Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi presented a budget for 2006 and for the third consecutive year, the budget reflects no tax increase for the property owners of the county. In addition, because the county will not be receiving any financial help from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), Suozzi believes the fiscal crisis that has plagued the county in recent years is over.
"We have turned an important corner in the county's fiscal recover," said Suozzi. "For the first time in five years, Nassau will not be receiving any financial help from NIFA. We are here to say, quite simply, that the fiscal crisis is over."
Suozzi presented a $2.397 billion budget, which he believes is balanced and fiscally responsible. It is the third straight budget that does not include a tax increase.
In his first budget as county executive, Suozzi raised county taxes by 19.4 percent, a move that is still being criticized by Nassau Republicans.
The 2006 budget, according to a press release from Suozzi's office, makes important strides in weaning the county from borrowing each year to pay for successful appeals of property tax assessments. Next year, the county will use a $50 million allocation from surplus funds to help tax for future property tax refunds, lessening the need to borrow.
The reduction of the county's police force has also become a staple of the Suozzi administration. But, according to the press release, the 2006 budget includes funding next year to hire the maximum number of police officers as the police department and civil service can accommodate.
"Three and a half years after we took over a nearly bankrupt county government, we stand proudly on our own two feet, well-positioned for a healthier and more prosperous future," said Suozzi.
Meanwhile, Suozzi's opponent in November's election, Republican Greg Peterson, called Suozzi's budget "nothing less than a fiscal fraud." Peterson maintains that Suozzi is inflicting tax increases on the public through user fees and surcharges that range from a $2 user fee for children who wanted to use the water slide at Wantagh Park this summer to a jump in motor vehicle registration fees to a tax on cell phones.
"Whether its hypocrisy or cynicism, for Tom Suozzi to suggest he has put a tax freeze in place on a budget that has quietly siphoned an estimated $50 million in gasoline taxes from the county consumer is nothing less than a fraud. He has created a work of political sleight of hand and a budget of fiscal fiction. If you're not outraged about having your pocket picked, I sure as hell am," said Peterson.
Republican legislature minority leader Peter Schmitt said Suozzi's budget was disappointing but not surprising. "The county has a surplus. He had the opportunity to deliver significant tax relief and he failed," Schmitt said. "He could have cut property taxes or he could have repealed the county's sales tax on gasoline or he could have repealed the fees that the county imposes on cell phones, auto registrations and on children to use our parks. He did none of it."
There will be hearings on the budget as determined by the legislative majority. The budget must then be voted on by October 31.