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Suffolk lawmakers unanimously pass $3.8 billion budget, funds hiring of hundreds of law enforcement staff

The 2022 Suffolk County budget approved Wednesday includes

The 2022 Suffolk County budget approved Wednesday includes the hiring of hundreds of law enforcement officers. Credit: James Carbone

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously adopted a $3.88 billion budget for 2022 that includes hiring hundreds of law enforcement officers, filling staff vacancies and paying off millions of dollars in debt.

Legislators from both major parties hailed the budget for tackling their priorities, including investing in the workforce and saving for the future, without raising property taxes for most homeowners.

Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) called the 18-0 approval "heartwarming" and said the budget will put the county on "strong financial footing moving forward."

Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey credited Bellone "for giving us a base to work with" to boost reserve funds, hire more workers and "pay back for our past sins" of accruing pension debt.

What to know

  • The county will hire hundreds of law enforcement officers, fill staff vacancies, pay off debt and boost reserves.
  • Homeowners won’t see a property tax increase unless they live in a county sewer district. Sewer taxes will rise by 4.74% in the Southwest Sewer District and by 3% in all other sewer districts.
  • County finances got a boost from federal pandemic aid, high sales tax revenue and opioid legal settlements.

"It was a good budget," McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said. "It did all the things we wanted to do."

Bellone released a statement Wednesday, saying, "I am pleased that the legislature voted unanimously today to approve this structurally sound budget which makes strategic investments in public safety, wastewater infrastructure, small businesses, and our County workforce. I look forward to implementing this bipartisan effort which protects taxpayers at all costs."

The legislature on Wednesday also amended Bellone’s proposal to add eight countywide staff positions, increase revenue sharing with towns and villages and modify projections for revenue and spending, officials said. The legislature also distributed funding to cultural organizations and raised funding for food pantries, youth programs and other social services.

Those changes will not impact homeowners' tax bills, budget analysts said.

The budget was boosted by an influx of revenue from federal pandemic aid, sales tax from high consumer spending and legal settlements from opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies.

That revenue helped make the 2022 budget a world away from the 2021 budget adopted this time last year that would have made significant job and service cuts.

Those cuts were averted after Suffolk was awarded $286 million in American Rescue Plan funding over two years, with $125 million of that total going toward clean-water infrastructure, officials said.

After this year’s estimated sales tax revenue surplus of $361 million, the 2022 budget expects revenue of about $1.8 billion.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) questioned if such high revenue were realistic.

"We have supply chain problems. We have car dealerships that can't get cars," Trotta said. "We have no more stimulus money coming in."

The director of the legislature’s Budget Review Office, Lance Reinheimer, said his office is predicting a slight decrease in revenue next year, but that shortfalls could be covered by newly infused county reserve funds, including a $254 million tax-stabilization reserve fund.

Under the adopted budget, homeowners who don’t live in sewer districts will see their county tax bill stay flat at an average of $1,473 in the five western towns — where residents pay into the county police district — and $237 in East End towns, which have their own police services, officials said.

The tax levy for the Southwest Sewer District, which includes portions of Islip and Babylon towns, would rise by 4.74%. All other sewer districts would impose a 3% increase in the tax levy.

The largest expense for property owners in the western towns will be the police district, which accounts for $619 million of a total $714 million county tax bill.

Police district expenditures, which includes funding for the county department, will increase by nearly $115 million from 2021 estimates to a total of $809 million.

That exceeds the entire county property tax levy, according to an analysis from the Budget Review Office. The increase is largely due to costs for terminal pay, deferred salaries and retirement costs.

Suffolk also funded positions for 340 new county police officers; 100 correction officers, 60 deputy sheriffs and 15 dispatchers of 911 calls by the end of 2022 to fill vacancies, according to a Budget Review Office analysis.

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