Written by Matthew A. Piacentini Friday, 19 March 2010 00:00
In his first State of the County address, County Executive Edward P. Mangano criticized the previous administration, listing numerous problems in Nassau’s government and saying that because of past planning, “Tonight, I am here to tell you: The state of our county is deeply troubled.”
He went on to detail the major problem areas and touch on some ways he hopes to address the issues.
The two major challenges Mangano described were controlling taxes and spending and fixing the assessment process. He began by criticizing a budget shortfall he said was passed on by his predecessor, saying “Upon taking office just 75 days ago it became apparent that Nassau’s 2010 budget contained unrealistic assumptions with respect to passage in Albany of a cigarette tax projected to yield $16 million. In addition, the 2010 budget contained overly optimistic sales tax revenues to the tune of $12.7 million.”
The bottom line, Mangano told the crowd at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, was a $48.5 million dollar 2010 deficit for Nassau. To address this, a $49 million dollar Taxpayer Savings Plan was announced. The plan will call for a “slashing” of managerial and support staff positions.
“To lead by example, I reduced the cost of the county executive staff by nearly $2 million,” Mangano said, adding that to date he has cut government staffing by $22 million dollars. “This is only the beginning. When we finish reviewing all of Nassau’s 47 departments we will have more cuts, lots more,” he promised.
The county executive criticized the previous administration for negotiating $43 million in raises over the next few years in union contracts as well.
“My predecessor tied this administration’s hands by surrendering the county’s ability to downsize the county government. That was wrong,” he said.
Of all the spending issues that raise taxes and create waste, the assessment process has been the most discussed. Mangano said that while other expenses result in some kind of service to residents – like parks, courthouses, road repair, security and job efforts - a faulty assessment process simply results in huge losses.
“The scope of those losses boggles the mind,” he said. “Past assessment errors account for nearly one-half of Nassau’s debt - over $1 billion. Yes, that’s over $1 billion wasted… over $1 billion is a shameful waste of taxpayer money that continues to grow.”
Mangano reported that annually, the tax assessment system costs taxpayers $250 million a year. Of that, approximately $150 million is debt service, or as he explained it, “the mortgage payments on the billion-dollar debt.” Compiled with a $100 million annual loss he estimates is due to errors, this creates a $250 million cost to the county.
Mangano said that to address this, a “methodical and painful” solution will come in the form of an emergency property tax stabilization program. This will move Nassau’s tax system from an annual to a cyclical system.
He touted his Assessment Reform Team, which is working to construct and execute a plan that will reform the error-ridden system “through better management, county action and an achievable state legislative agenda.”
In short, to address the troubled state of the county, Mangano assured that his administration is working to develop a new multi-year plan that accommodates taxpayer’s limited resources.
“Nassau County taxpayers have no more left to give,” he said. “We are working to right-size government. We will aggressively manage every dollar of county spending and will leave no stone unturned.”
The county executive listed some other cost saving measures, like making sure Nassau uses its own available space instead of renting other properties. He also promised to repair infrastructure issues like decrepit county seat buildings, a “woefully understaffed” and “mismanaged” Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Facility and county employees using outdated computer equipment.
“…Despite the expenditure of $11 million over the last two years, those taxpayers who deal with the county assessor’s office see Wang equipment last manufactured in the 1990s which should be exhibited in the Smithsonian and not running assessment data in the year 2010,” he said.
He promised to update the county’s 9-1-1 call center, provide more aid to veterans, including those who are homeless, and he plans to come up with an alternative to the proposed First Police Precinct building that costs less and is owned by the county.
Mangano touted “real time reform” that has begun saving the county money.
Minority Leader Diane Yatauro created a rebuttal speech to the executive’s address. At the beginning of the year, Yatauro told the press that she was positive about working with Mangano and felt her caucus had an ear in the executive’s office and there was the possibility of bi-partisan operations.
However, Monday night she addressed Mangano, “You made a promise of bi-partisan dialogue and you pledged to lower our taxes. Well my friend, you have been in office for three months and to date you have not met with me or spoken about your plans to lower our taxes. My caucus represents eight of your districts, which totals more than a half-million residents. As the minority leader I await an invitation to work with you.”
Some items Yatauro criticized in Mangano’s administration to date included cuts in important services, a misleading energy tax repeal and financial management mistakes.
Yatauro said it was “quite disturbing” that Mangano projected cutting youth agencies “which allow our children to flourish and remain safe,” senior services, “which provide much-needed programs for our parents and grandparents who need a little help in their golden years,” and veterans programs, “which repay those men and women who unselfishly served for us.”
Regarding the Home Energy Tax Repeal, Yatauro said, “On the day you were sworn in… you repealed the energy tax. That momentous signing in January has caused much confusion for our residents. Letters were mailed out declaring that you “stopped the Energy Tax,” so please explain why this repeal will not go into effect until June? Our residents are still taxed today. Clearly they thought this repeal would take place in January when you signed the bill.”
Further on the energy tax and related financial management, Yatauro criticized Mangano’s dealings with NIFA, which is the agency that monitors Nassau County’s spending and revenue. She accused that he is not really accomplishing all of the savings he promises, which are necessary for filling the fiscal shortfall created by the repeal.
“When the county executive signed the Energy Tax Repeal he created a $38 million budget short fall, so NIFA asked Mr. Mangano for two updated plans due March 6. First NIFA asked for an update to the 2010 Budget, a budget which was balanced before the repeal. Mr. Mangano, you replied to this request by stating that you would make cuts to the budget. A review of these cuts suggests that your plan is not a headcount reduction, but simply a cut to the vacancies that were funded by the previous administration. Truth be told, you are just cutting contingency funds, so new monies have not been found,” she said.