With Washington continuing its failure to provide direct disaster aid to state and local governments, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today released a 2021 Recommended Operating Budget that makes difficult reductions to services and staffing levels to help confront a projected two-year budget gap of $437 million. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented economic and fiscal environment, causing a projected multi-year shortfall of more than $1 billion.
“I have been raising the alarm about the need for Washington to deliver the appropriate and justified level of disaster aid for state and local governments for months now,” said Suffolk Country Executive Steve Bellone. “This is a simple matter of fairness. As a region, we send billions more of our tax dollars to Washington every year than we ever see in return. We are simply asking that they return a small fraction of that amount to help our region recover as quickly as possible from this natural disaster.”
For months, the County Executive has been working with a bipartisan coalition of local, state and federal lawmakers to advocate for the federal government to provide justified disaster assistance for state and local governments. During that time, the County has simultaneously confronted both a public health and public safety crisis, a confluence of events that had never before experienced. Both of these crises get to the heart of the essential functions and core services that county governments provide on a daily basis. While the county puts forth this budget, global economic and health experts agree that governments will be dealing with the direct impacts of COVID-19, not only through this year, but for years to come.
Highlights of the County Executive’s Recommended Budget:
- Total 2021 recommended operating budget is $3.197 billion, $33 million less than 2020 adopted budget
- FY 2020 total revenue shortfall is $325 million
- Projected deficit of over $437 million for FYI 2021 and 2022 combined
- Multi-Year forecast for major funds shows a $1 billion deficit
- 1.9% increase in the police district, stays under tax cap
- Cuts taxes for residents in the Southwest Sewer District
The 2021 Recommended Operating Budget includes staffing reductions of 500 full-time employees and cuts to discretionary spending in public health, public safety and transportation. The budget is predicated on most cuts being implemented on July 1, 2021 providing ample time for the proposed cuts to be restored if the federal government provides disaster aid to states and local governments.
“These cuts should not happen and that is why Washington must act as quickly as possible to deliver direct disaster aid,” said County Executive Bellone. “The cuts in this budget are set to take effect midway through the budget year. Once Washington delivers direct disaster aid to state and local governments we can roll back these cuts, focus on containing and overcoming the virus and begin the hard work of recovery. With the appropriate and justified level of disaster aid, we will have the foundation necessary to build back better and stronger. Furthermore, we will be positioned not only to recover as quickly as possible from this natural disaster but also to be able to focus on reimagining and reinventing how County government functions and provides critical services.”
Since the Great Recession in 2008, the County has made significant progress in its recovery. Upon taking office in 2012, County Executive Bellone slashed a $500 million deficit that he inherited from the previous administration by strategically reducing the size of government, eliminating the use of one-shot revenues, merging departments, and required employees to pay towards the cost of their healthcare. After making these tough choices, the County finished fiscal year 2019 with an operating surplus as certified by the Office of the Suffolk County Comptroller, and was on pace for a potential $50 million surplus in 2020 that would have wiped out the accumulated deficit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since taking office in 2012, the County Executive has reduced the County workforce by over 1,400 full time positions, and maintained this lower level of staffing through enhanced departmental management and strict position control. The reduction in workforce is saving taxpayers over $100 million a year. Keeping full time staffing levels at this lower level is critical to maintaining payroll costs at a manageable level. In the absence of federal disaster assistance, the County will have to further reduce the size of the workforce by 500 full-time positions creating a savings of $25 million in 2021 and an annualized savings of $50 million. Staffing reductions may be achieved through a combination of attrition, early retirement incentive and layoffs.
The 2021 Recommended Budget is predicated on most of the cuts not being implemented until July 1, 2021. If the disaster aid materializes, we will be able to roll back some of the proposed reductions so that we can press forward with reforming the government for the people of Suffolk County, preserving the quality of life that our residents are accustomed to, and protecting our citizens.
Transportation Service Reductions
The proposed operating budget would discontinue 19 Suffolk transportation bus routes, which equates to 46 percent of all routes. These cuts will impact 2,300 rides daily, and total approximately $13 million in annualized savings. The County Executive also announced a reduction in Suffolk County Accessible Transportation (SCAT) Service that would include elimination of paratransit service beyond ADA requirements affecting 200 daily riders, and total approximately $5 million in savings. These measures will provide a combined annualized saving of $18 million.
Public Safety Reductions
The 2021 Recommended Operating Budget reflects a $20 million reduction in funding for the Suffolk County Police Department and Suffolk County Sheriff. Cuts include the cancelation of two police classes and one Deputy Sheriff’s class. The cancellation of these classes delays the hiring of 200 new Suffolk police officers and approximately 40 Deputy Sheriff’s officers that also train at the Police Academy. The County will also freeze all promotions for sworn officers.
County Contract Agencies
The budget will include a 50% cut across the board for contract agencies that receive predominantly County funding, including funds for substance abuse clinics, mental health providers, domestic violence shelters and gang prevention programs. This measure will save $8 million in 2021 and an annualized savings of $16 million.