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Suffolk lawmakers raise concerns about budget deficit

Suffolk lawmakers are voicing increasing concern about holes in the 2013 budget that could total more than $100 million and stem from stalled initiatives including the sale of the county nursing home in Yaphank.

The legislature's budget committee on Tuesday explored the new deficit that would result from the failure of several of County Executive Steve Bellone's revenue-generating efforts: the $23 million sale of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, the $19 million sale of surplus county land in Yaphank and a $70 million plan to sell and lease back the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.

Lawmakers said there are few options to make up for the revenue.

"We're in a position where we really don't have alternatives," Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said after the committee meeting. "Either we cut spending through layoffs or eliminate programs."

The nursing home and surplus land deals are tied up in litigation while the Dennison proposal still needs state and county legislative approval.

"The situation we're in is potentially dire," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk). "We need a back up plan."

Officials called the nursing home issue the most urgent. Opponents of Bellone's deal to sell the facility to private operators are suing in State Supreme Court. Also, the Brookhaven zoning board of appeals last week denied a special permit the home needs to switch to private ownership.

Appealing the zoning decision or moving to close the facility could take months. The county is subsidizing the nursing home's continued operation at a cost of $1 million a month that is not included in the 2013 budget.

Fred Pollert, deputy county executive for finance, said those funds are being taken from the budgets of some health department divisions and other county departments.

County attorneys say they still expect to resolve the suit over the surplus land in Yaphank -- which will expand a local rail hub -- this year.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration, meanwhile, will continue to look for savings -- including overtime reductions and attrition -- to make the budget less reliant on the $70 million Dennison sale-lease back proposal.

Bellone once called the initiative a gimmick, and aides say it remains a "last resort."

"The goal is to do everything we can to avoid it," Schneider said.

Though some lawmakers have asked him to, Bellone has said he doesn't foresee asking the state to allow Suffolk to raise the sales tax to compensate for lost revenue.

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