Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 15 October 2010 00:00
The Nassau County Legislature’s Democratic Minority has rejected County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposed 2011 budget. At an Oct. 4 press conference Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) led the Democratic Caucus in terming the proposed budget “irresponsible, reckless and the roadmap to bankrupting Nassau County.”
The Democratic Minority called the press conference following the issuance of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) report criticizing the budget and stating that “extraordinary levels of unacceptable borrowing for operating expenses, ….and labor concessions that have not been secured must be viewed as having a high degree of risk.”
In an interview with the Great Neck Record, Legislator Judi Bosworth (D-Great Neck) raised several major sticking points, including the County Guarantee, the county executive’s plan (announced during the summer) to combine the 6th and 2nd Police Precincts, and the county’s borrowing practices.
First tackling the County Guarantee, Legislator Bosworth told the Record: “The county executive has proposed eliminating the County Guarantee and will look to have towns, schools and other municipalities bear the cost of tax cert refunds. The bottom line is the taxpayers will still have to pay the same taxes but now it will just be associated with someone else’s budget. Shifting the burden of an assessment system that is still broken to another taxing entity is an abdication of responsibility.”
Legislator Bosworth explained that when she served on the Great Neck Board of Education, she and the other board members were “concerned about the ramifications of the county reneging on its responsibility to refund the money to those who successfully challenged the assessment on their property … and that concern still exists.” She noted that while she “can see the validity of the argument that since the schools, towns and special districts get the benefit of the tax, they should be the ones refunding it,” she still believes that “this transference of responsibility can only take place once the assessment system is a reliable one and the residents have confidence in the accuracy of their assessments.”
Presently, the schools receive about 60 percent, the other municipalities, 20 percent, and the county 20 percent, yet the county pays back 100 percent of the refund. Again Legislator Bosworth emphasized that transferring responsibility can only take place once the county’s assessment system is accurate. She further explained that “With the current system there are unprecedented numbers of tax grievances filed with successful results,” and that “in Great Neck alone, where the great majority of successful grievances are for commercial properties, the total amount that was refunded in the year 2009 was over two-and-a-half million dollars.” And this, she said, is “the hard part of governing – to actually solve a problem, not make it someone else’s.”
On the other hand, although Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano agrees that there is a need to fix the county’s assessment system, his plan is to eliminate the County Guarantee. Responding to Legislator Bosworth’s comments, Brian Nevin, the county executive’s senior policy advisor and communications director, told the Record that “the County Guarantee has been bankrupting” Nassau County. He stated that the County Guarantee “requires the county to pay back not only its share of the refund, but also the school district and town shares as well,” with the result being that “Nassau is refunding one dollar for every 20 cents it actually receives in error.”
Further, Mr. Nevin said that “Debt and outstanding liability associated with the County Guarantee totals $1.6 billion costing taxpayers $250 million annually in refunds and interest.” So Mr. Mangano proposes eliminating the County Guarantee, transferring the responsibility of grievance refunds to the local level, while Legislator Bosworth wants the assessment system fixed first, made accurate and reliable, before any responsibility is shifted from the county to schools and other local municipalities.
Turning to the highly controversial issue of the proposal to combine the 6th and 2nd Police Precincts, a county executive proposal that came to light during the summer, Legislator Bosworth continues to be firmly against such consolidation. Legislator Bosworth told the Record: “The county executive’s plan to achieve budget reductions by merging the Sixth Police Precinct, whose responsibility begins at the New York City line and includes Great Neck, Manhasset, Roslyn and parts of Port Washington with the Second Police Precinct, whose responsibility ends at the Suffolk County line and includes Syosset, Woodbury, Plainview and Hicksville, has still not materialized as promised.”
When this proposal surfaced mid-summer, local elected officials joined Legislator Bosworth in standing steadfast against the prospect of closing, or greatly paring down their local police precinct and subsequent police protection. Legislator Bosworth addressed the issue that, since then there has been no further information forthcoming from the county executive.
Legislator Bosworth stated that: “When asked for the proposal in writing, we were told by the Mangano Administration that the plan would be made clear in the 2011 budget. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the budget that suggests how the merger might be effectuated. We are still waiting for the answers. It is important that each and every police precinct in the county remain strong and intact in order to ensure that the safety and well-being of all the residents in Nassau County are not being compromised.”
In response, again speaking for the county executive, Mr. Nevin told the Record that there will be “no consolidation … it’s not going to happen.” Mr. Nevin explained that there would be some “right-sizing” of the police department, and that there would be “six more officers on the street” for the Sixth Precinct. Mr. Nevin said that the police officers lost were ones who chose an early retirement incentive. When questioned he stated that: “There will still be a Sixth Precinct with commanders.”
However the legislators are still awaiting answers and, to date, have had no assurances from Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano that the Sixth Precinct will be preserved.
As for the issue of the NIFA report criticizing the Mangano budget and what the report termed “extraordinary levels of unacceptable borrowing,” in speaking with Legislator Bosworth, Democratic Minority Leader Diane Yatauro opened the press conference stating: “The Mangano budget is dangerously flawed. It is a Borrow and Spend budget, with an excessive reliance on speculative revenue and reckless borrowing. This budget mortgages our children’s future and will lead us on the road to bankruptcy. Since taking office in January, Mangano has proposed nearly $700 million in borrowing and his 2011 budget calls for even more! While Mangano touts his budget as a ‘no tax increase budget,’ his proposed fee increases and borrowing is a hidden tax increase. Mangano’s historic three-quarters of a billion dollars in borrowing will not only burden today’s taxpayers, it will be paid for by generations of taxpayers to come.”
Mr. Nevin responded by stating that the Republican’s “consistent message will always oppose borrowing.” Mr. Mangano stated in a letter to Legislator Yaturo that he has had to make “tough decisions” to deal with the county’s $343 million deficit in 2011.