As part of the initiatives to close a projected budget gap that could be as high as $150 million, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi is asking all county employees, including union and non-union, to take a 7 percent pay reduction.
Layoffs would come from various county departments including the Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums, Department of Public Works, and the Police Department and are estimated to save $19 million for the 2009 fiscal year.
Suozzi addressed the budget before the legislature on Feb. 2 as he outlined ways to close the county's budget gap that will come, in large part, because of a shortfall in sales tax. According to county comptroller Howard Weitzman, sales tax revenue accounts for 40 percent of the county's budget.
"We have to be prepared for the worst but we're hoping for the best," said Suozzi. The best would pertain to the unions accepting a 7 percent pay cut and the worst would mean layoffs.
The bulk of the savings is expected to come from layoffs to the police department including 250 police officers for an estimated savings of $10,697,360. The plan also calls for the demotion of 10 sergeants, 10 lieutenants and six police captains, according to the ordinance that will come before the Nassau County Legislature. Suozzi has asked the legislature to reschedule consideration of layoffs from the legislature's meeting on Feb. 9 to the Feb. 23 meeting.
According to Suozzi, the county has to make some departmental changes if it goes ahead with the layoffs. The layoffs would call for the reduction of precinct special patrols including school resource officers, community policing, plainclothes, and other special details effective April 1.
According to Nassau County Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Jim Carver, the layoffs would eliminate the police department's mounted unit and the motorcycle unit; the marine patrols would be downsized and the patrols for shopping malls would be affected.
Carver said that although there would be the same amount of marked cars that respond to emergency calls and conduct routine patrols, special patrols such as narcotic and gang enforcement would be eliminated. "The county will tell you they have the same amount of people on patrol. That's is a lie. Patrol is not only defined by the marked cars that go out there, but the unmarked enforcement teams that we have out there," he said. "It's going to have a negative impact. You may not see crime rise today or tomorrow, but eventually you are going to see it go up. We're going to be a reactionary police department just answering the calls than a proactive police department."
The county finds itself in a paradox with respect to layoffs in the police department. In difficult economic times, communities could see an increase in crime. It may not be the best time to reduce the size of the police department. However, the county finds itself trying to close a budget gap at a time when a national recession has reduced consumer spending thereby reducing the amount of sales tax revenue the county would normally receive.
The Nassau County 3rd Precinct, which serves Mineola and Williston Park among other communities, has seen an increase in some major crimes from 2007 to 2008.
From Dec. 26, 2006 to Dec. 3, 2007, there were 6,771 crimes reported in the 3rd Precinct. From Dec. 25, 2007 to Dec. 1, 2008, there were 7,124, an increase of 5.21 percent. The biggest increases in crimes during those periods were commercial robberies, which increased 16.28 percent, and residential burglaries, which increased 15.38 percent, during those time periods.
Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins proposed starting a Mineola police department. However, the referendum held before voters in December 2006 was overwhelmingly rejected. Since then, Mayor Martins hasn't mentioned the possibility of a village police force since he wants to respect the will of the voters. However, he has expressed concern over the impact layoffs to the county police department will have on public safety.
Both Carver and Mayor Martins don't believe cuts should come from a shortfall in sales tax revenue since taxpayers pay a police patrol tax and police headquarters tax to fund the police department.
"I'm frankly surprised," Mayor Martins said of the proposed layoffs to the police department. "We pay police patrol tax and a headquarters tax and it's split out on a resident's tax bill because it's that important. Poorly forecasting sales tax revenues should not come at the expense of public safety."
Mayor Martins was critical of the county for getting itself into a position where it has to close a big revenue shortfall in its budget. The mayor feels that a decrease in sales tax revenue could have easily been predicted given the national economic climate and then prepared for. "Anybody in the world would have known that projecting sales tax revenue would remain flat, let alone going up, is borderline insane. We really have to hold county government accountable."
County workers are now being asked to help the county out of its projected deficit by taking a pay cut. Suozzi had said that he would be accepting a 7 percent pay cut for his own salary. However as part of the 2008 budget, he received a 60 percent pay raise as his salary went from $109,394 to $174,614.
According to Weitzman, the county ended 2008 with approximately $37.5 million less in sales tax revenue than budgeted.