County Executive Steve Bellone delivering a State of the County address at the Suffolk County Legislature in 2014. File photo.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone yesterday released a $3.2 billion recommended operating budget for 2020.

The county executive’s recommended budget would freeze general fund property taxes for an eighth consecutive year without imposing any new fees or fee increases, Bellone said in a statement.

The proposed budget also complies with the New York State 2% property tax cap, Bellone noted. It also “maintains investments in public safety that have made Suffolk County one of the safest suburban counties in the nation,” he said.

“This is a structurally balanced budget that continues our commitment to public safety, investments in economic development and protecting the environment,” Bellone said. It contains no one-shot revenues, he said.

“I am pleased to present an operating budget, which focuses on government innovation, technology, criminal justice reform, protecting our environment, shared services and long-term financial stability while fully funding all existing positions with no proposed layoffs or fee increases,” Bellone said.

An operating budget and program public hearing is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 27 at 10:30 a.m. in Riverhead at the Maxine Postal legislative auditorium at the county center. Two public hearings on the budget will be held prior to the legislature’s budget vote. State law requires the county to adopt a final budget in November.

The recommended budget reduces debt service in the general fund by $1.1 million compared to 2018 actual expenses, according to the press release.

It also stops the practice of deferring pension costs for the second straight year, the county executive said.

Bellone said the county’s new collective bargaining agreements with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, negotiated in May, required the unions to identify cost savings and plan design changes, that Bellone said will result in tens of millions of dollars of savings over the term of the agreement. Today, all county employees are now contributing to their health plan for the first time in history, the county executive said. This is an historic achievement that coupled with the plan design changes will produce approximately $40 million in total health care savings upon full implementation of the agreement, Bellone said.

The county has also secured a five-year agreement with Hudson River Healthcare to continue operation of eight health centers across Suffolk. The continued taxpayer savings over the next five years is projected at an additional $93 million to the county, bringing total taxpayer savings to over $150 million. The agreement will save Suffolk County $93 million over the next five years for health center operations, the executive said.

The 2020 recommended budget also includes funds for a new class of police recruits.

It also includes funds for additional staffing in the district attorney’s office needed to implement “drastic changes to the Criminal Procedure Law which was passed by the N.Y. State Legislature and which mostly take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The law will require the D.A.’s office to create a new intake bureau, which must be staffed 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The new bureau is necessary to ensure the sufficiency of accusatory instruments prior to their filing and compliance with the new onerous discovery laws, which require the production of all relevant material and information within 15 days of arraignment, according to the county executive’s press release.

The 2020 recommended budget contains “conservative assumptions” regarding the reduction in the census at the county’s correctional centers, which will lead to a reduction in overtime, food and supply costs in the sheriff’s budget, Bellone said.

The county will continue to support efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution in our groundwater, with its septic improvement program providing county grant funding of up to $20,000 for residential property owners who upgrade their existing onsite sewage disposal system to a nitrogen-reducing sewage disposal system.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, Bellone’s Republican opponent in the 2019 election, says the county executive, a Democrat, has created a “fiscal calamity” in Suffolk County.

“During his nearly eight years in office, Suffolk County taxpayers have faced the brunt of his fiscal mismanagement, with $200 million in tax and fee increases, a 22.4% property tax increase, a bloated budget of over $3 billion, including over $1 billion in payroll, $2 billion in debt, seven bond downgrades, seven fiscal emergencies, and nearly 17,000 fewer county residents,” Kennedy said in a staetment issued earlier this week.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.