During his address, Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi stated, "Things are as bad as they can be."
Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi delivered an "emergency budget address" on Feb. 2 to the Nassau County Legislature outlining a plan to close an unexpected budget gap that could be as high as $150 million. Suozzi called on union leaders and both county and state legislators to take immediate action toward mitigating the county's plans to lay off nearly a thousand civil service employees, police officers, corrections officers, and other county employees.
Suozzi is asking union leaders to agree to a 7 percent pay cut across the board in order to prevent massive layoffs, drastic cuts in services and the shutdown of county parks and other facilities.
"Things are as bad as they can be," Suozzi said, as he reached out to Washington, Albany and the county's labor unions for help in plugging the huge budget gap they face this year. "There is no question that Nassau County has been severely affected by this national economic crisis, and it would be impossible to over-estimate the trouble we face. This year, sales tax revenues are the lowest they have been in 20 years, the state has made huge cuts in our share of aid, and requests for public assistance have increased significantly. We are in the midst of the 'perfect storm' of economic turmoil and I'm asking each and every county employee to help us to avoid taking drastic action."
Suozzi pointed to a national economy in crisis and said "Nassau County's budget took a body blow; a stake to the heart," because of the stock market crash, national credit crisis and interest rates.
"We've seen the largest drop in consumer spending since World War II. Housing starts have sunk to their lowest level in history and on Friday, we learned that the national economy shrank to another historic low," said Suozzi.
"It was a loss of over $40 million in sales tax revenue that really wreaked havoc on the county budget. For the first time in almost 20 years, 2008 year-over-year sales tax growth will be in negative numbers," explained Suozzi as he noted that more of the county budget is funded by sales tax than the property taxes residents pay.
"I do not want to lay off workers in the middle of a recession; I do not like the idea of closing senior centers and parks, or imposing a tax on home heating oil. But this is the reality that we face if we don't get the help we need from Nassau County's employee unions."
According to the plan, 320 civil service employees, 250 police officers, 100 corrections officers and hundreds of other union and non-union employees will be terminated beginning April 1.
In addition to layoffs and a county-wide salary reduction, Suozzi's deficit mitigation plan requires an increase in federal Medicaid assistance and millions of dollars in state legislative items through a tax on cigarette purchases, revenue from red light cameras, and an increase in surcharge on traffic and other vehicular violations.
A home heating fuel tax and $12 million in program cuts will have to be imposed if the state does not authorize the county to install red light cameras, increase fees on traffic tickets and impose a tax on cigarettes, Suozzi said.
Local politicians responded to Suozzi's speech.
"We are in the middle of an economic crisis," said Legislator David Mejias (D-Farmingdale). "The county must tighten its belt and do more with less by reducing spending. We cannot and will not solve this problem by raising property taxes."
"In these economic times, I agree concessions should be made," added Massapequa Park Mayor James Altadonna. "But these concessions should be equitable, with higher appointed salaried positions bearing more of the burden and hourly salaried persons bearing less of a burden. I am a strong proponent of a livable wage for all employees. As far as police are concerned, I feel they are second to none and, if anything, we need more police in our areas, not less. I also think that the county should look into reimbursing only county taxes during the tax certiorari process and that the school districts should be responsible for their portion of the taxes. Most of the large tax certioraris are from commercial properties that truly aren't located in the Massapequa Park area. Therefore, our residents are sharing an undue burden."
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.
Legislator 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.
Legislator Schmitt said the Republican caucus of the Legislature would vote against any home heating tax, another possible proposal that has been mentioned.