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County Residents to Decide Fate of Coliseum August 1

Immediately following the passage of the public referendum law by the Nassau County Legislature to allow county residents to decide the fate of the Nassau Memorial Coliseum, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, sports fans, union leaders and community members joined County Executive Edward Mangano for the bill signing ceremony. The plan could hold up to a $400 million price tag.

Just minutes before, County Legislators passed the referendum, 11-7, allowing residents to vote on the County Executive’s Economic Development and Job Creation Plan at a public referendum to be held on Monday, August 1, 2011.

Prior to the passing of the referendum, Legislator Wayne Wink proposed an amendment that was rejected, 10-8. His amendment proposed a plan for transparency, he stated, encouraging a higher level of resident participation, and a plan to save money. He proposed to hold the Coliseum referendum on Election Day, November 8, 2011 to eliminate almost $2 million in expected costs for holding the election in August, stating that most polling places, including schools, are not used during August and would need to be opened, and cooled. Wink said extending the referendum vote would also give taxpayers an opportunity to be more informed, and able to better understand the debt service and the magnitude of the project.

“There are a lot of people who think the train is leaving the station with this vote here today,” said Wink. “It’s not a simple question, we’re asking people to tax themselves; depending on the nature of the bonds, could be anywhere from $48 to $58 per household every year in order to finance the debt service on this.”

The Legislative Budget Review Office has given the estimated tax impact to residents according to whether the bond issued will be taxed, what the revenue sharing agreement will be, and the contracts negotiated.

Legislator David Denenberg also proposed an extension of the vote date, to be held on September 13, which also failed the Legislature’s approval, 10-8.

Presiding Officer Peter Schmidt responded, recommending the extended vote dates that had been proposed be voted down, citing ample opportunity for the public and the legislature to repeal the amendment before the August vote.

The Coliseum sits within the legislative district that Legislator Robert Troiano, 2nd District, represents.

Troiano explained his difficulty in approving the referendum with a lack of complete information, also saying that an August vote will result in low voter turnout, at a $2 million cost to the taxpayers.

“The very first test of the Mangano administration’s ability to get up from the [negotiating] table has failed. I see no resolve, no backbone on his part to be able to stand up at the negotiating table and say, ‘No, you’ve pushed us too far.’” Troiano does not believe an August 1 deadline for voter approval is critically necessary.

“How can I possibly be asked to put this before them when I don’t even know what they are being asked to vote for,” Troiano said, explaining that he has not seen any referendum language for the August 1 vote.

More than 100 business owners, sports fans, residents and union representatives were in attendance for the referendum’s approval; many spoke during the public participation period, all in support of moving forward.

Executive Director of Long Island Contractor’s Association Mark Herbst, who represents 150 heavy construction firms on Long Island, was one of the public speakers in support of the August 1 vote date. He said that moving forward with the project’s plans not only puts union workers back to work, but along with union jobs created comes white collar jobs involving insurance, accounting, and architectural positions.

One Uniondale resident spoke in favor of the development and moving forward, but voiced an understanding of the importance of holding a public vote when polling places are scheduled to be open, not in August.

“Today, we took a monumental step forward in the process of keeping our Islanders, creating jobs, building a new sports arena and building a new minor league ballpark stadium. This plan is now closer than ever to becoming a reality,” said Mangano as he signed the legislation for the referendum. “This summer, residents officially have the opportunity to voice their opinions on this plan by casting their votes. I invite every Nassau County resident to be a part of the Democratic Process and vote for Nassau County’s future on August 1st.”

Voters will decide the fate of the New York Islanders, Long Island’s only professional sports team. The team’s lease expires in 2015 and will face potentially leaving Long Island should it be decided not to rebuild the Nassau Memorial Coliseum.

If residents approve the referendum in August, construction is estimated to begin in 2012, so that the new sports arena can open no later than 2015.

 “A new sports arena and minor league ballpark are critical to advancing Nassau’s job generating economic development plan,” said Mangano. “With passage of this legislation and approval by residents, the County will take a giant leap forward in creating a world-class sports-entertainment destination center in Nassau County.”