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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Nassau’s Freezing

Nassau County governmental employees received more grim news last week when the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) announced it was again using its statutory power to freeze their wages for another year.

NIFA’s action means there will have been no wage hikes for the county’s 7,600 plus member workforce dating back to April 2011, and continuing through the end of March 2013. The dollar savings to Nassau’s general fund are significant: $35 million that would otherwise have been allocated for contractually mandated wage hikes is paying other bills.

County employees did not come away from NIFA’s March 22 meeting empty-handed. NIFA remained silent on the issue of benefits. As such, the overwhelming majority of Nassau’s governmental employees will continue to pay nothing toward their health insurance premiums, letting Nassau County pay the entire tab. That single budget line could rise 11 percent in 2012 as compared to 2011.

The county’s taxpayers, and Nassau employees fall into that category, too, can otherwise be heartened by the concrete steps being taken to reduce Nassau’s spending as county sales tax revenues, its single largest source of income, remain flat. While the employee wage freeze received the headlines, NIFA also highlighted publicly some of the other cost-saving measures the Mangano administration and the county Legislature have implemented in recent months. I’ll offer some details here.

Nassau, for instance, is paying $2.5 million in 2012 to Veolia Transportation, the private-sector firm, which manages the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) on a day-to-day basis. NICE succeeded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Long Island Bus (LIB) system effective Jan. 1, 2012. Nassau paid the MTA $9.6 million in 2011 to help them finance LIB’s operations so nearly $7 million was saved this year.

The county expects to reduce its overall expenditures another $5.5 million annually after agreeing to have Armor Correctional Health Services, a private entity, replace Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) as the provider of medical care to inmates at the county jail in East Meadow. Armor’s two-year contract took effect in June 2011.

Meanwhile, having implemented changes to the ways in which the county’s eight police precincts deliver services, Nassau County believes it can now save upwards of another $20 million. The GOP’s ability to deliver these promised cost-savings will be closely watched because it took a Republican county executive, and 10 Republican county legislators, to enact the precinct realignment plan. The nine Democrats on the county legislature ardently defended the status quo, and voted against the Mangano administration and the county’s GOP lawmakers on the most contentious public policy issue of the day in Mineola.

Nonetheless, NIFA acknowledged last week that the county’s finances bear continued monitoring. Nassau at the moment must still shoulder the entire burden of paying any refunds which arise after a Nassau property owner successfully challenges their county-calculated tax assessment, an expense the county wants to share with other municipalities, NIFA noted in materials the state agency posted online. And NIFA approved only $70 million for capital projects, little more than half of what the county planned for 2012. The move will force Nassau’s elected officials to determine which previously scheduled initiatives must be put on hold.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net