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Q&A: Candidates for NC 14th Legislative District

Anton Newspapers asked Republican incumbent Joseph Belesi and Democratic challenger Eva Pearson to respond to the following questions.

Joseph Belesi

How should the county solve its budget crisis? Should the police unions and the Civil Service Employees Association make contract concessions? Should county services be cut? Should there be a tax increase? Should the County eliminate its guarantee to refund other taxing districts’ (including school districts) share of property taxes paid in error due to County assessment errors?

Since taking back the Majority on the Legislature nearly two years ago, my Republican colleagues and I have been working tirelessly to improve the budgetary crisis left for us by the prior administration. We have repealed the 2.5 percent Home Energy Tax and eliminated 16.5 percent in property tax hikes, which has lifted a $485 million tax burden off the shoulders of county taxpayers. We have cut $171 million in spending and reduced the county workforce by 1200. However we realize our job is not done, and we plan to continue making the tough decisions necessary to further remedy the county’s finances. Most importantly, we need to do this without burdening Nassau taxpayers, which my colleagues and I have repeatedly committed to by not raising taxes.

Labor unions have worked with county administration in the past and I’m confident that if we all work together we can find a resolution that pleases everyone, without significantly impacting county services.

We are also working to help fix the broken property tax assessment system, which accrues approximately $100 million in new debt annually. My colleagues and I have frozen property assessments for four years, revised the rules of the Assessment Review Commission to expedite the settlement of grievances, and introduced new programs, which already saved $28 million in 2011. In addition, we repealed the county guarantee to pay tax refunds on behalf of other municipalities. Starting in 2013/2014 school year, each municipality will have to pay back their respective refunds. We recognize that this system is complicated and will take time to remedy, but we are making significant progress.

Has there been anything learned from Hurricane Irene as far as emergency management?

Yes certainly – we have learned that the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management is made up of knowledgeable and dedicated professionals who did an incredible job of preparing and assisting residents throughout the hurricane and its aftermath. OEM was in constant communication with County officials and law enforcement through the tropical storm, and I am very proud and grateful for all their efforts. I am however disappointed in the response, or lack thereof, residents received from LIPA and hope that the utility learned from its failures so such failures will not occur in the future.

What type of development would you like to see for the county’s 77-acres known as the “Hub,” including the Coliseum?

Residents spoke loud and clear on August 1 when they voted against publicly funding the renovation of the Coliseum so we now know that any future development proposal should be privately funded. While it would be great to see the Islanders stay on Long Island, I certainly hope to see a project that creates construction and permanent jobs, and one that will showcase all that our great county has to offer.

Eva Pearson

How should the county solve its budget crisis? Should the police unions and the Civil Service Employees Association make contract concessions? Should county services be cut? Should there be a tax increase? Should the County eliminate its guarantee to refund other taxing districts’ (including school districts) share of property taxes paid in error due to County assessment errors?

We need a long-term financial plan that encourages economic development, government efficiency, and actively eliminates wasteful spending. To start, millions of taxpayer dollars could be saved overnight just by eliminating spending on politically connected consultants and patronage jobs. After getting our budget and spending under control, we can encourage economic growth through incentives to private industry that will help put people to work.  This will help to preserve Nassau’s quality of life, and increase our tax base.  Instead of promoting economic development, the Republican legislative majority raised county fees and shifted tax burdens to our towns, villages and school districts; this “solution” doesn’t solve our budget problem at all.  It’s still money out of the taxpayer’s pocket.

They [police unions and the Civil Service Employees Association] have already made concessions. It is the responsibility of the elected officials to account for spending, make sure it is used wisely, and help generate revenue without increasing taxes and fees. You do that through active economic development, not stifling it by putting more people on the unemployment line. If the current administration were doing their jobs, they would not need to eliminate the jobs of the public employees who actually make government work.

Every time we cut [county] services in the course of budgetary schemes that never solve our deficit problem, we end up with a situation that costs us even more money. We have seen the proof of that in the past, and now we are seeing it again with the proposed police precinct closures. Not only is the public being kept in the dark about the details of these closures, but they will also compromise public safety and possibly lead to an increase in crime, which in turn costs us more money.

There has already been a tax increase. The Republican legislative majority raised county fees the equivalent of a 7.7 percent tax increase, and the residents of Nassau County were already paying the highest taxes in America. Together with the current administration, they have refused to uncover wasteful spending and inefficiencies in county departments, and wasted tens of millions of dollars by maintaining jobs for their friends, and contracts for unnecessary politically connected law firms and consultants.

Eliminating the county guarantee makes absolutely no difference in the amount of taxes we pay. This is not reform, it is simply a shifting of tax burdens from the county to the towns and villages and school districts. In fact it makes budgeting for our school districts, particularly in Farmingdale, way more difficult, and will probably result in us paying even more in school taxes.

Additionally, the entire assessment system is under county control.  Shifting the burden of payment to the towns and school districts, when they have no control over the efficiency of the process, is problematic and unfair.

Has there been anything learned from Hurricane Irene as far as emergency management?

What we learned from Hurricane Irene is that our local government needs to be properly prepared for emergencies. Every time we ignore the needs of emergency management, and have incompetent leadership in control, we end up unprepared to respond to such emergencies, which threatens public safety and has disastrous economic effects.

Furthermore, it emphasized the need for the local government to be in close and immediate contact with companies such as LIPA, so that residents are not left in the dark for a week without any answers from either the government or the local company.

What type of development would you like to see for the county’s 77-acres known as the “Hub,” including the Coliseum?

Regardless of which proposal is approved, the key to this development is that it must be privately funded, with no additional cost to the taxpayer.  Development of the Coliseum area with private money will increase our tax-base and help solve our budget problems.  I would like to see a sensible redevelopment of this area, perhaps as a major sports and entertainment venue with a variety of uses. This proposal would support permanent jobs and bring more commerce to existing businesses while supporting the creation of new businesses. This would be an example of a public-private partnership that allows business to thrive and government to gain revenue without a tax increase… and it also creates permanent jobs.