On Tuesday, a group of six Republican and Democratic Suffolk County Legislators held a press conference to announce a set of deficit-reducing proposals to cut into shortfall that, according to the County's Budget Review Office, could reach $180 million next year. According to the office of Presiding Officer William Lindsay, D-Holbrook, the five ideas proposed on Tuesday would save over $100 million next year.
During the press conference, held at the County Center in Riverhead, Lindsay referenced “difficult economic times” on several occasions, and cited onerous mandates from New York State and a shortage in sales tax revenue as a couple of reasons why the county has to find new ways to come up with cash.
“We don’t know if all these ideas will fly,” Lindsay said. “But it’s certainly an effort to puts some ideas forward as we try and keep us afloat during these difficult economic times.”
Standing with Lindsay were Legislators Jon Cooper, D-Huntington, Wayne Horsley, D-Babylon, Lynne Nowick, R-St. James, Ed Romaine, R-Center Moriches, and John M. Kennedy, R-Nesconset.
Prior to the meeting, the legislature had already passed one of the five proposals by a 14-4 vote, which Lindsay says is expected to net the county $15 million: to sell 247 acres in Yaphank that were part of a proposed mixed-use facility known as Legacy Village, which would have affordable housing, office space, athletic facilities, and retail.
Note: The legislature reconsidered its vote on this resolution later on Tuesday, after this article was originally published. Legislator Tom Barraga, R-West Islip, changed to a 'no' vote, passing the resolution, 13-5.
County Executive Steve Levy had supported the Legacy Village plan and stated on Tuesday that he would veto the measure – though not for that reason alone. Legislators Romaine, Sarah Anker, D-Mt. Sinai, Kate Browning, WF-Shirley, and Jack Eddington, D-Patchogue voted against the measure, which was introduced by Lindsay.
“We support allowing maximum flexibility for the property, including our continued negotiations with the Shinnecocks,” Smith said in an email. “But object to the clause that kills Legacy Village before we know what the Shinnecocks will do.”
The remaining four proposals to cut the county’s budget shortfall still must go through their respective committees before coming to a General Legislature Meeting vote.
One would direct the county to issue a request for proposals to sell Hauppauge’s H. Lee Dennison Building and have the purchaser lease it back to the county, eventually selling it back to the county for a nominal price - a practice known as a lease buyback. While Romaine, who introduced the measure, ceded it could be considered a “one shot deal” he said the county would be able to subsidize some of its payments to the private owner.
Levy shared a similar train of thought.
“While most of the suggestions are one-shots, we nevertheless welcome the Legislature into our discussion on ways we can mitigate the loss of state aid and the increases in state pension costs,” Levy said.
Lindsay said during the press conference that a concerted effort has been made to contact state representatives. He cited pension increases over the past two years as $36 million and $40 million this year.
Romaine also suggested privatizing the county’s marinas. Though he couldn’t put a price tag on the four county-owned marinas (Shinnecock Canal, Smith Point, Timber Point, and Tuthill Point), he said the county ran a $180,000 deficit at the marinas last year.
“So even if they were sold for $1, we would already be up,” he said.
Legislator Jon Cooper introduced a resolution directing County Executive Levy to offer a lag payroll to county employees, a tactic that Cooper said deferred $30 million in payments two years ago. Under a lag payroll, employees defer payments for working days – Cooper suggested two weeks - until they retire, at which point they are reimbursed for those days and payments are adjusted to reflect the current cost of living. The proposal is estimated to save the county $28 million in costs next year.
Lastly Kennedy and Romaine introduced a resolution together to sell off the county’s tax liens for commercial and vacant properties, expected to save the county $20 million.