By Connor Beach
The Suffolk Legislature has adopted the county’s $3.06 billion budget for 2018, which includes a 4.99-percent increase in police district property taxes and an additional $5 million in borrowing.
Legislators voted, 11 to 7 on Nov. 8 to approve both portions of County Executive Steve Bellone’s budget, his sixth as county executive.
Bellone has said that while the budget, his sixth as country executive, remains under the state-mandated property tax cap, Suffolk does face some “daunting fiscal challenges.”
Health plan expenses have been particularly troublesome for not only Suffolk, but municipalities across the country, said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). Suffolk’s 2018 budget calls for a $57.5-million increase in health plan expenses from that of 2017.
Spencer said he personally pushed to restore funding for public health programs that are particularly important to combat opioid addiction in Huntington. “We have a substantial opioid epidemic where we need the support,” he said.
Overall, he added, there are challenges to balancing any budget, but reasons to be optimistic about the programs that will still be available to Suffolk residents.
The legislature also proposed several amendments to maintain service levels and address revenue shortfalls. Each amendment passed.
One of the amendments was to reduce the county’s expected sales tax growth rates for 2017 from 4.66 percent, a figure that Bellone instituted, to 4.40 percent. The reduction results in a $5.5 million decrease in revenue for 2018.
Sales tax revenue accounts for roughly $1.4 billion, or 37 percent, of the 2018 budget.
Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said borrowing to make up for reduced sales tax figures will leave the county playing catch-up.
“It’s coming to a head. I predicted this since the day I got elected: this is a sinking ship,” said Trotta, who voted against approval of the budget and each amendment put forth by the legislature. “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
Suffolk will increase revenue through added police district taxes in each of its five western-most towns, including Huntington. The average homeowner will see a $56.85 increase in their police district property tax rate, according to county documents.