Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday announced a $3.88 billion budget for 2022 that would keep county property taxes flat for the average homeowner while adding hundreds of jobs to the county workforce, including for 220 new police officers, officials said.
The plan forecasts a surplus of $181 million next year, after a $252 million payment to replenish the county's reserve fund.
The spending plan also includes $125 million for water quality infrastructure and $35 million to bolster a county program to help downtowns and struggling small businesses, officials said.
County officials did not provide the full budget but released highlights late Friday afternoon. The plan was expected to be filed with the county clerk's office.
"This is a COVID-recovery budget," Bellone told Newsday in a telephone interview. "We are still in the midst of this pandemic. It is clear that we will be going into 2022 and still directly dealing with the impact of COVID-19."
But even as he called the past year "a roller coaster ride," and noted future economic uncertainty, Bellone, a Democrat, argued: "We are in a far different place than we were last year. The most important thing we can do is to secure the county's financial future so we can deal with any crisis."
A year ago, Bellone proposed a $3.2 billion executive budget for 2021 that would have eliminated 500 full-time county jobs, curtailed bus and disability transit services and reduced funding to community clinics, public health agencies and nonprofits.
The proposed cuts were restored later after an infusion of federal pandemic aid and better than expected sales tax revenues.
Suffolk County budget director Connie DeGiovine estimated that by the end of 2021, the county will see 19% growth in sales tax revenues compared with 2020.
Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, said he considered "this is an opportunity for the county to invest in our workforce as well as to make sure we build up our reserve funds to make sure we are secure in the event of an economic downturn."
Calarco, who had not yet seen the budget, said the legislature and its Budget Review Office would examine the proposal, which will require legislative approval.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said:
"Steve Bellone is the luckiest man on the planet Earth. If it wasn’t for the coronavirus, the county would be in bankruptcy. Fortunately for him, he got bailed out by the Republican president, [Donald] Trump, and the Democratic president, [Joe] Biden," Trotta said, referring to federal pandemic aid.
Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) did not respond to multiple calls for comment Friday.
Bellone's 2022 budget would create several contingency funds, including one for snow and ice removal and road repair, and another to pay deferred employee salary from previous county administrations, officials said.
The budget would pay off debt for deferred pension contributions, for savings of $15 million in interest next year, budget officials said.
Police academy classes that will start in January, and September 2022 will produce 220 new officers, according to the budget.
The budget also includes funding for a deputy sheriff's class of approximately 30 officers, two correction officer classes that would graduate 110 new officers, along with 20 new probation officers, officials said.
Bellone's spending plan also would provide funding to implement a body-worn camera program for county police officers.
The budget adds 120 staff positions to various county departments, including for mechanics, nurses and public safety dispatchers, officials said, and continues to fund vacant positions in the Department of Public Works.
The county received $143 million in federal pandemic aid in May, and is expected to receive another $143 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, which was enacted in March.
DeGiovine said the budget includes $71 million that would be earmarked for the county general fund to make up for the losses in 2020.
Another $125 million from the American Rescue Plan will fund Bellone's Reclaim Our Water Initiative, which will include sewer connections in some areas, or installation of alternative on-site wastewater systems where sewers are not practical or cost-effective, officials said.
The move is aimed at reversing the decadeslong decline in water quality due to nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems, county officials said.
Additionally, the county received $24.9 million from settlement of opioid litigation with three major opioid distributors as well as major retail pharmacies including Walmart, CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens.
The settlement money will go into a separate fund to address the county's opioid addiction epidemic.
2022 SUFFOLK COUNTY BUDGET PROPOSAL
Total spending: $3.88 billion
Projected 2022 budget surplus: $181 million
County property taxes: No increase from 2021
Spending initiatives include:
Hiring of 220 new county police officers from two Police Academy classes.
Hiring of 110 new correction officers.
120 new hires for other county positions
Source: Office of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone