Suffolk struggles to fill budget deficit

May 13, 2009 3:44:34 PM PDT
Some Suffolk County lawmakers are outraged over a new tax proposal designed to fill in the budget deficit. But other Legislators say the county is short on options."I don't have a choice," resident John Nazario said. "They pretty much have me by the neck."

When everyday people face tough times, they're forced to cut back on things. But legislator Cameron Alden says when Suffolk County faces tough times, it reaches into other people's pockets to make up for the difference.

"These are hidden taxes," Alden said. "Things that are kind of sneaky."

Alden is outraged over a new tax proposal targeting cell phones, hotel stays and, if you smoke, cigarette costs.

But Legislator Bill Lindsay says the package of home rule resolutions, approved by the Legislature Tuesday night, is on its way to getting Albany lawmakers approval to $36 million in new taxes in Suffolk County.

"There are all kinds of things on the table, this is just an option," Lindsay said. "Others are selling our nursing home. I don't like that. Or museums."

The largest of the tax increase proposal affects smokers and cigarette shops, with an extra $2 tax on every pack. The second is a hotel room tax increase in Suffolk County from .7 percent to 3 percent. The third affects anyone with a cell phone bill, which would see a 30 cent monthly charge from the county.

"It's probably going to hurt me," one taxpayer said. "I will have to cut one of them out of my life."

While none of this is a done deal, the most likely of the increases isn't the cigarette tax. It's the cell phone tax.

Lindsay says the county's 911 system depends on tax money, which used to come from landlines. But as more people ditch landlines for cell phones, the tax needs to follow suit.

"Sales tax is down 10 percent," he said. "That doesn't sound like a lot, but 1 percent of sales tax is $11 million."

To salvage the $114 million hole in the county budget, it's either nickel and dime on the little things or the big things, like a potential rise in property taxes, which is yet another hit facing taxpayers should the economy get worse.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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