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Bellone orders spending freeze, budget cuts

County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed a resolution

County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed a resolution to force Suffolk's 10 towns to pay $3.4 million in annual tuition costs for local bachelor and graduate degree students who attend Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology. (April 5, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has ordered all departments to produce plans to freeze nonmandated spending and cut nonprofit contract agencies by 5 percent next year.

Aides could not say how big a dent the 2013 budget directive will put into an estimated $530 million shortfall. However, the memo issued late last month warns that a "multitiered approach to reducing expenses and improving revenues" is critical to solving the county's budget woes.

"The services the county provides must be re-evaluated to determine what we can afford and alternate revenue streams must be developed to prevent further deterioration of the county's cash flow," Bellone told departments.

The directive to departments comes as the new administration begins putting together its first operating budget. Departments must file their 2013 budget requests by Monday and appear before Bellone aides to explain their plans, starting June 25.

"Strict guidelines" laid down in Bellone's memo include zero percent growth in net, nonmandated personnel spending compared with the 2012 adopted budget. The memo says "no new positions may be requested unless they can be tied to grants, federal funding, state funding or offsets requesting the abolishment of filled positions."

Even more stringent is the 5 percent cut to contract agencies. The reduction will be based on former County Executive Steve Levy's proposed 2012 budget -- not the final product adopted by the legislature, which shifted funding to some of the contract agencies.

Legislative budget analysts say 343 contract agencies received $101 million to provide a variety of health and welfare services last year. The administration already has slated cuts of $1.8 million in cuts to contract agencies this year.

Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), deputy presiding officer, called the agency cutbacks understandable. "Frankly, we're in a rough stretch and we have to tighten the hatches to get through it," he said.

Legislative Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said contract agencies do "good work," but officials must be vigilant in light of recent disclosures that numerous Long Island nonprofits do business with their board members, executives and officers' family members. The transactions are the focus of scrutiny in Albany, where legislators, regulators and officials are considering reforms for the state's multibillion-dollar nonprofit sector.

Kennedy also said he has urged several contract agencies to consolidate to cut costs. "We have to make sure money is spent in the most efficient and prudent way," he said.

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