Suffolk County residents will pay more to use county parks next year, but county property taxes will hold the line in 2011 for the seventh consecutive year.
By a vote of 12 to 5 — Legislator Jon Cooper was out with a burst appendix — the Suffolk County Legislature voted Tuesday to override the bulk of County Executive Steve Levy’s vetoes to its spending plan, restoring about $800,000 to the county through park fee increases and pushing the police academy’s start date, which is a six month program, from March to September.
Those in favor of the delay said it will allow for more police officers to be available upon graduation right before the summer months, when crime increases.
But the Legislature failed to override Mr. Levy’s veto to fund the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. The nursing home costs the county about $4 million a year, officials said.
“While I didn’t get 100 percent of what I wanted, I maintained my tax freeze and won the two-decades-old battle to get the county out of the nursing home business, thereby saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the next several years,” Mr. Levy said.
He also said he is “perplexed and disappointed” by the delay in police hiring because the Legislature has called for it “so many times over the last year.”
Legislator Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham), whose failed motion to allow legislators to vote on each portion of the omnibus spending plan separately instead of as a one-lump sum, said this was the first budget he voted against since his time as a county lawmaker.
“I wasn’t going to be bullied into voting for things that I felt were wrong,” he said, adding he opposed increasing park fees and delaying police training.
Through the Legislature’s approval, Mr. Levy’s proposed $2.7 billion spending plan still includes $12 million in projected revenue for the sale of county-owned land, which is an industrial-zoned 95-acre section on which part of the controversial Legacy Village project in Yaphank would be built.
Last month, county legislators Kate Browning (WR-Shirley) and Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) protested the projected revenue and called it “phantom revenue,” but Mr. Levy maintained that if the entire Legacy Village project were to be held up by August 2011, the county would be allowed to move forward on the sale of the 95-acre industrial component of the 255-acre proposal.
The Legislature also approved Tuesday — by a vote of 13 to 4 — the final scope for the draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which is a $450,000 procedural move that, once completed, would allow the county to declare the land as surplus, making it eligible for sale.
“I don’t believe the plan is going to move forward and that money will end up being the responsibility of the taxpayers,” said Ms. Browning, who voted against the bill.
“If the land doesn’t sell, then we’ll revisit the budget next year,” she said.
Mr. Romaine said he’s committed to revisit the budget—particularly to reverse the park fee hikes.
“In these tough economic times, raising park fees is counter-intuitive,” Mr. Romaine said. “Stay-cations are on the rise. We need to create a climate that is hospitable to this type of recreation and not attempt to balance the budget on the backs of parkgoers.”