When asked to describe Suffolk County’s current fiscal crisis in one word, Legislator Wayne Horsley hesitated just a beat.
“It’s daunting,” the Democrat legislator told Patch, “and residents will start to feel the impact on social services once we move into 2013.”
That impact will be the result of reduced county staff and likely cuts in programs in an effort to balance the county’s budget, he said.
On Tuesday, County Executive Steve Bellone declared a state of fiscal emergency given the $530 million budget deficit Suffolk is now facing.
The news of a deficit, said Horsley, didn’t come as a huge shock to legislators who worked on last year’s county budget. The size, however, did.
“We knew the budget was misrepresented last year and there was a $138 million difference between actual and projected revenue,” said Horsley, who was tapped as deputy presiding officer of the legislature this year.
Last year’s budget, he explained, included many items that actually never panned out, such as the sale of a county adult home, and included unrealistic sales tax figures.
“We publicly said that budget was way out of whack,” he said.
The big budget culprit hurting the county, in Horsley's view, is the state constitutional mandate to keep pension coiffeurs funded at 100 percent.
“It’s just ripping out the hearts of everyone in terms of budget. At the end of the day we have to work on changing that,” he said, noting that the change in the pension system is a long-term fix and that short-term remediation is now needed.
“The budget crisis is a multi-year issue and it didn’t happen overnight. We’re running behind now and we’re going to be running behind even more next year," he added.
On the positive side, Horsley said, many changes could happen to improve the budget outlook. Long Island’s economy is improving and the state could help fund some of the pension costs.
“We’ve got our hands full but the state can relieve some of the burden. The stock market hit 13,000 today. I tend to look at the glass as half full,” he said.
One short-term fix Horsley does not favor is taking Nassau County’s approach to solving its budget crisis. An oversight board now runs Nassau’s budget.
“That’s not going to happen as we don’t want it and we don’t need it,” he said.
“The big difference is we aren’t going to ask the state to bail us out and bond money for day-to-day expenses. We’re in a far better situation than Nassau and we are going to pull ourselves out of this thing.”