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County Executive’s Column: September 21, 2011

“Pass My ‘Fix Nassau Now’ Budget”

It is important that I share with you the fiscal challenges facing Nassau County. Nassau faces a projected $310 million deficit for 2012 resulting from unaffordable labor contracts, coupled with a broken assessment system and a stagnant economy that have collectively created a fiscal storm. Today [column submitted Sept. 14], I will submit a budget for 2012 that reduces year-over-year spending by $63 million. This is the first time Nassau has done so in over a generation. My budget changes the culture of taxing and spending, which has brought us to where we are today. First, let me say that my budget for the second year in a row does not include a property tax hike as our problems are not tax-driven. Nassau’s problems are spending-driven. As such, my budget significantly reduces the workforce, cuts tens of millions of dollars in spending and reforms unaffordable labor contracts. 

While I have reined in spending over the last two years, those efforts cannot keep pace with rising expenditures. Labor contracts alone will add $115 million in additional expenditures for 2012. Over the years, the contractual benefits County workers receive have become out of line with the other municipalities and the private sector. Fundamental changes are needed to correct the relationship between county government and county workers, so that employee benefits reflect current market realities. My budget tackles labor costs head on by implementing common-sense reforms that produce $210 million in reoccurring savings. Through layoffs and attrition, my budget reduces the county workforce by over 1,000 positions. Nassau will have 20 percent fewer employees than in 2009 – the year prior to when I took office. In addition, Nassau County workers will no longer receive free health insurance. Just as private sector employees contribute to their health insurance premiums so must Nassau employees. A 25 percent employee contribution will be required as it is in line with what other employees pay. Furthermore, the budget stops paying employees for education expenses they never incurred.

We can achieve meaningful savings through fresh approaches to police contracting and by maximizing our technological resources. My plan places more cops on the streets while taking cops out of their seats. This program enhances crime fighting while reducing wasteful contractual practices that force taxpayers to pay overtime when police are available at straight time pay. This is primarily accomplished by eliminating an archaic precinct minimum-manning requirement - as the Nassau County Police Department is the only major police force in the nation to have such a deal. This has to change! Furthermore, we will consolidate eight precincts into six. In addition, we will reduce the 61 paid days off a year that police officers presently receive. While I expect some union leaders will attempt to skew this issue in the media, clearly, these actions will protect public safety and reduce costs. Rather than pontificate or litigate, I encourage union leaders to enter into meaningful negotiations immediately as resistance will only result in additional layoffs or furloughs. Working together, we can and will fix Nassau’s fiscal problems without undue service disruptions.

The solutions to our County finances lay not just with labor concessions but also with correcting costly legislation. Accordingly, I have called on the New York State Legislature to pass assessment reform legislation that mirrors laws in Connecticut and New Jersey. While the County Legislature and I have passed legislation to reform Nassau’s broken property tax assessment system, it is time for the State Legislature to do the same.

Nassau County’s finances have been broken for over a decade. Fixing them will take the collective efforts of elected officials working together governmentally rather than politically apart. Help protect your wallet by calling your County Legislator and asking them to pass my budget.