Written by Edward P. Mangano Friday, 08 April 2011 00:00
The last thing residents need in these tough economic times is a double-digit property tax increase. That is why I recently submitted an updated financial plan for Nassau County’s 2011 budget that protects homeowners and employers from a 21.5 percent property tax increase.
The plan is simple. It slashes nearly $182 million in government spending and impacts every area of the county and the services we provide. Although unfortunate for county employees and some service providers, the cuts are necessary in the face of the dire county financial situation I inherited.
For years, Nassau County spent too much and ignored our taxpayers’ ability to pay for labor contracts and entitlements with the public employee unions that are not only unsustainable but put the County hundreds of millions of dollars further in the red each year. As a result, I was faced with only two options. I would either enact a massive property tax increase or cut government services and employee costs. I chose to reduce the size and cost of government.
My plan saves taxpayers nearly $61 million in employee-related expenses by freezing wages, by implementing a 13-day furlough for all employees, including myself, by laying off over 200 workers and by eliminating over 300 vacant positions. Today, Nassau County will operate with over 800 fewer employees than it had before I took office. I have notified County union leaders that an additional $60 million in concessions will be necessary for 2012. If these concessions are not met, additional layoffs and service cuts will occur.
My plan also includes $15 million in savings from another round of restructuring that will occur in the police department. I will redeploy 142 officers from behind desks and place them on the streets. This action not only increases public safety, but also reduces exorbitant overtime costs. Furthermore, the plan includes nearly $45 million in across the board budget cuts. Nearly $18 million in savings will be achieved by cutting contractual expenses, including costs associated with social service programs.
Due to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) demand for Nassau taxpayers to contribute $35 million annually for LI Bus operations, I began exploring a public-private partnership to run the bus system and reduce the expense for taxpayers. Since then, the MTA announced plans to cut 56 percent of service routes while still wanting $18 million more annually from County taxpayers. We simply cannot comply with the MTA’s demand. Since taking $100 million more than ever from Nassau taxpayers through the job-killing payroll tax, the MTA has applied no credit for these dollars to the LI Bus system. Instead, they have cut services for riders, the disabled and our students while subsidizing New York City’s transportation system with our tax dollars.
Homeowners and employers cannot afford a property tax increase to fund the MTA’s bloated budget. For that reason, I have notified the MTA that they will no longer be the official operator of LI Bus. A public-private partnership formed to operate LI Bus simply makes sense for taxpayers, as they will run bus service more efficiently and effectively while not holding our taxpayers hostage for increased revenue year after year. Over the coming weeks, Nassau will release a public-private partnership plan for LI Bus that will restore much of the MTA’s proposed route cuts while also bringing additional accountability for our tax dollars.
Fortunately, Nassau’s assessment system is finally on the road to repair. I am proud to report that the enhanced homeowner tax grievance settlement program I implemented earlier this year will save tens of millions of dollars for taxpayers. This success is the result of management working harder and smarter to settle grievances before taxes are paid, thereby stopping borrowing to pay for refunds and reducing attorney costs related to litigation and settlement.
In closing, I remind residents that the severity of these budget cuts would be lessened if labor concessions are offered and new agreements are reached with our unions. County union leaders still have time to offer voluntary concessions to save important services and the people who deliver them. Although I did not create this budget mess, I intend to fix it so that Nassau County can once again be an affordable place to live, work and raise a family.