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Suffolk Legislature passes $2.9 billion budget

11/10/2015 5:55 PM |

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The Suffolk County Legislature voted last week 15 – 3 to approve a $2.9 billion operating budget for the county, using roughly $117 million in one-time payments to help close the budget gap.

But that influx of one-time cash wasn’t enough to close the gap entirely. The budget also calls for a $10 million cut to the Suffolk County bus system and smaller budgets for nonprofit groups like The Retreat, a resource for domestic violence victims.

Newly reelected Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) was among the 15 who voted in favor of the budget, with minority leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Legislators Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) voting against the spending plan.

“We did a lot of work on it and I think we made it better,” Mr. Krupski said of the budget.

Mr. Krupski said he received assurances that the $10 million in budget cuts won’t focus solely on the East End and will not include the elimination of entire bus lines. Instead, the cuts will target bus schedule times that are underused, Mr. Krupski said.

The legislator said County Executive Steve Bellone’s administration will make a push to get state funding to cover the budget cut.

“But there’s no guarantee that the state’s going to recognize that we don’t get anywhere near what Nassau County gets [in state funding],” he said. “Now that that’s out of our budget, it remains to be seen if the state has any interest in restoring that money. That’s a question mark.”

Of the $117 million in one-time revenue, Mr. Krupski said about $32.8 million will come from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, which is normally set aside to help keep sewer rates lower, in the form of a loan. It’s not the first time the county has chosen to pull from the fund. The county previously took $29 million from the fund, a move that an appellate court said in August was illegal.

Mr. Krupski said the $32.8 million used in this year’s budget will be returned to the fund on a strict schedule starting in 2018.

The remainder of the $117 million was generating from the sale of the John Foley Nursing Home and borrowing for pension payments.

Suffolk County Legislator and presiding officer DuWayne Gregory said the shortfall in county revenues “created challenging constraints” the legislature’s working group had to sort through.

“We made difficult, fiscally-responsible decisions in order to avoid raising the general fund property tax,” Mr. Gregory said in a statement. “I am proud that this budget passed with bipartisan support, and I thank the Legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office for its expertise and assistance in balancing this budget.”

Mr. Krupski said the County Legislature needs to begin focusing on next year’s budget now. The $117 million, he said, was only a stop-gap measure.

“We really need to get very serious … to try to make up that shortfall for the 2017 budget,” he said.

The state legislature would need to sign off on any increase in sales tax, Mr. Krupski said, so the county will need to find new sources of revenue. He believes they should start as soon as possible.

“Everyone’s looking for reoccurring revenue that the public would find palatable,” he said. “We can find either more revenue, cut services or both.”

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