Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Friday proposed a $2.88 billion budget for 2015 that he said shows the county "has turned the corner" on its fiscal woes, and raises police taxes in the five western towns by 2.4 percent.
Bellone said the proposed budget increases spending by $89.9 million.
The spending plan will allow the county to begin to make long-term investments to curb nitrogen pollution in groundwater, reduce jail recidivism and install GPS systems throughout the county's civilian auto and truck fleet, he said.
The budget, which the county legislature has until Nov. 5 to amend, has no increase in general fund property taxes, meaning that East End residents will see no county tax increase. The police district levy will raise taxes for the average western Suffolk homeowner by $21 next year.
"This is a very sound and conservative budget and it's a clear signal that Suffolk County has turned the corner and allows us to focus on our major priorities," Bellone said.
Bellone said his proposal has $84.5 million in one-shot revenue, down from $229 million in the 2013 budget. But he said he could not project when the county can eliminate its structural deficit.
He noted that the largest one-shot -- $59.8 million to spread out state pension costs -- is $22 million less than in 2014.
Bellone is using $22.5 million from the sewer assessment stabilization fund to help balance the budget, compared with the $30 million originally projected. However, use of that money still needs voter approval in a November referendum.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said that after three years of difficult budget choices, "I'm looking forward to the budget because I'm pleased with what I've heard."
Gregory said he expects county lawmakers to be pleased that Bellone hasn't cut funding for Suffolk's 400 nonprofit contract agencies that provide a range of human services. Gregory also said he expects East End lawmakers to welcome the fact that Bellone's budget will increase sales tax revenue sharing with town and village police departments by $1 million a year for the next three years.
But Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, said he was wary of the spending package. "There's a lot of moving parts which we haven't seen before," he said.
While the budget has funding for a new class of police officers beyond the class of 65 that will begin late this year, Kennedy expressed concern that Bellone isn't budgeting enough to keep the overall number of officers from slipping. Kennedy also said Bellone should not budget sewer money because voters have yet to authorize it.
Bellone's plan estimates 2.75 percent in sales tax growth for 2014 and 4.75 percent next year.
Robert Lipp, the county legislature's top budget analyst, called the administration's sales tax numbers "plausible," noting that so far this year sales tax growth is running at 2.77 percent. Lipp's office in April forecast a 5 percent increase for next year. His staff will issue their report on the budget Oct. 17.
Bellone is proposing five additional jobs in the health department's division of environmental quality to reduce nitrogen in the water, and seven jobs in probation to provide alternatives for minor offenders to cut the jail population, which costs $100,000 a year per prisoner.
Bellone's budget also extends the GPS monitoring, already in all public works vehicles, to all 1,172 vehicles in the county fleet for $189,000.
Bellone said the budget includes no savings from the GPS or recidivism efforts, but he hopes for long term savings. "This is not about short-term gains, it's about long term fiscal stability," he said.
BELLONE BUDGET PROPOSAL
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone yesterday proposed a $2.88 billion budget for 2015 that:
Raises police taxes in the five western towns by 2.4 percent, or an average of $21 for the typical homeowner.
Increases spending by $89.9 million.
Funds a new class of police officers beyond the class of 65 that will begin late this year.
Uses $22.5 million from the sewer assessment stabilization fund. Voters must approve the money in a November referendum.
Estimates 2.75 percent in sales tax growth for 2014 and 4.75 percent next year.
Source: Suffolk County executive>/i>