General Fund Property Taxes Frozen for Sixth Straight Year With No New Fees or Layoffs; Remains Under Governor Cuomo's Property Tax Cap for Fifth Straight Year; Focus on Public Safety with At Least 235 New ...
Suffolk County, NY - September 18, 2017 - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today released the 2018 Recommended Operating Budget that would freeze General Fund property taxes for a sixth consecutive year without imposing any new fees or layoffs. The $3.057 billion Recommended Budget is a fiscally responsible blueprint stays below the New York State Property Tax Cap, provides tax relief for residents in the Southwest Sewer District for the third year in a row, and offers a roadmap to restore structural balance while preserving investments in public safety that have made Suffolk one of the safest suburban counties in the nation.
“This is a fiscally conservative and balanced budget that protects Suffolk County taxpayers,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “By freezing General Fund property taxes for the sixth straight year, staying below Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap, and with no new fees, Suffolk County continues to build upon the progress that we have made in right-sizing county government.”
By restructuring county government, slashing non-mandated expenses and implementing cost-saving measures over the years such as privatizing health centers and consolidating departments, the County structural budget deficit is the lowest level in ten years. In addition, the Recommended Operating Budget includes the fewest one-shot revenue measures in a County budget since 2008. The Recommended Operating Budget would also save taxpayers $2 million through the elimination of the tobacco cessation program and public health nursing programs in which the County already competes with the private sector where they are offered.
Among the initiatives included in the 2018 Recommended Operating Budget:
Keeping Communities Safe
Suffolk County is one of the safest suburban communities in the United States. The Suffolk County Police Department continues to implement an array of innovative strategies with a particular focus on the opioid epidemic, gang violence, traffic safety and homeland security. Index crimes are at their lowest levels since the Department began collecting reliable crime statistics in 1975 thanks to the hard work the Police Department. On top of the historic reductions seen in 2016, violent crime is down 11.6 percent year to date, property crime is down 8.5 percent and overall index crime is down 8.7 percent.
To address attrition and provide adequate levels of staffing in the Police Department, Suffolk County held two Police Officer classes in 2016 with a total of 175 new Police Officers, and expect to add at least 235 new Police Officers through 2018. Each newpolice officer hired under the current PBA contract will provide the County with thousands of dollars in recurring savings compared to officers under the previous PBA contract. The Recommended Operating Budget also includes funds for a new class of police recruits. A class of correction officers is also scheduled for 2018.
Growing the Economy
Suffolk County continues to make progress in a number of key economic initiatives. This includes Connect Long Island, a forward-thinking regional transportation and development plan that support Transit Oriented Development and 21st century transportation network. The i-Zone initiative consists of four major projects that are currently in the planning or construction phase, including: the Ronkonkoma Hub; advancement of the Nicholls Road Multimodel Bus Rapid Transit and Hike Bike Corridor; relocation of the Yaphank LIRR station to Brookhaven National Lab; and creation of a train-to-plan connection at Long Island MacArthur Airport.
The County continues to identify sources of grant funding to help advance regional economic development projects and has secured millions of dollars in grantsrelated to Connect Long Island and the i-Zone since 2012. This includes a total of over $7 million in grants for completed and ongoing BRT studies and other initiatives and $3 million in additional grants for various projects, including the Ronkonkoma Train-to-Plane Connectivity Study, and the Nicolls Road HikeBike trail design. Over $76 million in Federal transportation funding is slated for i-Zone and Connect Long Island projects between 2017 and 2021.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Shared Services Initiative required each county in the State to work with towns and villages to develop a plan for new inter-municipal initiatives to achieve cost savings through more efficient and coordinated shared services. The Suffolk County Shared Services Panel has unanimously approved SuffolkShare, a comprehensive ten-point plan that is projected to save taxpayers approximately $37 million over a two-year period. New York State will be offering a full matching grant for all net savings achieved through his plan during calendar year 2018. The savings will be split proportionally amongst the municipalities participating in the various initiatives.
As an important shared services initiative, the 2018 Recommended Operating Budget creates a new centralized call center to consolidate constituent phone inquiries. The call center will receive social service, senior and youth service, and general constituent inquiries, and also assist in handling parking violation calls and nonemergency inquiries. Data will be collected on departmental response to all incoming requests for services as part of the County Executive’s performance measurement process being implemented on an ongoing basis. The Constituent Response Unit will be located in a County facility and staffed primarily by a combination of current County personnel reassigned to the call center operation from other departments and new positions to enhance center operations. The goal is to create greater efficiency in the handling of incoming calls and inquiries while enhancing the effectiveness of County response to constituent needs.
County Executive Bellone’s Performance Management Team’s Continuous Improvement Initiative continues to evolve and expand this year. As a follow up to the training program delivered by Stony Brook University to approximately 4,000 County employees, the County is partnering with the American Management Association to deliver leadership training in the Fall of 2017. The leadership training will address the role of the manager and different supervisory styles, effective communication, time management, diversity & employee coaching and development. 200 management employees are schedule to participate in this training program.
The Recommended Operating Budget includes additional resources in partnership with the Suffolk County Presiding Officer to fund two business intelligence developer positions that have been added to the County Department of Information Technology. These new positions will work with existing staff in the County Executive’s Office, Performance Measurement and across all County departments to create and assist in identifying efficiencies.
Progress on Water Quality
In cooperation with other levels of government and the active support of the Suffolk County Legislature, the County continues to make steady progress in this historic multi-pronged effort to address longstanding water quality issues through expansion of sewering in some areas and the use of Innovative Alternative (IA) Onsite Wastewater Systems in areas where sewering is not a cost-effective solution.
The County took a hugestep forward in June 2017 with strong support from the business and environmental communities by receiving the Legislature’s approval of the Septic Improvement Program to provide grants to make voluntary replacement of cesspools and septic with new IA technologies affordable for homeowners. Response to and participation with the program has been strong and positive. To date, over 500 homeowners have registered for the program, 140 homeowners have completed grant applications, and 79 grants have been approved.
Reducing Healthcare Costs
The Suffolk County Employee Medical Health Plan (EMHP) costs have continued to rise at an exponential rate. The 2017 estimated costs are projected to be $13.3 million more than the funding included in the Operating Budget approved by the County Legislature, and the 2018 Recommended expenditures are estimated to be $44.2 million higher than Adopted, for a combined increase of $57.5 million increase over 2017 Adopted levels. These increases are unsustainable. To help mitigate the potentially devastating cost increase, the 2018 Recommended Operating Budget includes $30 million from plan design changes and/or employee contributions to be negotiated.