On the subject of discussing the financial crisis due to the impact of COVID-19, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone reported that the county is in a “financial emergency.”
“There is no other way to describe it... to say fiscal crisis is just not accurate,” he said, explaining that after an independent group reviewed the numbers, they found that over the next 15 months, worst case scenario, the county could be in a $1.5-million budget hole. “This has resulted from our response to the [virus] and shutting down the economy.”
According to Bellone, the nonpartisan budget committee also announced that the county will have to fill an over $800-million budget hole within the next three months in front of the Legislature last week.
“These numbers are catastrophic and beyond anything we have ever seen before,” he added. “The only way we can effectively deal with this natural disaster’s impact on finances is the federal government has to do what it should do and always has in the past: provide relief to prevent the hollowing out of this government that provides public safety, public health and human and social services.”
Bellone went on to explain that requesting the help from the federal government is “justified” in the fact that it would only be a fraction of the billions sent to the federal government by the county, which is never given back in return.
“We have federal partners working and fighting in Washington to deliver on this for the sake of the region as a hole,” he added. “Even with federal relief, we are going to have to make difficult decisions and choices to improve as we move forward.”
In an effort to help provide some of that relief, he explained that the county has issued embargoes on funds in the office, locking them down and producing close to $29 million in mitigation, in addition to utilizing taxpayer protection funds, which will require voter approval, to close another $75 million in the budget gap.
Bellone also signed an executive order on Monday, June 22, placing an immediate freeze on all steps and rais- es for management employees within the county government, and plans to extend that order through 2021 for the next two years.
“It is critical that we do this and analyze cuts in our departments right now,” he continued. “We wanted to make it clear that we are willing to take these steps before we take addition- al measures that will impact people’s lives with more painful measures.”