Suffolk County Executive Patrick G. Halpin yesterday vetoed a property tax surcharge worth $51 million in fiscal 1992 that county legislators passed last week to secure a proposed note sale set to plug a fiscal 1991 budget gap.
Mr. Halpin proposed to pay for the notes with $20 million in budget cuts and $30 million in federal and state aid due the county next year. He is also including an option to to roll the notes into fiscal 1993.
Observers of the county's politics said the nine Republican and two Conservative lawmakers in the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature sought the surcharge after the budget passed in early November because a Republican was elected as county executive. The tax would have provided a financial cushion for the incoming executive in fiscal 1992, they said.
County lawmakers last week voted to tack the surcharge, amounting to roughtly 10%, onto the property tax levies that will be sent to property ownrs in December.
The shortfall in the fiscal 1991 budget was caused primarily by increased spending on social services, said Brad O'Hearn, a spokesman for the county executive.
The note sale will go forward as soon as county lawmakers decide to try to override Mr. Halpin's veto. The 18-member county Legislature, which includes seven Democrats, needs 23 votes to override.
The issue of property taxes is a hot one in Suffolk County. In September, Mr. Haplin presented a $1.36 billion budget for fiscal 1992, which begins Jan. 1, calling for no property tax increases, but proposed a number of alternatives -- including increased user fees.
"Less than five months ago the county Legislature and I approved the property tax freeze and fiscal stability plan and we mutually pledged not to increase property taxes in 1992," Mr. Halpin said yesterday. "The country Legislature broke that plege. I will not."
Mr. Halpin, a Democrat, earlier this month lost his post to Republican Assemblyman Robert J. Gaffney.
The stability plan was one of the reasons Standard & Poor's Corp. upgraded the country's general obligation bond rating to BBB from its municipal junk BB rating. Moody's Investors Service rates the county's GOs Baal and Fitch Investors Service rates them A.
The recession and the loss of some major defense contracts has turned the economies of both of Long Island's counties on their heads.
Commenting on the pledge to hold the line on property taxes, Mr. Halpin said, "To increase property taxes for our homeowners and businesses in the depths of the current brutal economic recession is unconscionable."
However, Nassau County officials are exploring the idea of meeting spending needs with property tax increases. Last week, Nassau County Executive Thomas S. Gulotta proposed to sharply increase county taxes, impose 18 days of "force furloughs" on the county's 13,000 employees, freeze salaries, and pare 1,000 employees from its rolls to close a budget gap in its $1.9 billion budget for fiscal 1992, which begins April 1.
In addition to staggering property tax increases -- amounting to 24% for some home owners -- Mr. Gulotta also says he wants to borrow short term to plug the county's fiscal 1991 budget gap and proposed issuing $120 million of deficit notes and rolling them into next year.