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.
During his address, Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi stated, "Things are as bad as they can be."
"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 overestimate 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 that Suozzi announced, 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 countywide 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.
Nassau County Legislator and Budget Review Chairman Judy Jacobs echoes Suozzi's sentiments that the situation is severe. "Current economic woes have resulted in a negative impact on Nassau's sales tax revenue. The concern is that the revenue loss has already created a very large hole in the budget and the projected problem for 2009 is a gap of $150 million dollars," she said. "This creates the need for everyone to work together, for sacrifices to be made, and to realize that failure and defeat is not an option. The people of Nassau County depend on us to make the difficult decisions and those decisions will be made with extensive thought and awareness of their effect on the residents of the county. Tough times usually inspire people to work together to find solutions. We have to respond responsibly to the economic reality of the times. Together, we know that even under crisis, we can scale what appear to be insurmountable obstacles."
Presiding Officer Diane Yatauro said that the damage needs to be repaired. "The County Executive has delivered unpleasant news. The worldwide economic crisis continues to have a devastating impact on our state and on our county," she said. "There are some serious issues the legislature will be considering over the next several weeks. We will be balancing deeper budget cuts against a possible reduction of county services, and potential layoffs. 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."
Denise Nash contributed to this story.