Written by Thomas R. Suozzi Friday, 02 October 2009 00:00
Two weeks ago, I submitted my proposed 2010 Budget – and I kept the promise I made to “freeze county taxes.” The $2.6 billion budget will increase spending by a record low 0.5 percent - only one-half of 1 percent - with no increase in county taxes. The proposed budget also reflects 700 fewer employees working for the county than a year ago, bringing the total count down to 8,792, which is 1,000 employees fewer than when I first took office.
I know property taxes are too high; especially school taxes, which account for approximately 65 percent of your total bill. Especially in these tough times, we can’t afford to pay more taxes. So that’s why I held the line on county taxes in next year’s county budget. There will be no increase in county taxes next year and the county portion of your total property tax bill will represent only 16.9 percent of the overall property tax bill. That’s down 26 percent from the day I took office in January 2002.
It’s remarkable that we have been able to keep the spending increase at only 0.5 percent, in spite of the fact that Albany has continued to increase mandated spending by millions of dollars every year. That is why I have been fighting Albany from spending our money and pushing the costs down to schools, counties and local governments.
The 0.5 percent spending increase is far below the Consumer Price Index. This minimal increase in spending has been accomplished despite the increase of $38 million in contractual raises for union employees, $19 million in increased State and federally mandated social services, $7 million in increases of State mandated Workers’ Compensation costs, $7 million in increased health insurance costs, and $5 million in increased State mandated Special Education and Early Intervention costs.
These costs, if unabated, would have represented a 9.3 percent county property tax increase.
We have accomplished all this by cutting the county workforce to the smallest level in 30 years and we will cut it even more, and this year’s budget shows a reduction of more than 700 positions. As a result, we have reorganized, restructured and reengineered county government. We continue to make Nassau County government more efficient to do the work necessary to serve the public with less staff. We have no choice.
We have consolidated a dozen government departments but still remain able to respond to the real needs of people and to those people most in need. We have also civilianized many positions in our Police Department but still are able to keep Nassau County’s crime rates at the lowest rate of any municipality of our size in the whole country.
It was exactly a year ago when the bottom fell out of the national economy. The stock market dropped over 30 percent, consumer confidence fell to the lowest level in history, banks failed and the loss of sales tax revenues blew a $130 million hole in our budget. But we have worked through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and still managed to keep our financial bond ratings at the highest level in decades.
These are tough times. We have made tough choices. Our response to economic realities far beyond our control will require continued bold, creative ideas. We will not rest and will continue to work harder and longer and better to ensure that Nassau County remains a safe, prosperous and fiscally sound county.