It was at the beginning of the month when Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi discussed a plan to close a budget gap for the 2009 county budget that could be as high as $150 million. The plan calls for cuts in county services as well as union concessions or employee layoffs. The good news is, according to Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, the county executive is not considering a midyear property tax increase.
The county is feeling the effects of a global recession that has forced residents to rethink their spending habits. With less money being spent, sales tax revenue, which the county counts on to fund 40 percent of its budget, is decreasing.
Critics of Suozzi believe that a decrease in sales tax revenue could have been foreseen given the state of the economy while Suozzi was formulating his budget late last year. Instead, the county budget called for the same amount of revenue it had expected to receive in 2008. However, according to Weitzman's office, the county will be closing the books for 2008 with approximately $37.5 million less in sales tax revenue than budgeted.
According to Weitzman, if 2009 is another year of negative growth in sales tax revenue, which is expected, it will be the first time in the history of Nassau County that there will be two consecutive years of negative growth.
"This is probably the most serious problem that I've seen. The national economy has caused retail sales in Nassau County to tank. We're projecting a hole in our budget for 2009 from retail sales tax alone of about $120 million," said Weitzman.
County employees being asked to take a 7 percent pay cut, as well as cuts in services and cutting down the hours county buildings are open, are ways in which the county executive is seeking to close the budget gap.
Help may also come as a result of the federal stimulus package. According to Weitzman, the county is in the process of getting data from the federal government and the state on how the stimulus package will benefit Nassau County. "We're counting on that money to help us with our budget deficit for 2009. The good news is that the stimulus package was awarded. We think we're getting somewhere between $120 and $127 million over a three-year period," he said.
As part of closing the county's expected 2009 budget gap, the county is counting on $50 million from the stimulus package to be used for an increase in assistance to fund the county portion of Medicaid costs.
The Democratic Majority of the Nassau County Legislature is also asking state lawmakers to enact a cigarette tax, surcharges on traffic/parking tickets and the installation of red light cameras to catch drivers who run red lights in an effort to bring in more revenue to the county.
Another area that will hurt Nassau County residents is school taxes since the school districts are expected to receive significantly less state aid because of the state's budget crisis.
It is still unknown if the federal stimulus package might enable the state to provide more state aid to Long Island school districts. In the meantime, the Mineola School District administration and board of education are preparing their 2009-2010 budget with an expected decrease in state aid.