Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today announced the Securing Suffolk's Financial Future Act, a 7-point financial reform plan to strengthen the County’s financial future by focusing on long term planning solutions. The plan builds upon previous undertakings and includes bipartisan efforts designed to bring the County in line with best municipal financial practices set forth by financial experts including the New York State Comptroller’s Office and the Government Finance Officers Association.
“When I first took office, the County was in financial ruins, and we have been making significant strides to implement structural reforms ever since,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “We are laser focused on creating a new financial future for Suffolk County, one that will create greater efficiencies and long-term savings across county government.”
The financial plan is the latest initiative undertaken by County Executive Bellone to streamline county operations and deliver efficient governance. In 2012, Suffolk County was facing a $500 million operating deficit and a $200 million annual structural budget gap that threatened its financial solvency. In order to address these financial challenges, County Executive Bellone worked with the Suffolk County Legislature to implement a number of immediate actions to reverse these trends and put the County on the path to fiscal responsibility. Some of the actions by the County Executive include:
- Dramatically reducing the size of government by 1,200 full-time positions, saving $100 million per year
- Merging the County Comptroller and Treasurer Offices, as well as the County Departments of Economic Development and Planning
- Selling the County-run Foley Nursing Home and privatizing County Health Centers that saved taxpayers more than $100 million
- Required County employees to start contributing to their health care costs
- Saving taxpayers nearly $300,000 by voluntarily slashing and freezing his own salary, and becoming the first County employee to contribute towards their healthcare expenses in County history.
The components of the Securing Suffolk’s Financial Future Act include:
Amend Suffolk County Tax Act
The first step of the plan is to amend the Suffolk County Tax Act, a bipartisan initiative that would require State legislation. Currently, Suffolk County has to borrow money at the beginning of each year to pay for operational expenses while waiting to receive the tax dollars that have already been collected. By amending the Suffolk County Tax Act, the County would be able to receive the tax receipts at the beginning of the year when such monies are first collected, rather than have to wait and borrow funding.
Authorize Multi-Year Budgeting
The second step of the plan includes authorizing a multi-year budgeting policy. A multi-year financial plan is a vital tool that would allow the County to focus on long-term planning and help residents and elected officials see the impact of fiscal decisions over time. As part of a bipartisan effort, the County Executive introduced a local law to require the adoption of a four year financial plan. The requirements of this law shall apply to the expense budget adopted by the County Executive for fiscal year 2020 and to all subsequent expense budgets adopted.
Establish Debt Management Policy
The third step of the plan is to establish a debt management policy to achieve sound financial management, which will lead to both improved investments and taxpayer savings. The County Executive introduced a resolution to adopt an official County debt policy that will create standards that seek to protect the County's financial resources, which are necessary to meet long-term capital needs. The goals of the comprehensive plan, are to guide the County in policy and debt issuance decisions, maintain appropriate capital assets for present and future needs, promote sound financial management, protect and enhance the County’s credit rating, ensure the legal use of the County’s debt issuance authority and to evaluate debt issuance options.
Utilize Insurance Reserve Fund
The fourth step of the plan is to authorize the County to utilize an Insurance Reserve Fund, which will assist in mitigating financial risks to the County resulting from unexpected legal expenses. The County Executive introduced a local law to modernize the county insurance reserve fund, which was originally established in 1980. Since the fund was created, the New York State Comptroller has updated the guidance for the creation and maintenance of such funds, therefor the law put forth will update the County’s Liability and Casualty Reserve Fund to reflect modern standards. The fund will consist of funding appropriated in the adopted budget and the amount paid into the fund during any fiscal year will not exceed the greater of $33,000 or 5% of the budget for such fiscal year.
Reform Joint Audit Committee
The fifth step of the plan is to reorganize the County’s Joint Audit Committee. Under current County law, the Joint Audit Committee is comprised of the County Executive, the Presiding Officer and the County Comptroller. The County Executive introduced a local law to allow for the reorganization of the Joint Audit Committee to add members to facilitate a more robust and diversified review of the fiscal condition of the County. The new expanded committee would include three voting members to be appointed by the County Executive, three voting members to be appointed by the Legislature, two of which shall be appointed by the Presiding Officer and one of which shall be appointed by the Minority Leader, and two voting members to be appointed by the County Comptroller. Both the County Executive and the County Comptroller, or their designee, will serve as an ex officio, non-voting member.
Establish Fund Balance Policy
The sixth step of the plan is to establish a Fund Balance Policy to ensure the County maintains appropriate levels of fund balance to mitigate any current or future risks. The County’s reorganized Joint Audit Committee will be given the task of developing a fund balance policy and will make recommendations on changes to the charter that will be required to implement an effective policy.
Modernizing Financial Tools
The seventh and final step of the plan is to implement the OpenGov Financial Software Solution. As part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to utilize modern technology in order to enhance efficiency, transparency and accountability, the Suffolk County Budget Office has been authorized to purchase and implement the OpenGov software solution. This software will enable the Budget Office to operate in the modern era, while having the capabilities to implement the financial reforms presently recommended.