Suffolk County facing huge budget deficit

March 6, 2012 3:11:02 PM PST
The newly elected Suffolk County Executive says the Long Island municipality's finances are worse than imagined.

"It is now clear that Suffolk County is facing the greatest fiscal crisis in its history," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Just two months into the job, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has found himself neck deep in a sea of red ink, confronting an economic catastrophe beyond his wildest dreams.

"Frankly I was shocked at the numbers that came back in this report. I think it is worse than any of us could have imagined," Bellone said.

Before an astonished group of legislators Tuesday morning, an independent task force revealed Suffolk County is hemorrhaging cash faster than anyone thought.

It lost $33 million in 2011 and this year, an estimated $148 million.

Next year, it's more than double that at $349 million.

Combined, by the end of 2013, the deficit is predicted to be an eye popping $530 million.

"I think a demoralized workforce is now devastated," said Cheryl Felice, union president.

Union President Cheryl Felice represents half of the county's 12,000 workers, who already expect nearly 500 job cuts this summer, even though some departments are already stretched thin.

A fleet garage is down to just four workers in one shift when it used to have three times that.

"It sickened me. It sickened me to know I have 6,500 workers listening to this report, and wondering is it going to happen to me." Felice said.

It isn't like this came out of the blue.

The task force is blaming a drop in sales tax revenue during the recession coupled with skyrocketing pension costs.

Tuesday, Bellone declared a fiscal emergency, freezing 10% of the county budget, across the board.

Wednesday, he'll meet with unions about lying off even more workers like Joe Callari.

"People have been freaked out probably for the last six months or so," Callari said.

For seven years he's been guarding the county office building in Hauppauge, he has two kids to feed. He hopes lawmakers think long and hard before taking it all out, on him.

"If you have to go on some type of social services, it just drains the county even more. How am I going to pay my homeowners taxes? It just spirals and spirals and nobody seems to have the answer," Callari said.

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