Written by Matthew A. Piacentini Friday, 15 April 2011 00:00
“We gather here today to discuss the state of our county, which is now in a state of repair,” Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano began his second state of the county address. With Nassau facing highly publicized crises on many fronts, the county executive worked to highlight the positive in his speech Monday night, telling the members of the county Legislature and the audience at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage that things are on the right track.
“We are back,” he announced. “After a decade of higher taxes, lavish spending and little reform, Nassau is now on the road to recovery because of the tough decisions made to take on the status quo.”
In his first state of the county, after he had been in office a few months, Mangano said the county he inherited from his predecessor was “deeply troubled.” He reiterated this year that his administration is working through these challenges, focusing on the three biggest financial problems: a one-of-a-kind faulty property tax assessment system that has created $1.6 billion in debt; a “bankrupt sewer authority” that also uniquely functions in a way that causes serious financial loss; and escalated union costs from “expensive labor contracts.”
Regarding assessments, Mangano reiterated that he has taken several steps to rectify the problem. This includes the end of the “guarantee” under which Nassau would pay for tax refunds for towns, villages, schools and others. He also moved the county from an annual assessment to a four-year cyclical assessment system.
“These reforms will save hundreds of millions of dollars a year while protecting taxpayers and fulfilling my pledge to freeze and fix the broken assessment system,” he said.
Regarding the Sewer, Authority Mangano and the Republican Legislature has worked to end the delivery of services to non-profits. “We also inherited a bankrupt Sewer Authority that provided free sewage treatment to select organizations. Homeowners suffered as costs rose while others enjoyed a free ride... a business can’t survive if it loses money. Well, neither can the Nassau County Sewer Authority.”
As far as employee-related cost-cutting, Mangano discussed his planned budget cuts for 2011 that eliminates over $121 million by reducing employee-related spending, including a pay freeze for all county employees, over 200 layoffs, the elimination of 300 additional vacant positions, and a 13-day furlough for all county employees.
“Once implemented, Nassau County will operate with over 800 fewer employees than it had before I took office,” he said. His plan also redeploys 142 police officers from desk jobs to the streets.
For 2012, the county executive warned that because of contracts he inherited, “Nassau County faces increased 2012 employee contract costs of more than $100 million. This is the equivalent of a 12 percent property tax increase.” He is pushing, therefore, for the authority to open labor contracts with the unions to achieve givebacks through the Taxpayer Relief Act.
“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… To be clear, there will be voluntary concessions or employees will face layoffs,” he said.
Beyond his big three issues, the county executive called for reform in Albany. He said that the pension costs that taxpayers are forced to cover are too high. He recommended a shift to a defined contribution plan similar to the private sector, in which individual accounts change with the market and taxpayers do not have to make up for the difference when accounts go down in value.
“The time is now to put government on a diet,” Mangano said.
Finally, regarding Albany, he called for a tax cap. “I stand with [Governor Cuomo] demanding the State Assembly join the State Senate in passing legislation to cap property taxes and eliminate unfunded mandates that drive up the costs of running government,” he said.
Regarding NIFA, Mangano did not directly mention the state watchdog that has assumed direct authority over the county’s budget this year. After the address he said on TV that this topic has filled the newspapers for weeks and there was no need to go over it. In his speech, he defended his financial management, touting a “$17.2 million surplus” at the end of 2010. He praised his controversial repeal of the Home Energy Tax. The county executive also said he was proud of the fact that the size of the government has been reduced to its lowest levels since the 1950s.
In the realm of job growth and economic development, Mangano touched on several items. He is pushing for a minor league baseball team that “would bring inexpensive family entertainment as well as new jobs to the county.”
The county executive also discussed the coliseum debacle, saying, “For too long, Nassau Coliseum and the property that surrounds it has laid to waste rather than generate revenue for the county that can help hold the line on property taxes.” The ragged site needs to be updated, or the county will lose the Islanders. He is therefore opening up two new possibilities for construction: first, a public-private inter-nation partnership with the Shinnecock Nation to develop a gaming casino, with a hotel and conference center, a newly refurbished Nassau Coliseum and restaurants and stores; or a referendum put to taxpayers to let them decide if they would like to fund the construction of a new coliseum, which he priced at $400 million.
Mangano touted $90 million in film and TV work that has gone on in Nassau, including movies like Salt and Man on a Ledge, and shows like Royal Pains, Running Wilde, and The Good Wife.
The county executive also touted the Morrelly Homeland Security Center, saying that this comprehensive, emergency-preparedness facility is designed to bring government, defense contractors and local business together to develop tomorrow’s security technology and composite manufacturing industries today in Nassau County. “With the Morrelly Homeland Security Center located here in Nassau County, we have the ability to once again become a global leader in developing and commercializing homeland security/defense solutions,” he said.
Regarding crime and law enforcement initiatives, Mangano said that major crime in Nassau County is down more than 10 percent since he took office. He said the police have good programs in effect that take guns off the streets, reduce violence and crack down on drugs.
He focused on the heroin problem, saying that in 2010, 100 individuals between the age of 25 and 29 were arrested for heroin related charges and 48 people died of heroin related deaths in Nassau. “That’s nearly one person per week,” Managno said. He announced operation H.A.L.T., an aggressive enforcement initiative, coupled with parental awareness and education aimed at combating heroin use and distribution. There is also a “Too Good for Drugs Program” in schools, funded by money seized from drug dealers.
Regarding domestic violence, statistics indicate that the poor economy has led to a rise in family and domestic violence, he said. Arrests for domestic violence incidents increased 58 percent in 2010, therefore the Domestic Violence Task Force is in full gear.
As part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence, Mangano, along with the district attorney and the Police Department held four “Gun Buy Back” programs, taking more than 1,800 weapons off the streets. The ShotSpotter gunshot location system is also reducing gun violence.
Immediately following Mangano’s address, Legislator Diane Yaturo, leader of the Democratic minority, delivered a “rebuttal” on TV, criticizing the county executive’s leadership. She argued that while Mangano claims to have inherited his problems from prior Democrat leadership, they are the ones who created the 2010 budget that resulted in a surplus. She contrasted this year’s budget, saying it was never balanced and that is why NIFA has taken control.
“That certainly doesn’t sound like we are moving in the right direction,” Yatauro said.
She also attacked the removal of the county guarantee, saying that this would be a “shift” in taxes from the county bill to local school taxes.
“This tax shift will surely force local and school taxes to increase,” Yatauro asserted. “As I speak to you tonight the majority of school districts have joined forces to sue the county in an effort to stop this tax shift… This shift will result in drastic shortfalls for the school districts. For example, in Mr. Mangano’s Bethpage school district, they will have a budget shortfall of $2.5 million. Elmont, Oceanside and Farmingdale should also anticipate drastic shortfalls. Where do you suppose these shortfalls will be made up?”
Nonetheless, Mangano maintained in his address that brighter days are ahead.
He concluded, “Can we recover from the past? Can we bring real reform and the needed budget cuts to this government? Can we bring jobs to our community? Today I say to you, not that we can, but we have and we will continue this year and in the years to follow… Together we are building a better Nassau, we will recover.”