regions. Schools, sewers, water resources, police protection, firefighting, health, transportation, highways and pension systems are critical parts of how government operates.
All of these functions have a cost, and they require a tax structure that can support it. At the same time, existing services have to be supported to make sure that they do not fall down or cause the functions of government to deteriorate. How do we transition from the existing Suffolk County structure to a new county without creating a municipal train wreck? What do we do with existing pension debts? How much of the debt of Suffolk County would belong to the newly created East End community?
There is no doubt that the critics of government who live in Suffolk County harbor different views about how effective their local government is and how it can be made to work better. But government is not just a word in the dictionary. It is a complex gem with thousands of facets that all have to be polished by hard work, competent and honest leadership, forward-looking planning and intelligent fiscal policies.
No doubt in the next few years Peconic County will again become a subject of fierce debate among people grasping for new ideas. But reality has to control the direction of the discussion, and reality dictates that secession is not a vision, but a pipedream. •
About Jerry Kremer:
Arthur “Jerry” Kremer is the founder and Chairman of Empire Government Strategies. A 23-year veteran of the New York State Assembly, he was the only Long Island legislator to ever head the prestigious Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Kremer is a longtime homeowner and summer resident in the Hamptons.