Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday released a proposed 2013 budget that erases the county's deficit while keeping increases under the state's 2 percent tax cap.
Bellone's budget, which the executive said increases less than 1 percent year-over-year, freezes the county's spending while enacting a slate of new measures meant to rein in costs.
"My proposed 2013 budget is balanced, holds property taxes under the New York State tax cap includes no general fund tax increase and will not lay off any additional employees. Despite rising mandated costs, we will hold spending increases below one percent by making government more efficient and continuing the work of streamlining departments," he said in a statement.
For example, Bellone said the county will pull in $70 million in cash through the sale and lease-back of several county-owned properties, a move meant to erase a $60 million deficit inherited by the first-year county executive.
The county also plans to consolidate its existing sewer district, thought any specifics he said would be vetted in public. The county has already proposed merging its sewer districts and water authority.
Bellone also said his budget merges the departments of labor and consumer affairs into a new Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs, to eliminate overlap.
The budget also calls for a phased opening of a new expanded correctional facility in Yaphank into order to keep watch on staffing pressures that will come from having a larger facility.
The county is also looking to expand a program that converts county health centers to federally qualified health centers. A similar move happen this year with the conversion of Coram-based Elsie Owens Health Center to Hudson River HealthCare, an FQHC. Federal management of these means medical malpractice costs are shifted to the federal government.
County Warns East Hampton: We'll Sue
County officials this week also warned the Town of East Hampton that it has plans to sue the municipality over the removal of topsoil from Suffolk-owned land.
The notice of claim alleged that the town unlawfully excavated prime agricultural soil in a project off Route 114 in East Hampton that was meant to be preserved for agriculture.
The county had purchased the land in 1988 and recently East Hampton dug into the property as part of an abatement program for helping reduce a flooding problem in the area.
“The unlawful excavation and removal of topsoil rendered the land in question unusable for farming and substantially diminished the value of the land, which was paid for by Suffolk County taxpayers,” Bellone said in a statement. “We believe the flooding issue can be addressed without alienating farmland and at far less cost to the taxpayers.”
But East Hampton Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said they made an honest mistake and called the lawsuit threat politically motivated.
"To me, this sounds like a pure political set-up. To me this sounds like it's a set up for someone to ride in on a white horse," he told Patch.
In an op-ed to Patch posted later this week, East Hampton Town Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley called out the county.
"The lawsuit is startling. It is a complete reversal from the Town's immediate attempts to settle the issues with the County once the issue was realized. It is in contradiction to the discussions the Town was having with the County. It is a move that escalates cost, as it sets the County and Town at odds instead of as two governmental bodies working for a solution," she wrote.
Suffolk County Planning Director Sarah Lansdale fired back. In a Letter to the Editor submitted Friday, she said, "Ironically, the fact that the Town of East Hampton has responded to our notice of claim in such a hostile manner, rather than viewing it as an opportunity to find a compromise, demonstrates the very behavior that necessitated the notice in the first place."