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Levy’s Budget A ’House of Cards’ Says Schneiderman

Originally Posted: February 28, 2011

Montauk - At a recent meeting of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association Legislator Schneiderman issued a stern warning regarding the Suffolk County's budget. "When the County Executive delivered his State of the County address he proclaimed our finances 'sound,' this declaration was simply a 'sound bite.' The reality is that we have an unsustainable budget model built on non-recurring revenues that is a ticking time bomb," said Schneiderman.

Schneiderman explained that in an effort to hold the line on taxes, the County has been filling the budgetary gap using funding sources that cannot be repeated in following years. These "one shots" include the proposed sale of County assets such as the Foley Nursing home and 95 acres of County owned land in Yaphank.

According to Schneiderman there is more "phantom" or non-recurring revenue in the budget than the total amount collected in County property tax. When the opportunities for one shots run out, the County will be faced with either devastating reductions in services or potentially doubling or even tripling of County property taxes to fill the hole.

Schneiderman said that relying on one shots was an irresponsible method of budgeting which generates artificially low taxes for a short time. We need to wean the County off of "one-shots" by making spending cuts as well as establishing new recurring revenues such as leasing land rather than selling it.

Schneiderman also said that the County is now increasingly borrowing for expenditures which are typically paid for in the budget. This practice deceptively makes our expenses appear less for the current year, but after interest on the borrowing, the County is ultimately paying more than it should. Ultimately this manner of budgeting catches up on you.

For this reason Legislator Schneiderman will be filing a bill that will set a cap on the amount of non-recurring revenue that can be contained in a County budget. "We need to protect taxpayers from sudden spikes in property taxes. The 'unsustainable quo' the County Executive failed to mention in his State of the County Address was his own flawed budgeting practices." Schneiderman said he believed that these budgeting gimmicks are being employed so that the County Executive can claim he did not raise taxes for short term political purposes. "The County Executive has built a house of cards that was designed to last long enough to propel him to Albany. With his failed Gubernatorial campaign, he now finds himself having to defend a budget that is unsustainable. These gimmicks are catching up on the County Executive and will severely impact taxpayers and those who depend on County services."

Schneiderman recalled issuing a similar warning regarding the McGintee administration in East Hampton. It was later learned that a dedicated fund to preserve the environment was being used to prop up an unsustainable budget which ultimately led to a one year 25 percent increase in property taxes.

The bill filed today will force the county to make the necessary changes to protect taxpayers in the future.

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