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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Counties still honing this year’s budgets — 8 months into year

If you blinked, you might have missed it. But both Nassau and Suffolk counties announced budget-saving measures last week, eight months into the current budget year.

For Nassau, there was some arm-twisting involved.

The county last week submitted a new list of measures to stanch the flow of red ink after being forced to do so by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

And by the way, why is the 16-year-old state control board still considered “interim” when so many county executives, through so many administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have not succeeded in shutting it down?

NIFA goes away when the county balances its budget.

Which means more than a decade and a half of failure.

But I digress.

NIFA bounced Nassau’s initial plan because it included specious cost-cutting actions, including trimming Nassau’s snow removal budget — before winter starts.

The snow job wasn’t included this time around, not after the latest NIFA chairman, Adam Barsky, threatened to withhold necessary authority approval on borrowing and other requests from County Executive Edward Mangano unless Nassau got real.

And the county did, with a plan to reduce this year’s projected $130 million deficit by $50 million, with cuts in gasoline and utilities and unanticipated savings in police termination and other costs. Which NIFA said is fine. For now.

“We want to keep putting on pressure to keep them moving in the right direction,” Barsky said Friday — a direction that would have Nassau continuing to hammer away until its deficit is under $80 million, the magic number that would bring NIFA’s control period to an end.

Meanwhile, off to the east in Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone last week said he was going to begin aggressively cutting the 2016 budget, too.

Eight months into the budget year for a county that:

Declared a fiscal state of emergency in 2012. And 2013. And 2014. And 2015. And 2016.

And also has budget deficits projected right through to 2017.

As of last week, purchases over $250 must be approved by the county’s budget office — which sounds like something until you consider the meager amount appropriated for supplies in Suffolk’s more than $1 billion budget.

And then there’s the edict that the balance of the year’s budgets for equipment, supplies and maintenance and other expenses be cut by 25 percent to 30 percent. Couldn’t that have been done in January, which would have produced seven months more of cost savings for a county in a state of fiscal emergency?

Compared with Nassau’s, Suffolk’s anticipated 2016 deficit of $78 million looks small. But it would take a property tax increase significantly — and we do mean significantly — higher than the state-imposed 2 percent cap to fill the hole.

Which isn’t going to happen.

Nassau has Barsky pushing elected officials to come up with specifics to hammer away at the deficit. There’s no state control board overseeing Suffolk, but the county charter dictated that Bellone — as he began to do last week — specify to lawmakers his plans to cut costs and increase revenue.

Both counties already are looking ahead to 2017. Perhaps that’s the year the job of eliminating red ink can begin on Day 1.

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