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Bellone presses Suffolk lawmakers for budget solutions

A nearly $30 million fund for open space

A nearly $30 million fund for open space and clean water projects being proposed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's administration and environmentalists will eventually cost $76.3 million with interest payments, according to a legislative budget report. Credit: Johnny Milano

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Wednesday cited the county's "fiscal emergency" as he asked legislators to develop ideas to help balance the budget after sales tax revenue fell short of projections.

"We remain in a state of fiscal emergency," Bellone wrote to the 18 county lawmakers. "We now live in an era of permanent fiscal scarcity."

Suffolk faces a $170.3 million deficit through 2015, according to a report prepared by the legislature's nonpartisan Budget Review Office this week. County sales tax revenue for the first half of 2014 rose by 0.5 percent, while the county had budgeted a 3.63 percent increase.

Bellone in his letter said he will meet with Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) within the next two weeks to "discuss what additional measures we are prepared to take to reform our government" to prepare for the 2015 operating budget, which Bellone must produce in late September.

Gregory called it a "good exercise," but said, "There aren't any easy solutions left that I'm aware of."

Kennedy, a candidate for county comptroller, said, "I'm always willing to talk with him about ways to spend less money. Beyond that, I don't know what he's got in mind."

The county has worked to balance its budget by cutting nearly 1,100 positions, privatizing county health centers and closing the county nursing home in Yaphank, Bellone said. It also raised money through a traffic and parking bureau to issue fines and hopes to bring in other new revenue from video slot machines and speed cameras in school zones.

The county also has used one-time budget measures, such as borrowing against the county's largest office building, the H. Lee Dennison Building, and borrowing against water quality funds.

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