On June 27, at an early morning breakfast meeting of the Nassau County Council of Chambers of Commerce, Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi forcefully spoke of Nassau's fiscal dilemma, soundly condemned the recent past leadership of the county and promised conditionally to limit county taxes through 2005. Speaking without notes, Suozzi confidently outlined in detail his five-point fiscal recovery program for the county.
Suozzi's plan has five components:
1- The reduction of the workforce. A reduction of 12 and half percent by September 2003 should result in a savings of $100 million. While he hopes this will come through attrition, any shortfall by September 2003 will be made up by layoffs.
2- Smart government initiatives. Various shortcomings of the previous administration were cited and corrected. Eighteen hundred unused phones were eliminated; local governments not paying for police services were billed. Better use of county property is on the agenda to consolidate and make better use of Nassau County's 750 buildings and 2,750 parcels of land. Poor planning in past years resulted in Police Headquarters unites, which should be centralized, being scattered in locations. He stressed he was not referring to local police precincts.
3- Labor policy. Suozzi said the average Nassau police officer works three days a week, has an annual salary of $101 thousand and retires with a lump payment for unused sick time of $225 thousand. While praising the work of the retiring chief of police, Suozzi convincingly said he felt the chief's lump sum payment of one-half million dollars and an annual pension of $160,000 was excessive.
4- Debt restructuring. Nassau's $2.9 billion debt requires 16 percent of the budget for debt service, the highest percentage in New York State. He compared it to the counties of Suffolk, 8 percent and Westchester, 7 percent and the average New York county of 4 to 5 percent. Suozzi plans to accelerate payment of tax refunds, reduce borrowing and separate debt to finance needed capital projects.
5- Tax increase. Suozzi spoke to the necessity for a tax increase, to raise $115 million to get the recovery well under way. The entire increase will be used to accelerate tax refunds. He promised, that should this five-point program result in an acceptable sound budget, he would not ask for any additional taxes through the expiration of his term in 2005.
Nassau's $2.2 billion budget is larger than 16 states and is now uner the watchful eye of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority. In a cooperative effort with NIFA, the county faces a major problem with the lack of useful information on Nassau's operations. Poor outdated information systems, some 30 years old, hindered the task of defining the problems and suggesting solutions.
The county faces a $428 million budget deficit. Suozzi delivered an upbeat demonstration with a firm grasp of the budget's basics and the impact of various alternative taxes suggested. Raising the property tax 1 percent would raise $6 million; erasing the deficit through property taxes alone would require a 70 percent increase. Further reducing the work force has been suggested; a 40 percent reduction would be required to eliminate the gap, but is not possible because of mandated federal programs. Also dismissed was an increase in the sales tax from 8 and 1/2 percent to 12 and 3/4 percent.
With a pleasant sense of humor, Suozzi spoke glowingly of his devotion to his job as county executive and cited the county's many attractions such as the recent Belmont Stakes and U.S. Open. In closing his 20 minute presentation at the Westbury Manor, he spoke of Nassau as the first major suburban in the United States. Throughout the years, Nassau became a leading example of the problems of an aging suburban county, problems other counties around the country may well face in the future. Suozzi requested the support of the business community for his recovery program and said that, once accomplished, Nassau will again be a good example for counties around the nation.