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Suffolk lawmakers approve $2.9B budget

Legislators Tom Cilmi, Thomas Barraga, Robert Trotta and

Legislators Tom Cilmi, Thomas Barraga, Robert Trotta and Kevin McCaffrey raise their hands in opposition to a budget proposal during a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk Democratic lawmakers approved Wednesday a $2.9 billion county budget for 2017 that raises $60 million in fees and police district property taxes while reducing cuts proposed by County Executive Steve Bellone.

The legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office said the county relied on $194 million in borrowing and one-time budget measures through 2017.

The Republican minority blasted the budget, which they said sinks the county into a worse hole.

“Suffolk County government has the equivalent of a growing fiscal cancer,” said Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip). He said the county’s needed to both cut expenses and grow revenues. Legis. Al Krupski joined the six Republicans to vote against the main budget bill.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the budget was a compromise hashed out by a bipartisan group of lawmakers under a tight deadline.

“Is it perfect? Absolutely not,” Gregory said. “But we attempted to address some of the concerns.”

The legislature reduced fees Bellone had proposed to charge owners of security alarm systems and undid a $25 increase to the tax map verification fee. It also restored funding cuts to nonprofits, a home nursing program, tobacco cessation program and day care subsidy for the poor.

The budget increases police district property taxes by nearly 4 percent for $20 million in new revenue and institutes a new $300 fee on mortgages to raise $33 million. An administrative fee on moving violation traffic tickets would increase from $30 to $60, generating $5.5 million. The fee on red light camera tickets would not increase.

The budget also reduces the property taxes in the Southwest Sewer District by 33 percent.

A separate bipartisan vote of lawmakers also rejected a plan to borrow $26.7 million for police retirement pay. Instead, lawmakers said they want to see Bellone negotiate short-term concessions with unions.

PBA President Noel DiGerolamo said the union was seeking a contract extension and had spoken to lawmakers about their opposition to the borrowing.

Legis. Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) said removing the money weakened the county’s bargaining position when trying to negotiate concessions with the union.

Gregory disagreed. If they couldn’t come up with a concession beneficial to the county, Gregory said he expected Bellone not to renegotiate the contract, which for the PBA expires at the end of 2018.

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Northport) has criticized the proposal to borrow for police retirement pay.

The budget amendments will now go to Bellone’s desk for his signature or veto. Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Bellone would review the amendments.

Some lawmakers called for a state fiscal control board, similar to one that oversees Nassau County finances, that would have the power to freeze pay raises in the budget.

“We need to take drastic action,” Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said. “This is a sinking ship.” Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) also said they supported a pay freeze, which could only be instituted by a financial control board.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said that would be abdicating their responsibilities. The county has been hurt by flat sales tax and rising pension costs.

Schneider said Bellone didn’t support a control board. “Elected officials should undertake the hard choices to move Suffolk County forward,” he said.

PBA vice president Lou Tutone said the union also opposed a financial control board. “It’s their responsibility and duty to find additional revenue sources in the county.”

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