Suffolk County is expected to have budget surpluses into next year as consumer spending continues to exceed expectations and federal pandemic aid streams into county coffers, legislative budget analysts said Tuesday.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed $3.88 billion budget for 2022 is "structurally sound" with the county expected to receive at least $360 million more than expected in sales tax revenue this year, Lance Reinheimer, director of the county legislature’s Budget Review Office, said.
Bellone's budget would use surpluses to pay off debt, fill staff vacancies and replenish reserve funds.
The budget review office did not provide an estimate of the 2022 surplus. Bellone's office has forecast a $181 million surplus next year.
Reinheimer told legislators at an 2022 Operating Budget Working Group meeting the 2022 budget provides opportunities that past spending plans could not because of "bad economic times."
Reinheimer called it "a great opportunity to go forward and really start on a clean slate."
Under Bellone's 2022 budget, which will require approval of the full county legislature, Suffolk would be able to fill many of the 2,400 vacant staff positions without raising taxes for most homeowners, the Budget Review Office said in a report released last Friday.
County officials could hire 340 new police officers, 100 corrections officers and 60 deputy sheriffs by the end of 2022 to replace retiring and departing law enforcement staff, and add another 51 new positions countywide, legislative analysts said.
Suffolk also could pay $155 million it owes for deferred pension payments and set aside at least $96 million for other debt payments, Reinheimer said.
The fiscal picture offered by the legislative analysts represented a stark contrast with Bellone's $3.2-billion budget proposal for 2021.
That spending plan called for elimination of 500 full-time county jobs, cuts in transit services and reduced funding for community clinics and public health agencies.
Suffolk averted those cuts after Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Suffolk County received $286 million of the pandemic relief package over two years.
Also, $287 million from the U.S. CARES Act helped the county end 2020 with a $116 million general fund surplus, according to the Budget Review Office report.
"It really shows just how much stronger Suffolk County is economically and how effective some of the federal programs have been in terms of staving off an economic crisis from COVID," Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said.
Analysts said they expect $1.82 billion in sales tax revenue next year, a 3% increase from 2021.
Budget analysts cautioned that supply shortages, inflation and reduced federal pandemic aid and benefits could hold back consumer spending in 2022.
Most homeowners won't see an increase in their county tax bills, which average $1,473 in the five western towns — where residents pay into the county police district — and $237 in East End towns, which provide their own police services, according to the legislative budget report.
The Southwest Sewer District tax levy would rise by 4.74%, and all other sewer districts would see a 3% tax levy increase.
Of the $714 million the county would collect in property taxes, $619 million would go to the police district, according to the budget review report.
Reinheimer noted that even as consumer spending has risen, many county residents are struggling, as indicated by a $109 million shortfall in property tax collections this year.
"Overall the economy did well in Suffolk County, but not everyone did well," Reinheimer said. "People lost jobs. People didn’t work. People had to stay home to watch their children."
Legislators are expected to vote on Bellone's budget proposal Nov. 3.