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Suffolk budget changes worth $5.7M up for vote

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at Central Islip

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at Central Islip High School on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County on Wednesday will consider restoration of proposed cuts to nursing and anti-tobacco programs, elimination of $1.5 million in vacant positions and borrowing an additional $5 million from a sewer fund to compensate for lower sales tax projections.

Budget amendments proposed by majority Democrats would reduce the county’s sales tax projection by $7 million compared with County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed $3.05 billion budget for 2018. The amendments would add $571,000 to county expenditures in 2018, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office.

Beyond the increased borrowing for the sewer funds, the amendments would increase property taxes in the police district by $750,000 over Bellone’s recommendation. Police district taxes, which cover services in Huntington, Babylon, Islip, Smithtown and Brookhaven, would increase by 4.99 percent compared with the current tax rate.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the increased borrowing and police district taxes were necessary to make up for the reduced sales tax projection.

“It was a very tight, difficult budget to work with. We tried to make amendments where our priorities are and make revenue estimates more reasonable,” said Calarco, the deputy presiding officer.

However, amendments would restore public health nursing services programs, which provide post-hospital care for patients, and a tobacco cessation program that helped 200 smokers quit last year.

Traditionally, the budget amendments had been sponsored by Republicans and Democrats who reviewed the budget in closed-door meetings. But minority Republicans did not co-sponsor the measures this year.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the minority leader, said the budget “is based on borrowing which will come to a screeching halt next year and this does not address the underlying fiscal problem this county faces.”

A review of Bellone’s budget plan by the Budget Review Office last month said the spending plan underestimated police pay and overtime and used “risky assumptions” that could widen the deficit between recurring expenses and revenues to $150 million per year.

If the budget is approved, Suffolk would borrow $17.5 million from a sewer stabilization fund to balance this year’s budget. The county would begin repaying the fund in 2018, as required under a 2014 voter-approved referendum.

Legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said lawmakers met with Bellone’s staff Friday over concerns that the job cuts were too deep. Bellone’s staff also expressed concern about $450,000 in proposed savings from eliminating vacant positions in the district attorney’s office, Gregory said.

Gregory said they are considering restoring some of the job cuts.

“When you’re in the situation we’re in where expenses exceed revenue, it’s never a bad thing to cut where you can and when you can,” said Gregory. “But you also don’t want to restrict a department’s ability to function, either.”

County spokesman Jason Elan said in a statement, “We are reviewing the proposed budget amendments.”

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