Jay Schneiderman, the Suffolk County legislator who represents the South Fork, is more than pleased with the final county budget, which was approved last week.
Schneiderman said the budget adopted Nov. 20 is good for the East End in many ways, namely because there is increased funding for dredging, equity in sales tax revenue distribution to East End police agencies and $218,500 designated for East End arts and culture. There is also additional funding provided for The Retreat and Cornell Cooperative Extension, and a $5 million emergency fund for Superstorm Sandy related repairs.
Arts and culture funding comes from hotel tax revenue, to support museums, theaters and cultural centers that attract tourists to the area, including Guild Hall, Bay Street Theatre, Westhampton Beach Preforming Arts Center and the new Parrish Art Museum. Money is also allocated to renovate the Sag Harbor windmill, Schneiderman said.
He also pointed out that the budget is the ninth in a row without a general fund property tax increase.
“These are challenging times for everyone,” Schneiderman is quoted as saying in a statement from his office. “It is our responsibility as elected officials to find ways to operate government without asking residents to contribute more.”
Schneiderman noted that County Executive Steve Bellone did not veto any of the budget amendments approved by the Legislature, breaking a pattern.
"There is a much greater level of cooperation between the two branches of government," Schneiderman said. "We have come together to tackle the fiscal challenges that face the county as a team, and it’s paying off."
The county's financial situation has turned around due to the difficult choices the Legislature has made in recent years when faced with unfunded state mandates and escalating heath care and pension costs, according to Schneiderman. “These cost increases are outside of the legislature’s control,” he said. At the same time, sales tax revenues have lagged behind.
Just this year, 700 positions were cut from the county’s workforce, his office states. “Not all lawmakers have had the courage to make these hard decisions,” he said, “but now, because of these actions, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Schneiderman, a Montauk resident and member of the Independence Party, was a member of the Legislature’s budget working group.
“We have taken extensive measures to jump start the economy in order to drive sales tax growth while at the same time reducing government spending so that we do not further burden the taxpayers," he said. "The greatest challenge has been delivering vital county services with a greatly reduced workforce.”