Suffolk lawmakers brace for finance report

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (Dec. 20, 2011) Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (Dec. 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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A long-awaited report on Suffolk County's finances is scheduled for release Tuesday, and lawmakers are bracing for the worst.

"I hear the numbers are just staggering," said Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset).

"Daunting," is how Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) put it.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's independent budget panel is scheduled to present its findings -- compiled over nearly two months -- at the County Legislature's budget and finance committee meeting. The six-member panel, heavily weighted with New York City and state fiscal experts, worked with budget analysts from Bellone's office and the legislature.

While declining to preview the panel's findings, Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the report will include findings for the last budget year, this year and next year. She said it would "underscore the fiscal issues the county faces."

But several lawmakers and officials said they expect them to be worse than the $150-million deficit legislative budget analysts predicted last year. Cheryl Felice, president of the 6,500-member Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, said she has heard estimates of a deficit equal to the salaries and benefits of anywhere from 300 to 1,500 jobs.

"Our question is, how is government going to function?" she said. "I would hope that the county executive's administration would be mindful of the feelings of its employees right now, and just how frightened they are not knowing what tomorrow will bring."

Bellone, who inherited a budget that funds more than 600 county jobs only through June, has said "everything's on the table" as potential cost-saving measures. He has not ruled out layoffs, or asking labor unions to contribute to their health care.

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