Suffolk County legislators on Wednesday passed a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 by an unusually large margin — 16-2 — after legislators had opened up the budget process to the public for the first time.
Legislators approved two omnibus amendments to County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed budget. Those measures lowered projections for growth in sales tax revenues, decreased police and sheriff department overtime and restored funding to contract agencies that provide substance abuse prevention and treatment.
Lawmakers also kept the Southwest Sewer District property tax levy at $21.4 million instead of decreasing it by 10 percent as Bellone had proposed, in order to prevent the need for future borrowing.
But the police district tax will go up by about $32 next year for the average homeowner in the five western towns, according to the Legislature's nonpartisan Budget Review Office.
County property taxes for homeowners in the five eastern towns, which provide their own police services, will decrease by an average $2 next year.
While legislative budget analysts had projected a potential $35 million deficit in Bellone's 2020 budget, they said Wednesday the amended budget was balanced.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory said the vote tally represented “the largest plurality” he has seen in the Legislature.
“We have put the institution of the legislature above partisanship,” Gregory (D-Copiague) said before the vote. “That’s what government is all about.”
Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) were the sole 'no' votes.
Kennedy said she could not support the increase in the police district tax.
Trotta said the budget does not do enough to improve the county's finances. He called it "embarrassing" that state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office reported recently that Suffolk was in the most fiscal stress of any county in New York, yet "no one seems to care."
Other legislators praised what they called a new and transparent process for crafting the county budget.
Meetings of the legislature's budget working group, made up of nine lawmakers who examine the county executive's proposed budget and craft amendments, were open to the public for the first time.
Previously, meetings were held in the legislature’s basement, and lawmakers who were not working group members had to try to listen in on proceedings from the hallway. Having too many legislators present would have automatically made the meetings public under Open Meetings Law.
“This was really in my eyes a milestone for the legislature,” said Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore).
Last year, Bellone’s budget passed by default after legislators deadlocked 9-9.
The 2020 budget will go to Bellone, who can sign or veto it. Bellone spokesman Jason Elan did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Passage of the budget came a day after nearly all legislators won re-election to two-year terms.
In the 8th District, Republican challenger Anthony Piccirillo led Legis. William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) by 223 votes of 18,037 cast, according to unofficial results. Democratic Party officials said they planed to seek a recount.
The omnibus budget predicts $1.7 million less in sales tax revenue in 2019 and 2020 than Bellone’s budget.
The spending plan adds $2.5 million in expected revenue from new fees from a school bus camera program designed to catch drivers who do not stop for buses. The budget also provides $2 million to pay for legal settlements without borrowing, and restores $350,000 in funding for the county's Legal Aid Society.
The budget creates five new positions in the county Sheriff’s Department and provides funding to fill vacancies among jail medical staff and Child Protective Services case workers.
Also Wednesday, the Legislature voted to allow a new public campaign finance board to hire an executive director using revenues from video lottery terminals at Jake’s 58 Hotel & Casino in Islandia. The public financing board, which was supposed to be up and running by Wednesday, lacks the necessary third member because Bellone has not yet made an appointment.
In an emergency resolution, the lawmakers also approved borrowing of $4.75 million to dredge county waters, including Shinnecock Inlet East and parts of the Great South Bay.
2020 AMENDED SUFFOLK COUNTY BUDGET
- $3.2 billion in spending.
- $2.5 million in new revenues from fines and fees from a school bus camera program.
- $640,000 more for county contract agencies, compared with Bellone's proposed budget.
- Maintains Southwest Sewer District property taxes at $21.4 million.
- Restores $350,000 in funding the county Legal Aid Society, compared with Bellone's budget.
- Source: The Legislature's Budget Review Office