Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has vetoed parts of the 2020 county budget, setting the stage for a showdown with county legislators who had voted overwhelmingly for the $3.2 billion spending plan.
Bellone's veto raised sales tax revenue projections and cut 28 county positions lawmakers had added and filled.
Lawmakers had kept the Southwest Sewer District tax levy flat, although Bellone had sought a decrease of 10%. Bellone's veto essentially restored his proposed cut.
Bellone said the vetoes were part of “my fiduciary obligations" as county executive.
“We cannot lose sight of the continuing challenges we face in improving the county’s fiscal condition,” Bellone wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to legislators.
But lawmakers from both parties said they planned to try to override the vetoes in a special legislative meeting Saturday. They noted that the budget passed this month by the largest margin in recent memory: 16-2.
“We very rarely have something [passed] almost unanimously around here, and to come in and say, ‘My way is the right way,’ rather than work with the legislature” is “almost arrogant,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague).
A veto override requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass.
Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he expected the override vote to resemble the budget vote on Nov. 6.
“It’s a question of the legislature asserting its rightful independence,” Cilmi said.
If the override effort fails, officials from the county and other taxing jurisdictions would have to scramble to change their tax levy calculations in time for legal deadlines, officials said.
If Bellone's vetoes stand:
- The general fund budget would increase by $2.2 million. County budget officials said the rise would be offset by a larger projected increase in sales tax revenue, so general fund property taxes for the average homeowner would remain unchanged.
- Southwest Sewer District taxes would decline by an average $24 per homeowner per year, an administration budget official said.
- Taxpayers in the five western towns would pay an average $0.22 more a year in Police District taxes, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office.
Deputy Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the legislature sought to boost county staffing by 28 positions because basic needs were "not being met."
But Bellone said his budget includes adequate staffing for government operations.
“We are working together with legislators to address their concerns without having to significantly increase taxes, spending or debt in the budget,” spokesman Jason Elan said.
Tax levy notices based on the budget that passed the Legislature already have been sent to the 10 town tax receivers so they could finalize their own tax bill and budget calculations, said Jason Richberg, clerk of the county legislature.
Richberg said Bellone had signed off on those tax levy resolutions before the vetoes.
Elan said Bellone signed off on the tax levies knowing they can change before warrants are issued.
“We’re up the creek” if the vetoes stand, Richberg said. “It would be a herculean effort to pull all this data together.”
The county must finalize its tax levy warrants by Dec. 3 Richberg said.