The Suffolk County Legislature on Wednesday adopted a $3.74 billion budget that raises law enforcement and cybersecurity spending, keeps general taxes flat and maintains more than $700 million in reserves.
Legislators voted 14-4 on two resolutions authorizing the 2023 spending plan. Legislators Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holbrook), Leslie Kennedy (R-Smithtown) and Trish Bergin (R-Islip) voted against it, with some expressing concerns over its impact on the county's economic future.
Other legislators from both parties said the budget was fiscally sound.
“This is a very, conservative, well-funded, well-thought-out budget process here,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), presiding officer. “We think that the revenue is going to definitely support the expenses that we're going to incur.”
"This year's budget process went about as smoothly as any I've been a part of in my twelve years with the legislature," Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) said in a statement. "The level of collaboration shown by our body was extremely encouraging. We as a legislature have been able to make sacrifices when needed and put the county's financial health ahead of partisanship.
In a statement on Wednesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said “this budget protects taxpayers, addresses cybersecurity, invests in public safety and in combating the opioid epidemic and continues our efforts to reform government. I want to thank my partners in the legislature for their work under challenging circumstances and I look forward to fully implementing these bipartisan efforts."
The spending plan, which faced a truncated timeline for approval due to a cyberattack on county systems, raises spending by about 1.5% to $3.74 billion, compared with $3.687 billion in 2022.
The budget freezes taxes for the general fund and the police district, which covers the five western towns.
But Trotta said the budget is too reliant on pandemic-related funds like increased sales tax and doesn’t do enough to cut county spending with most economists expecting a recession next year. He did not propose any specific amendments to the budget.
“It makes it look like ‘I got a balanced budget, it didn't raise your taxes. It's great,’” he said. “But down the road … the sales tax revenue starts to drop. And we have to raise the taxes through the roof.”
Sales tax revenue increased an unprecedented 23%, or $340 million, in 2021 over 2020, according to the county legislature's Budget Review Office. Legis. Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters), chair of the legislature’s budget and finance committee, noted the 2023 budget estimates sales tax revenue to grow by 2% next year. He called that number conservative, pointing out the 4% average growth in 2022.
The budget adds 28 positions in the district attorney’s office and increases the department’s budget by almost $1.5 million for those salaries. Department officials have said the new staff is needed to comply with state-mandated discovery requirements and other criminal justice reforms.
Before voting, legislators also revised the budget for police overtime to $2.6 million and added an additional 25 officers, bringing the total number of new officers in 2023 to 225.
The Budget Review Office said the county often underbudgets its overtime costs, which have doubled from 2017 to 2022 due to employee turnover.
The budget also raises information technology spending by more than $7 million following the September cyberhack and adds 19 cybersecurity positions.
Also on Wednesday, the legislature unanimously adopted a new map of Suffolk County’s legislative districts that had been recommended by a bipartisan committee.
The new map creates four districts in which ethnic minorities are the majority of residents, keeps the population of each legislative district roughly equal and does not force any incumbents to run against each other.
The panel was created after Bellone, a Democrat, vetoed maps adopted by the then-Democratic-controlled county legislature, saying he did not believe they would hold up under court challenge.
The legislative redistricting, which occurs after each decennial U.S. census, determines how competitive the districts will be in upcoming elections.
Both parties have praised the maps and the panel, which met dozens of times over several months before coming to an agreement in September.
“We should be a model for others out there struggling to do this,” McCaffrey said.