The Suffolk County Legislature is expected to let the county executive's budget pass by default, sparing lawmakers from having to vote for major cuts. Residents spoke about it on Sunday. Here is Newsday's Steve Langford. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman; File footage

The Suffolk County Legislature is expected to allow County Executive Steve Bellone's $3.2 billion budget for 2021 to pass without a vote Monday in a highly unusual move aimed at shielding lawmakers from having to vote for deep service and staffing cuts, legislative leaders said.

The legislature is planning to let Bellone's proposal pass by default during Monday's legislative meeting, allowing the spending plan to go into effect automatically on Jan. 1, officials said.

The budget — one of the most stressed in years because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic — will cut police staffing to its lowest level since 2013, cut $4.5 million from community health clinics over two years and curtail transportation services for residents with disabilities.

Many of Suffolk's cuts will affect those who rely most on county services, at a time an estimated 220,000 Long Islanders have lost their jobs, officials said.

"It is really impacting the lower-income and middle class first," said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a smart-growth advocacy group. "Frontline workers shouldn’t also be on the front line to lose services."

The cuts, most of which would not take effect until July to allow for the possibility of more federal pandemic aid, come as the county faces a projected deficit of up to $1.5 billion over three years.

Legislative Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said lawmakers won't vote on the budget directly because they don't want to endorse such drastic cuts but feel there is no way to avoid them right now.

Instead of proposing its own budget version through an omnibus bill, the legislature will vote Monday on a series of largely technical, individual amendments, leaders said.

"There’s not one thing in this budget that any of us really want to happen," Calarco said.

Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said the legislature was left with "very few options" because of the condition of county finances, so it is not taking any "affirmative action" on Bellone's budget.

But Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk legislative counsel, said the legislature shouldn't "abdicate its responsibility" to taxpayers by relinquishing oversight and budgetary powers.

"It's embarrassing to publicly say you're not going to do anything because it's difficult," Sabatino said.

The budget has passed by default only once since 1994, when the legislature began proposing omnibus budget amendments. In 2018, county lawmakers deadlocked on the budget for 2019.

Bellone has said his 2021 budget will eliminate 500 jobs and halt law enforcement academy classes.

Such cuts could be averted if the federal government provides more pandemic relief, administration officials said.

"This is an unfortunate reality as a result of Washington’s failure to act," Bellone spokesman Derek Poppe said of the budget proposal.

Federal stimulus negotiations between congressional Democrats and the Republican-controlled Senate have stalled over GOP opposition to large spending initiatives.

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, supports more aid to state and local governments such as Suffolk's. But passage of such a plan depends on which party controls the Senate — and that will be determined by runoff elections in January for two Georgia Senate seats.

Under the budget expected to pass by default Monday, the county police department will have about 2,200 officers next year, the fewest in eight years, because of expected retirements and the loss of new police classes, according to the county legislature’s Budget Review Office. The department is expected to end 2020 with about 2,300 officers, according to the office.

Staffing in the Department of Health Services will be at its lowest level in over a decade, county data shows.

This year's budget funds 600 positions in the department. Bellone's 2021 spending plan cuts $2.2 million in salaries, according to the legislative budget office.

Poppe said the county has reassigned existing staff from other departments to respond to the coronavirus crisis, including as contact tracers.

Also under the budget, nearly half the county's bus routes would stop running, leaving 2,300 riders without service, officials said.

No county buses would run in East Hampton Town, in the area of the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station or Long Island MacArthur Airport, or on the North Shore between Mount Sinai and Greenport, transportation maps show.

Suffolk County Accessible Transportation would stop providing curb-to-curb service to about 200 disabled riders who live within three quarters of a mile of a bus stop.

"The human impacts will be devastating," Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) said of the bus cuts during a recent budget hearing.

Krista Giannak, a Huntington Town resident who is blind and relies on Suffolk County Accessible Transportation, said the cuts will have "reverberating" effects.

"People feel lonely, isolated and like they don't matter because that's really what cuts to disability services do," said Giannak, who owns a business writing firm called Wise Words That Matter.

Cuts could cause the eight community health clinics, which typically serve lower-income clients, to reduce their hours and ability to test for COVID-19, said Carmen Chinea, chief of clinical strategy and research at Sun River Health, a nonprofit that operates the clinics.

The budget also cuts funding to outside health agencies and nonprofits, including those that deal with suicide prevention and drug addiction — issues that have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

"We're struggling," said Greg Noone, director of Thursday's Child of Long Island, which provides services for people with HIV/AIDs and is slated to lose county funding in 2021. "This year, we're going to do more services for families than ever before. And next year we're worried we won't be open."

Bellone administration officials say the spending reductions in the 2021 budget are necessary because of massive revenue shortfalls, particularly in sales taxes, which typically account for nearly half of annual county revenues.

Legislative budget officials project a $184-million shortfall in sales tax revenues this year, and a total of $400 million over two years.

Legislative budget analysts say they also expect declines in almost all other major revenue sources this year, including $20 million less in property taxes, $24 million less in gambling revenues from Jake's 58 Hotel & Casino in Islandia and $18 million less in penalties and fees for traffic violations.

On Friday, Moody's Investors Service announced it had downgraded $1.4 billion in Suffolk County general obligation bonds from Baa1 to Baa2, citing "increasing financial pressure" on the county.

Moody's, a Wall Street bond rating agency, said that while $258 million in federal pandemic aid that the county received "will more than cover the revenue losses for 2020, the county's prospects for 2021 and beyond are more dire, barring major expenditure cuts or material federal aid."

The rating drop also affects $54.4 million in county lease debt.

Nassau County, which also is facing large revenue shortfalls because of the pandemic, is not reducing services or laying off employees in its 2021 budget, officials said.

In an effort to make up for the shortfalls, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's 2021 budget calls for refinancing $394 million in debt issued by the county and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county's financial control board.

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