Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday proposed a $3.2 billion operating budget for 2020 that he said would result in a $9 million surplus and raise police district taxes by an average $35 per homeowner.
The proposed budget, which needs legislative approval, increases spending by about $90 million, which officials said stems from recently approved contracts with employee unions and higher costs for general services.
Bellone said the spending plan would not raise fees or pierce the state property tax cap of 2.85 percent, and that general fund property taxes would not increase.
But the overall tax levy would increase by about 2.14 percent, he said.
Residents of the five western towns will pay an average of $34.97 more for the police district, which would raise taxes by 2.8 percent, officials said. The five eastern towns pay for their own police departments, but use Suffolk County police for some services.
About 72,000 residents of the Southwest Sewer District in Babylon and Islip towns will see a 10 percent reduction in property taxes for the district.
Bellone, who is running for re-election against Republican Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., said the ability to project an operating surplus without new one-time fees "speaks to how far we have come and the really strengthened financial position the county is in today."
Bellone said the county has no structural budget deficit — the difference between recurring expenses and revenues — because of cost-saving initiatives over the last eight years, including 1,300 job cuts and requiring employees to contribute to their health care costs.
Kennedy said while Bellone says he is holding the line on taxes, they have increased significantly during his tenure, particularly in the police district. The total property tax levy for 2019 was expected to be nearly $685 million, up from $605.6 million in 2013, according to county budget documents. In that time, the police district levy increased from $483 million to $591 million.
"The numbers don't fit the rhetoric," Kennedy said.
County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), the minority leader, said "every year the county executive presents what he calls a balanced budget, and every year it turns out we have hundred-million dollar deficits."
County officials did not provide a copy of the budget Friday morning, instead providing an overview. They said they expected to post the budget online Friday evening.
Suffolk has amassed $883 million in debt over the past decade for operating expenses such as salaries and pensions, and repayment is taking a chunk out of the county budget, according to a 2018 legislative budget report.
Bellone's budget director, Eric Naughton, said the county has less debt now than in 2018, although he did not immediately provide a figure.
Bellone said the county had a $500 million deficit and a $200 million structural budget gap when he entered office in 2012, and that he has worked to eliminate them.
In June, fiscal analysts in the legislature's nonpartisan Budget Review Office predicted the county could face a potential budget shortfall of between $80 million to $89.3 million for the 2018 to 2020 period.
Jason Elan, a spokesman for Bellone, said that prediction did not take into account any corrective actions or revenue growth.
County officials said they expect sales tax revenues to grow by about 3 percent next year.
The county also expects to get about $25 million from the Suffolk County Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Officials say the agency expects to come out of bankruptcy next year because of higher-than-projected revenues at Jake's 58 Hotel & Casino in Islandia. However, OTB's estimated payment to Suffolk this year is only $3.5 million.
Officials also expect about $40 million in annual savings from requiring county employees to contribute to their health care through a pact reached with all 10 public employee unions in May.
County officials said they saved money by not filling all vacant positions.
Bail reform passed by the State Legislature is expected to decrease costs by reducing the number of inmates in county jails and overtime costs for corrections workers and the county sheriff's office, Naughton said.
Officials also budgeted an extra $5 million for the Board of Elections because of new early voting mandates and the 2020 presidential election.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's 2020 budget proposal:
- $3.2 billion in operating expenses
- Projected $9 million surplus
- 2.14 percent tax levy increase
- $34.97 average increase in police district taxes
- Expected 3 percent increase in sales tax revenues
- No new fees
- Source: Suffolk County executive