Budget Cuts Non-Mandated Expenses, Preserves Public Safety, Double-Digit Tax Cut in Southwest Sewer District
(September 16, 2016-Hauppauge, NY) Today, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced his Recommended Budget of $2.96 billion for fiscal 2017 which is under the New York State property tax cap, freezes general fund taxes for a fifth straight year, and provides a 30 percent tax cut in the Southwest Sewer District.
The budget holds the line on spending with total Suffolk County spending increasing by just over one percent. Suffolk County government currently is the smallest it has been since 1993, and is nearly 1,300 positions less than when County Executive Bellone took office. Outside of mandated spending on benefits such as health insurance and pension costs and public safety expenses, the budget decreases other spending by $15 million.
“This is a tight budget,” County Executive Bellone said. “But it is a fair budget which protects taxpayers, prioritizes critical areas, and avoids draconian cuts to important services. We will hold the line on taxes, but we will also continue to do everything we must to ensure the safety of Suffolk County residents and make the critical investments in growing our economy and protecting water quality.”
Stagnant sales tax revenues have continued to negatively impact the budget. Sales tax revenues, the largest single revenue source for Suffolk County, has experienced several years of below-average growth. Recently, this trend has been exacerbated by lower prices for gas and energy. According to an analysis by the economic consultant firm Urbanomics, “…based upon our assumption of a steadily growing economy and stabilization in energy prices during the forecast period, we expect 2016 will be the low point for sales tax growth in Suffolk County.” The budget contains conservative sales tax growth estimates of .85 percent for 2016 and 2 percent for 2017.
Despite stagnant sales tax, the budget has the least one-shot revenue measures since 2010. More than 80 percent of the budget mitigation measures are considered recurring measures, a stark difference from 2011 when two-thirds of the measures were “one-shot” actions.
While the budget contains very tight controls on spending, County Executive Bellone was able to avoid employee layoffs, deep cuts to nonprofit contract agencies and continue mental health and substance abuse services.
This budget also contains the minimal funding needed to help implement the Comprehensive Master Plan, which was unanimously approved by the Suffolk County Legislature. This plan, the County’s first since 1971, provides the framework for sustainable growth and resiliency and for economic development that will help to retain and attract businesses and create jobs for Suffolk County residents. This effort leverages a relatively small County investment in staff and resources to secure hundreds of millions in State and Federal funding for critical transportation and clean water infrastructure.
Among the initiatives in the budget:
Reducing Crime and Opioid Abuse: The Suffolk County Police Department has reduced violent crime by approximately 9 percent and property crime by approximately 3.5 percent year to date compared to last year’s historic lows. This is despite a nearly 7 percent increase in violent crime statewide. This budget continues to give our police the resources they need to keep crime at historic lows by focusing on the opioid epidemic, reducing firearm violence and working with communities. The budget also seeks New York State authority to bond separation pay for law enforcement for 2017-18 in order to smooth out expenses from an anticipated spike in retirements while retaining the resources and fiscal flexibility to continue to hire new officers which is critical to maintain public safety and save taxpayer dollars over several years.
Tax Cut in Southwest Sewer District: This budget contains a 30% tax cut for residents of the Southwest Sewer District. Households in the Islip portion of the district will see their taxes fall an average of $160, while Babylon households will see taxes fall an average of $141. At the same time as taxes are reduced in the district, $26.9 million in projects will be paid as “pay-go” projects, reducing the district’s borrowing and keeping it on strong long-term financial footing.
Fighting Foreclosures: A new program is being developed within the Department of Economic Development and Planning to mobilize outreach resources to prevent foreclosures. Foreclosures in Suffolk County remain a persistent problem, and our foreclosure rate is more than double the state and national rates. This initiative will help homeowners navigate avenues of assistance to avoid foreclosure. We will partner with state, federal and local agencies and nonprofits to increase reach to those in need, and help provide connections to avoid foreclosures.
Making Government More Efficient: Suffolk County government today is the smallest it has been since 1993. There are almost 1,300 fewer positions than when County Executive Bellone came into office—producing a savings of more than $100 million per year. This budget continues the Continuous Improvement Initiative, which empowers county employees and improves productivity through a training program in partnership with Stony Brook University’s Center for Corporate Education and Training. It also expands SuffolkSTAT which helps improve efficiency by measuring performance and the “Lighthouse” initiative which empowers employees by elevating improvement ideas.
Protecting Public Health from Emerging Risks: A new Contamination Control Unit has been created in the Health Department’s Division of Environmental Quality. This unit will identify potential environmental exposures to drinking water in order to reduce public health risks. Once an exposure is identified an action plan will developed, which may include a private well survey of the area where contamination has been detected, coordination and assistance to residents whose private drinking water wells have become contaminated, evaluation of potential risks to public water supply, outreach and communication to the community, and coordination with State agencies. Core staffing for the unit will be provided through a mixture of redeployment of existing personnel and restructuring of current vacant positions; the unit will also leverage resources in other pre-existing units, such as the Office of Water Resources and Office of Pollution Control.