Written by Melissa Argueta: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 23 March 2012 00:00
If you think government is a bit bloated these days, it has just been put on a strict “diet,” according to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who delivered his official State of the County address on Wed., March 14, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.
During the speech, Mangano touted his administration’s accomplishments and equally stressed the challenge of dealing with the county’s ever-increasing property taxes, warning of a potential 13-percent property-tax hike in the future.
“Our first problem is that Nassau is among the highest property-taxed counties in the nation, and these taxes are driving companies and jobs out of New York. Plainly put, property taxes are killing jobs and depressing home values,” he said.
To save taxpayers money, Mangano maintained that his administration was the first in recent history to repeal the home energy tax placed on anything used to heat or cool a home, including oil, gas, electricity and even firewood.
“My action fulfilled my pledge and reinforced my commitment to save taxpayer dollars by cutting the cost of government. Together with the Republican majority in the legislature, I eliminated a planned 16.5 percent property tax hike for every homeowner and business. We have cut spending and held the line on property taxes for two consecutive years. The old ways of hiking property taxes, spending lavishly and ignoring the need for reforms has ended,” Mangano said.
According to Mangano, fiscal experts determined Nassau County faces a $310 million dollar deficit due to its rising pension costs, increasing Medicaid costs, a stagnant economy, a greater demand on social services and $100 million in debt associated with the broken property tax assessment system.
Compounded with the economy’s endless fiscal challenges, Mangano said he passed a budget that cut spending and reduced the county payroll by $150 million in 2012. “Over the past decade, government had simply grown too large...we put it on a diet!” Mangano added.
“The legislature and I, in cooperation with NIFA [Nassau Interim Finance Authority], addressed Nassau’s challenges with real solutions while recognizing residents cannot afford a property tax increase,” he added.
Reform is something Mangano’s administration said it was committed to enforcing through a series of budget cuts. He said this initiative was achieved in the county’s police department. Since 2010, Mangano has eliminated more than 225 desk jobs, assigned 88 more police officers to patrol, reduced crime by more than 10 percent and saved taxpayers 30 million dollars a year.
Last week, the legislature implemented additional solutions to address Nassau’s finances by approving a plan that transforms four current police precincts into new policing centers and helps fight costly overtime, according to Mangano.
The controversial plan met with mixed reaction from the public. Mangano stated the initiative modernizes Nassau’s 1972 eight precinct building plan to account for the last 40 years of technology and crime fighting enhancements.
“Rather than discuss this plan on its merits and on what it actually accomplishes, the special interests and a few legislators they enlisted, used fear-mongering tactics. Fortunately, they could not skew the fact that public safety remains intact, all 177 patrol cars remain in their current neighborhoods assignments and 48 additional police officers are joining the 40 I reassigned from desks to patrol,” Mangano said.
Regarding the property tax assessment system, Mangano explained that Nassau County settled for quick fixes rather than addressing the real underlying problems.
“This Band-aid approach left our great county on life support. Nassau, like other counties and states, is facing significant fiscal challenges; however, our challenges are amplified when compared to neighboring counties, due to its broken property tax assessment system,” he said.
According to Mangano, Nassau County is the only county in the state to collect 17 cents on the dollar in taxes, yet return the whole dollar when an error is made. Last spring, the ‘county guarantee’ was repealed, shifting the burden of responsibility of tax certiorari settlements onto local school districts.
“Well, the Supreme Court upheld the reforms passed by the Republican Legislature and myself to end this practice that has resulted in $1.6 billion in debt related to property tax refunds that accumulated under this wasteful system. The interest on this debt costs the average homeowner 20 percent more annually on their county tax bill,” he explained.
Together, with NIFA, Mangano and the Republican Legislature advanced a plan that pays off this debt without property tax hikes. If this multi-year plan is not supported, residents would be forced to pay for a decade of waste in a single year, Mangano said.
The county executive asserted this would mean a massive property tax hike or deep cuts that impact all levels of service. “Nassau’s plan stops that…pays off refunds and ends borrowing in a responsible way. Rather than play political games and threaten to block the solution to Nassau’s fiscal stability, the time is now for three Democrat County Legislators to lay politics aside, stand up and join NIFA, the majority in the legislature and me in implementing a plan that prevents a property tax hike and pays off the tax refunds owed to our residents,” he said.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams strongly opposed any type of a property tax hike. “Mr. Mangano’s threat of a 13 percent property tax hike is nothing more than a scare tactic. He should know that we have a tax cap in New York State and he doesn’t have the authority to raise taxes over 2 percent. It’s either that Mangano doesn’t understand his own government or he is playing games with the public, either way that is the real scary thing. As I stated last night, I am open to working with him in a bipartisan manner to solve our fiscal issues.”
Discussing the county’s future projects, Mangano did not specifically mention that the public voted down a plan to float a $400 million bond to develop the Hub site at Mitchel Field last year. However, he did say any future development projects will be designed to create jobs, generate millions for the county and benefit the local economy to the tune of $35 million over the next five years.
Last year, the county executive challenged the private sector to build a multi-purpose expo center on Mitchel Field. “I am happy to report that two companies have answered the call. Tonight, I announce that I will recommend Nassau Sports and Events, LLC to the legislature to construct a state-of-the-art 105,000-square-foot exhibition center at Mitchel Field that includes multi-purpose fields, basketball and volley ball courts, a rock wall, high ropes, gym and a fitness center,” he said.
“I am confident that if we come together, we will find a path forward that leads not to empty parking lots, but rather to a vibrant center of economic activity with Islanders banners hanging from every post and the Stanley Cup on display at its heart,” he added.
Abrahams specifically addressed this issue in his speech, which aired live on News 12. “In order to balance the budget, Mr. Mangano plans to ask this legislature for their approval to swipe the county credit card to the tune of $450 million. By constantly relying on borrowing as a first resort, Mr. Mangano is not addressing the urgent, underlying financial problems that plague us. Instead, he is ensuring that our children and our children’s children will be paying off our debt with no end in sight.
“All of us who have to manage our household finances know…that eventually that credit card bill comes due. It’s a fact that you understand this, which is why you —the people — resoundingly voted down Mr. Mangano’s proposal last summer to borrow $400 million to build a new coliseum with taxpayer money,” Abrahams said.