Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi called an emergency budget address this week where he called for massive layoffs at the county if an across-the-board salary reduction could not be negotiated with the three major unions.
During an emergency budget address this week, Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi painted a grim picture of job cuts and service reductions in the county, offering only one clear escape from this dire situation; a 7 percent salary cut across-the-board. He said that without these pay decreases, there will be massive layoffs and program cuts affecting every area of county life, from a tax on home heating-oil, to cuts in social services like Youth Board and Meals on Wheels programs to parks closing or losing staff and services.
Mr. Suozzi said that $55 million has to be cut from the Nassau County budget due to a drastic and unforeseen reduction in sales tax income. His office has calculated that the proposed 7 percent pay cut on the part of every county employee would result in these necessary savings.
"I know that our union leaders' first reaction will be, 'No thank you.'" Mr. Suozzi said. "They will say they sympathize with the county's budget problems and that while they understand the need to close the budget gap, they will say that this is not the way to do it."
He went on to cite both President Barack Obama, who encourages "shared sacrifice," and FedEx, where they have broken ground in this new economic era by choosing a similar company-wide pay cut to avoid layoffs.
Without the pay cut solution, Mr. Suozzi said that 10 percent of the county workforce would be "dismantled" to reach the $55 million mark.
Thirty parks would be closed and all besides six would lose staff and services. Youth Board programs would no longer get aid from Nassau, but could get some from the state. Meals on Wheels would not serve any new people.
In law enforcement, K9 units would be eliminated. Police officers would be laid off or demoted.
"It's back to the beat for many present-day superior officers and detectives," Mr. Suozzi said.
Besides the loss of county services, at the town and village level, revenue will go down, trickling further losses and crises.
Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman told the Record Pilot that as a result of a "free fall" in sales tax receipts, "The impact of these draconian cuts will be county-wide. Only a few parks are exempted. With respect to towns and villages the primary impact will be a reduction in the sales tax that we remit to them. As ours goes down, the amount we give goes down." He added that the county has given a voluntary portion, which would be affected now as well.
Welwyn Preserve and Garvies Point will be affected in these cuts, and possibly Sea Cliff Village's financial situation.
Presiding Officer and District 18 Legislator Diane Yatauro said she will be reviewing the County Executive's message carefully and working towards a viable solution to the budget crisis.
Presiding Officer and District 18 Legislator Diane Yatauro said, "The County Executive has delivered unpleasant news. The worldwide economic crisis continues to have a devastating impact on our state and on our county. There are some serious issues the legislature will be considering over the next several weeks. No one, let me repeat, no one in government enjoys the prospect of laying off people or cutting programs, but our financial condition is grim and we must take responsible steps to avoid further deterioration. We will be reviewing the County Executive's message carefully and we will work towards a viable solution."
Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Peter Schmitt was critical of Suozzi's proposals and feels that the county arrived at this point because of the lack of proper fiscal management. Legislator Schmitt pointed out that the Republican members of the Legislature voted against the budget in October.
"One of the reasons we voted against Suozzi's budget is because we knew that the revenues he put in there were speculative and the whole thing was going to come tumbling down," he said.
Legislature Schmitt said the county ought to be looking at deferring and postponing any expenses that it can and phase those expenses in during years when the sales tax revenue is on the increase.
Legislature Schmitt said the Republican caucus of the Legislature would vote against any home heating tax, another possible proposal that has been mentioned.
After Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi's address, where he said that it was likely the county would cut 10 percent of its workforce, local government leaders offered the Record Pilot insight into their own economic situations.
While law enforcement is affected at the county level, involving both police and the penal system, the City of Glen Cove Police Department will not lose resources itself.
"We are completely independent," Chief of Police William F. Whitton told the Record Pilot.
He hopes that concern over a lack of gang assistance from the county would probably not be an issue either.
"There is a squad called GIS, Gang Intelligence Section that we work with. If we were working on a case involving MS-13, for instance, we would segue with them. But I assume they will figure out how to make some resources available still."
The chief added, economically speaking, that the Glen Cove Police Department makes efforts to seek grants and cut overtime and other expenses in order to give tax payers relief.
He did also say that in a bad economy, crime obviously goes up.
Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi said that the worst aspect of the county's situation is a loss of tax revenue. He cited three major revenue sources in the city budget: sales tax, mortgage tax and state aid. All have dropped significantly. But, they have anticipated much of these issues in Glen Cove and projected downward in the 2009 budget, assuming sales tax and state aid would be terrible, the mayor said.
As far as lay-offs at the city level, the mayor said there is not much that could be cut. There are 41 men and women in public works and 53 police officers, and most cuts that could be possible have been done. He is trying to add staff to the building department, hoping an investment there would pay off against illegal housing.
"The strength here in Glen Cove is we started three years ago fixing budget problems, so while the economy affects residents, the problems are coming from outside the city. We took appropriate reductions already in our budget and we won't be doing similar cuts to parks and youth services. You can't be 11 or 12 again, so we can't ignore those services," the mayor said.
So, while job cuts are not a city issue, some residents have questioned, on the flip side, 2009 salary increases among the mayor's staff. As referenced in an earlier Record Pilot edition this month, five Glen Cove appointed employees received raises.
The salary of the public relations officer was increased from $40,000 per year to $42,500, the city controller is now paid $124,100 as compared with his past $122,100 salary, the city clerk's salary was increased from $42,000 to $44,750, a staff member at the Glen Cove Senior Adult Day Care program now earns $36,000, up from $34,753 and the Youth Bureau director's salary was increased from $72,225 to $72,500.
Mayor Suozzi responds to this by saying that most of the City's workers are union employees who almost all got contractual raises in 2009.
"The unions gets raises and they work hard and deserve them," Mr. Suozzi said. "But there are five or six people who are civil service who can't be picked on, it's not fair, regardless of economy."
The mayor said that overall, he calculates a savings in his offices over two years of $60,000, because there was a retirement in the City Clerk's office and the clerk and PR officer are making less than their predecessors.
"Also, unions average about 3.5 percent increases and are getting 3.75 this year," the mayor added. "Non-union workers have no mechanism to get raises and the ones that did got small ones. The controller got a 0.75 percent raise because he didn't get one the year before. So these specific raises were conservative and don't come close to other employees, and they represent savings on employees they replaced."
He finished his point saying that for every $10,000 spent by the city, he calculates the cost to each tax payer to be $1.
Superintendent Dr. Larry Aronstein of Glen Cove Schools said that, mirroring Nassau County, there would be lay offs. Dr. Aronstein told the Record Pilot that there will have to be cuts because such a high percentage of the school's budget is personnel, which is tied to benefits. So, to make significant cuts, that is where they will look.
The staff cut will be directly due to less aid coming from the state, he added. Based on the governor's proposal from December, they are assuming a 15.5 percent decrease in aid or $1.5 million.
"We have been putting together draft budget recommendations for the board of education's perusal and there are a number of staff cuts that include all aspects of personnel; administrators, teachers, teaching assistants, custodial staff."
He said that with a physical plant that is "deteriorating" they are left with little choice.
"Ordinarily, what you would do is freeze capital projects. We cannot afford to do that with the state of the buildings," he said.