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Bellone seeks 2.9 percent hike in Suffolk police district taxes

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, pictured on Sept.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, pictured on Sept. 17, 2015, is seeking a 2.9 percent hike in Suffolk police district taxes. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk County police district taxes would rise by nearly 3 percent but Southwest Sewer District taxes would decrease by 12 percent under a $2.917 billion budget for 2016 released Friday by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The proposed budget, which increases spending by 1 percent compared with 2015, would hike county fees on motor vehicle registrations and tax map verifications for mortgages and refinances, and institute a false alarm fee for Suffolk police responding to home and business security systems.

The budget uses one-time revenues, including borrowing from its sewer fund and selling its former Yaphank nursing home, to balance the budget. Bellone acknowledged the county will continue to face a $90 million structural deficit, the difference between recurring revenue and expenses.

But he said the county has made progress in reducing its shortfall since he came into office in 2012. He said many of the county's difficulties in closing the budget gap stem from a regional slowdown in sales tax growth. The budget projects sales tax revenue would grow next year by 2.75 percent.

General fund property taxes would not increase.

"This budget protects taxpayers and holds the line on spending," Bellone said in an interview.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the budget moves the county in the right direction.

"I'm optimistic about it, recognizing that we have tough challenges," Gregory said.

Republicans criticized the budget proposal for relying on what they characterized as gimmicks.

"It's a budget riddled with borrowing and assumptions," said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). "This county is a disaster and he's making it sound like we're in good shape. It's bizarre."

James O'Connor, the Republican facing Bellone in the county executive's race in November, said police union contracts negotiated by Bellone are partially responsible for the deficit. "Taxpayers will get the bill," he said in a statement.

He also said the projected sales tax revenue increase was too optimistic.

Under Bellone's budget, homeowners in the five western towns that make up the police district would see their taxes increase by 2.88 percent, or an average of $34.91 per household. Police district spending would increase by $30 million, and the administration is budgeting for a new class of 65 officers.

Because Suffolk is not exceeding the state tax cap, Bellone said residents earning less than $500,000 will get a rebate equal to the amount of the tax increase under a state program. Those outside the police district will also get a check from the state, in an amount equal to 2 percent of the previous year's county property taxes or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Businesses are not eligible for the rebate.

In the Southwest Sewer District, which has paid off its initial construction costs, taxes will decrease by 12.5 percent. That will mean an average tax cut of $75 for homes connected to the sewer district in Islip and $65 in Babylon, the two towns that the district covers, according to the administration.

The spending plan also proposes a $6.2 million cut in funding for the county bus service, from $36.2 million this year. Bellone said the state has shortchanged Suffolk bus service compared with Nassau and he will ask the State Legislature to make up the difference when it meets next year.

The budget does not call for layoffs and keeps county employment flat. The county workforce has shrunk by 1,100 positions since Bellone took office.

With Rick Brand

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