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S&P lowers Suffolk's bond rating by a notch

The Wall Street rating agency Standard & Poor's has lowered Suffolk County's bond rating one notch from A plus to A, citing the county's failure to produce more revenue or make cuts to close its structural deficit.

While the county has made "substantial progress" and is facing "less risk" than in 2012, "revenue growth coupled with reductions in expenditures have not been sufficient at this point," analysts said. "We believe continued structural action will be necessary to build up reserves amid rising costs and slow revenue growth."

The analysts also warned of a 1-in-3 chance that the county's rating could drop by as much as two more notches in the next two years, if current budgetary imbalances persist.

"Also affecting the budget flexibility in our view is the county's limited capacity to raise revenue due to political resistance to exceed the state's 2 percent tax levy cap," S&P said.

The new rating is five steps below prime grade.

Aides to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, downplayed the ratings change. They noted that it puts S&P's rating in line with Fitch Ratings, which lowered the county's bond rating to A a year ago.

The aides said Bellone has no intention of exceeding the tax cap. "Very simply, when we are forced with a decision to break the tax cap or have Wall Street lower our bond rating, we are going to maintain our promise to taxpayers and not break the tax cap," said Justin Meyers, Bellone's spokesman.

Republicans called the rating drop a warning for taxpayers.

"It shows that Wall Street disagrees with Bellone's budget message that claims the county is headed in the right direction," said James O'Connor, the GOP county executive candidate.

"We have more of a spending problem than a revenue problem," said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey of Lindenhurst, GOP caucus leader. "The [Democratic] majority doesn't have the fortitude to make the changes needed to make a difference."

The new rating comes as the county prepares to go to the bond market over the next three weeks to borrow $51 million for various capital projects and to refinance $107 million in existing bonds to save $5.7 million over the next five to seven years.While Bellone aides said they did not expect the new rating to increase interest costs, Republican Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. estimated it could increase interest expenses by .1 percent to .15 percent for the upcoming borrowings.

"What they said is that the revenue being raised does not match our expenses, so we have to spend less," Kennedy said.

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