It's counterintuitive to find good news in a state comptroller's report that describes Suffolk County's finances as being under "moderate fiscal stress." But a report released by Thomas DiNapoli's office last week was good news for Suffolk because a year ago, the comptroller rated the county's finances as under "significant fiscal stress."
County Executive Steve Bellone recently proposed a $2.88-billion budget for 2015. Recurring revenues still won't meet expenses for the year, but the budget is a straightforward accounting of a brightening situation. It would use only about $85 million in one-shot, non-recurring revenue, a big drop from $229 million in 2013. While police taxes would rise in western Suffolk, the budget does not count a penny of income from speed cameras or video lottery terminals.
Nassau's budget, in contrast, is dependent on these iffy revenues.
Bellone inherited a tough situation, and it is still tough. The county is projected to have a $170-million deficit through 2015, but two years ago that deficit was projected to be about $500 million. The measures Bellone has taken, such as the sale-leaseback of the Dennison county office building, have been uncomfortable and unpopular, but critics have rarely supplied better ideas. In fact those critics, often members of both major parties in the Suffolk legislature, have frequently reacted to each dire financial announcement by demanding more spending to hire cops, add services or keep open a county nursing home that was bleeding cash.
Bellone's financial acumen hasn't been perfect: He approved a very expensive police contract, and his attempts to save money through office consolidations and other changes have at times been mishandled. But his plans have been reality-based, and his budgets are improving.