The Suffolk County Legislature Wednesday voted 11-7 for a $2.9-billion county budget that eliminates proposed cuts, restores services and increases sales tax revenue projections for 2016 and 2017.
Legislator Al Krupski joined with Republicans in opposing the amendments to County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed budget.
Krupski said in an interview the county must address the budget’s $135 million structural deficit.
“We have to keep taking steps to make it better along the way. I felt that this wasn’t going in the right direction,” Krupski said.
The adopted budget, with the amendments, “relies too heavily on borrowing,” the North Fork legislator said, “including borrowing to meet pension costs and borrowing from the county’s sewer reserve stabilization fund, which is money that’s been collected county-wide to stabilize county sewer rates. But we used it to stabilize our budget. We could borrow from that fund interest-free, but we have to start repaying it in 2018. So next year we’ll have an even bigger hold to climb out of,” he said.
“There is a well-established culture of borrowing in county government — in all government, really – and to me, that’s a big concern,” Krupski said. “You can’t keep borrowing that much money every year. My question has been for four years: When does this end?”
The amendments will now head to Bellone’s desk for approval or veto.
The amendments were advanced by the bipartisan budget working group. They restored the Public Health Nursing Bureau and the Tobacco Education and Control Program, which had been omitted from the county executive’s proposed fiscal package.
In addition, income eligibility for day care was restored at the 2016 level of 125 percent for a family of four earning $30,375 annually, rather than 100 percent earning $24,300 annually – as proposed – to be more inclusive of those needing day care services.
The lawmakers reduced fees, including charges for security alarm system fees and fines, and eliminated a 1-percent contract agency service fee and a proposed $25 increase in the tax map certification fee.
Included in the omnibus bill is an increase in 2016 sales tax revenue from 0.85 percent to 1.16 percent, which equates to $4 million in 2016 and $4 million in 2017, and an increase in police district property taxes of $500,000, reflecting an increase of 3.986 percent. The bill also reduces property taxes in the Southwest Sewer District by 33 percent.
Legislators increased funding for overtime in the sheriff’s department by $2.4 million, increased revenue from the motor vehicle registration surcharge, which will generate an additional $2 million, and increased an administrative fee on moving violations from $30 to $60.
They also built in anticipated savings of $4.1 million based on a new request for proposals issued for the 2017 Employee Medical Health Plan.
In a separate measure, legislators – in a bipartisan vote – rejected a plan to borrow $26.7 million for police retirement pay. Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory argued against the bonding, which would require state approval.
“I believe there is little to be gained as it would be very unlikely that the state legislature would agree to this,” Gregory said. “It makes more sense to do it in-house and resolve whatever the issues are through negotiations between the county executive and the labor unions.”
Gregory said the county is prohibited from bonding for expenses that are part of the operating budget. Therefore, he included the costs for the retirement pay in a deferred salary line in the budget. Legislators Kara Hahn, Tom Cilmi, Thomas Barraga, Leslie Kennedy, Robert Trotta and Louis D’Amaro opposed the measure.