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Q&A: Candidates for Nassau County Legislature’s 12th District

Anton Newspapers asked Republican incumbent Peter J. Schmitt and Democratic challenger John Rennhack to respond to the following questions. Mr. Rennhack has not responded to the questionnaire.

Peter J. Schmitt

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?

A decade of lavish spending and 42.3 percent in property tax increases by the previous Democrat administration and Democrat Legislative Majority turned Nassau County into the highest taxed county in the nation, squandered budget surpluses, bound the county in unsustainable labor contracts, and left Nassau unprepared for the national recession. To manage this budget crisis, we must stop the tax increases, cut spending, reduce the size of government, and renegotiate labor costs.

Since gaining the majority on the Legislature in January 2010, I and my Republican colleagues have repealed the 2.5 percent Home Energy Tax and eliminated 16.5 percent in property tax hikes which has lifted a $485 million tax burden off the shoulders of Nassau taxpayers. We've cut $171 million in spending, and reduced the workforce by 1,200 positions. We must continue to make the tough decisions necessary to right size Nassau's finances without increasing property taxes.

In order to minimize the impact on county services, the county's labor unions must come to the bargaining table. The previous administration negotiated labor contracts that are wholly unsustainable. The county can no longer afford to offer free healthcare for life plus myriad other luxurious benefits. The depth of service cuts and/or layoffs is in the hands of the union leaders, and I encourage them to come to the table to save Nassau's employees and vital social services.

We must also fix the broken property tax assessment system, which accrues approximately $100 million in new debt annually. To address this broken system, we 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 the 2013/2014 school year, each municipality will have to pay back their respective refunds. The assessment system is complicated and cannot be fixed overnight, but we are making significant progress since gaining the majority in 2010.

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

At the county level, we learned that our Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is doing an incredible job of preparing and assisting residents during emergency situations. The Nassau OEM was in constant communication with county officials and law enforcement throughout Tropical Storm Irene, and I am very proud and grateful for the efforts of all OEM personnel and trained first responders.

However, I am shocked and disturbed by Long Island Power Authority's (LIPA) dismal storm response effort and lack of communication after the storm. I have offered assistance to LIPA by asking LIPA to share reliable information with the Nassau Legislators so we can help relay the information to our constituents. Residents were left in the dark both literally and figuratively, and constant calls to LIPA overwhelmed the utility's system. If such a situation occurs again, there must be a better emergency response system in place to inform residents and businesses when their power will be returned.

What type of development would you like to see for the county's 77 acres known as the "Hub" including the Coliseum?

On August 1, 2011, the residents of Nassau spoke loudly and clearly when they voted against publicly funding the renovation of the coliseum. The 77-acre Hub property is the last large parcel of developable land in Nassau County, and we only have one chance to develop it correctly. I would like to see the Islanders stay on Long Island, and I would support a development proposal that is privately funded, creates construction and permanent jobs, and will showcase all that Nassau has to offer.