Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, left, and Suffolk County Comptroller...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, left, and Suffolk County Comptroller Joe Sawicki sit in the audience as the Blue Ribbon Fiscal Analysis Task Force members report their findings on the size of the county budget deficit to the Suffolk legislature at the William H. Rogers Legislature building in Smithtown. (March 6, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Suffolk's fiscal woes worsened yesterday as Comptroller Joseph Sawicki reported that the county ended 2011 $60.5 million in the red -- nearly twice the deficit that a special panel forecast last month.

The new numbers come as County Executive Steve Bellone revamps predecessor Steve Levy's list of more than 400 employees whose jobs are funded for only half the year, expected to be presented to county lawmakers as an emergency resolution next Tuesday. He declined to say precisely how many positions would go and said he still has made no decision about the fate of the county nursing home and its 200 employees.

Sawicki's year-end number is an actual compilation of full-year revenue and expenditures. The special panel appointed by Bellone made estimates based on incomplete budget projections from Bellone's budget office and the legislature's Office of Budget Review. The comptroller's number will be reviewed by Suffolk's outside auditor, Ernst and Young, which will issue an official audited financial statement in June. Sawicki said he expects no major differences.

The county's 2012 budget had forecast the county would end 2011 with a $2 million surplus. The county last ended the year with a deficit ($99 million) in 1992.

Costs that came in over budget included $9.9 million for subsidized day care, $8.3 million in mandated programs for handicapped school children and almost $6.5 million in sheriff's cost for operating the jail and housing overflow prisoners outside the county.

Sales taxes came in $6.69 million under budget. Other revenue shortfalls included $14.8 million that had been budgeted for the sale of county property in Yaphank and $5.4 million in red-light-camera-ticket revenue that officials had overestimated.

The county only last week received encouraging news that sales tax revenue had grown 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2012 -- about a third higher than expected. But the increase was dwarfed by the larger than expected year-end deficit.

In Nassau, the 2012 projected deficit is estimated as high as $100 million if no additional cost-cutting or revenue-boosting measures are taken. Next year's budget would have a $136 million hole without any gap-closing steps, according to the county's proposed multiyear financial plan.

Current and former Suffolk officials Monday traded blame over responsibility for Suffolk's deficit last year.

"The year 2011 ended with a number of areas in stark contrast to the so-called balanced budget that former County Executive Steve Levy insisted he put in place," said Sawicki, who often clashed with Levy, also a Republican.

Levy said he had not seen Sawicki's numbers, but blamed the shortfall on the county legislature. "My 2011 veto message warned that the legislature passed an unbalanced budget," Levy said.

"It should not be unexpected that 2011 would be problem." Tuesday Bellone is also expected to announce his proposed 2013 capital budget and long-term plan, which he said will minimize future debt service payments as the county struggles with some of its highest borrowing costs in years.

The 2013 capital spending plan is proposed at $129.9 million -- a 21 percent cut from the $163.8-million 2012 plan approved by the legislature last spring. Levy had proposed that budget at $107.6 million, but lawmakers restored cuts to various projects.

Bellone's budget will include $11.6 million in coastline protection work, $7 million in sewer infrastructure improvements and a new program that will provide $5 million in county aid to support "shovel-ready" development projects that can create jobs and additional housing options. Bellone also axed $16.75 million in funding for a gym at Suffolk County Community College's Riverhead campus and $1.35 million for a visitor center in Yaphank.


With Paul LaRocco

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