County executive talks budget deficit

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone met with members of the Long Island Farm Bureau at the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverhead Wednesday.

Speaking to a room full of Long Island farmers in Riverhead Wednesday morning, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone laid out his plan for closing a deficit in Suffolk County that is expected to grow to as much as $400 million by 2014.

In order to do so, Mr. Bellone said the county must accept that revenues will not rebound to previous levels.

“We’re not going to have an uptick in terms of revenue … not in a way where we can replace all those years of loss and repair the structural gap [through revenues],” he said. “We’re going to have to continue to restructure county government.”

Mr. Bellone said his administration has eliminated 750 positions at a savings of $65 million annually. That “tough decision” has helped the county cut into a deficit that a task force found to be between $410 and $530 million when he took office, he said.

“We were able to balance the budget [this year] with the deficit that we inherited by making tough choices, but we also did it by using one-shots,” he said. “Over the past six or seven years the county has used about $600 million in one-shot revenues to cover the deficit. We are now down to the bottom of the barrel in one-shot revenues.”

Muddying the county’s financial picture moving forward, he said, is the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which caused a “$65 million hole in the budget from direct costs, loss of sales tax revenue and loss of property tax revenue.”

“When you add the losses from Sandy to the existing structural deficit, our deficit right now for the upcoming budget year is $250 million and it is projected to be $400 million in 2014,” the county executive said.

Mr. Bellone said his administration’s plan now is to continue making cuts while looking for creative new one-shot revenues, as the economy improves.

“What I won’t do is short-term borrowing to hope the economy is coming back,” he said. “That would sink us more into debt and bring us closer to where Nassau County is.

“We need to be very judicious and critical about what things are a priority.”

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