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Suffolk says it's $20 million short of meeting budget

Suffolk County faces a budget shortfall of as much as $20 million, officials said Wednesday after a sales-tax check received from the state was well below expectations.

The state payment received this month for a portion of the fourth quarter of 2014 was down $11.8 million compared with the same period last year, a 23.6 percent drop, according to the county Legislative Budget Review Office.

"It was a negative surprise," said Robert Lipp, director of the budget review office.

County Executive Steve Bellone's administration said it agreed with the numbers.

Consumer spending in the county was down 0.4 percent or $1.34 million for the fourth quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. The county legislature this fall projected a 2.875 percent increase in year-over-year sales-tax growth for 2014, Lipp said.

Jon Schneider, deputy county executive, blamed declining gas prices and surging online sales for the decreased sales-tax figures.

Nassau also projected a $20 million budget hole from lower-than-expected sales-tax figures.

Bellone this month issued an executive order declaring a fiscal emergency and ordering departments to not spend 10 percent of their budgets.

The county has identified $20 million in cuts, including overtime, supplies, travel and contracted services, Schneider said.

"We're going to work to continue to hold the line on spending and hiring," Schneider said.

New budget forecasts will be made in April, when Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the county will have a better idea of its position.

In the meantime, he said the county should look at other revenue sources, such as a Suffolk OTB casino planned for Medford. That project has faced opposition. "It's important to move that along as quickly as possible as soon as those concerns are addressed," Gregory said.

Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), said, "We need to manage this county more fiscally conservative. There's not a plan."

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