Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presented a stark list of potential cuts and money generators to close a budget deficit he pegged as high as $180 million in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers Monday, according to those at the meeting.
Among the options presented were increasing fees for traffic and red light tickets from $30 to $45, closing the county’s mental health and methadone clinics, charging for parking at county-owned Long Island Rail Road station lots, and selling the Yaphank correctional facility and leasing it back from investors, according to those at the meeting.
Bellone will submit a proposed budget to the county legislature on Sept. 16. He told lawmakers at the meeting the county faces a budget gap of between $140 million and $180 million, according to two sources in the room.
Among the other ideas presented to lawmakers were to:
- Defund or reduce funding for nonprofit agencies that contract with the county.
- Cut additional bus routes and eliminate Sunday bus service.
- Discontinue the maternal child health program.
- Discontinue the tobacco cessation program.
- Eliminate a county visiting nurse program.
- Discontinue the “shot spotter” program.
- Borrow to fund computer software and hardware.
- Implement a four-day work week or furlough employees.
- Offer early retirement incentives for employees.
- Implement a fee for county vendors and nonprofits that contract with the county.
- Increase property taxes within the tax cap.
- Increase a real property verification fee.
- Implement a mortgage administrative fee.
- Borrow for pension costs.
- Borrow from a sewer stabilization fund.
Dollar amounts were not presented with the ideas, according to those who saw the list.
County sales tax revenue is down slightly compared to last year, while personnel costs driven by contracts with police unions continue to rise.
“It’s going to be a difficult budget. And the choices are bad or worse,” said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who attended the meeting with Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and staff from the executive and legislative branches.
“We are going to make some difficult decisions in the budget,” Gregory said.
Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said, “We have a lot of work to do.”
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said all services not required by state or federal law are being looked at. “These are not things we’re happy about, but we’re going to do what we need to do to live within our means,” he said.
He said Bellone remained committed to not piercing the state mandated tax cap.
Among the cuts lawmakers ruled out were closing the methadone and mental health clinics, in light of the opioid crisis faced by the county.