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County Executive's Column - September 24, 2010

A Message to Taxpayers on the Proposed County Budget for 2011

We live in unprecedented and difficult economic times. Thousands of jobs have been lost, careers have been destroyed, and retirement savings have vanished. The value of our homes has decreased; more homes have been foreclosed in Nassau County than ever before. We are facing challenges that have not been seen in our County since its founding in 1899.

Together, we will tackle these challenges.

Last week, I submitted to the Legislature a Proposed County Budget for 2011 that reflects the enormity of these economic hardships. Our County faces a $343 million deficit for next year. This deficit is the result of years of mismanagement, a poor economy, and empty promises of paying for labor deals without funding. Without the difficult cuts and corrective actions I have taken, we would have been forced to raise property taxes by 43 percent.

This budget does not increase property taxes by a single dollar.

The county is very fortunate to have a dedicated workforce that has contributed without question to help the county achieve its operational and financial objectives. I seek to continue this partnership with its unionized workforce.

It is of paramount importance that Nassau return to fiscal stability. For this goal to be met, we must realistically live within our means. Unfortunately for our taxpayers, my predecessor did not understand this simple principle. A review of Nassau’s collective bargaining agreements reveals that the cost of labor and associated benefits, including rising pension, benefit and health care costs and agreements unknown in the private sector, far exceed our ability to pay.

In developing the 2011 Proposed County Budget, my first priority was the health, safety and welfare of our residents. I then considered those services we are required by law to provide the public, the resources available to deliver such services, and, most important, I considered your ability to pay for such services.

This budget makes over $130 million in departmental cuts and headcount reductions.

I led the way by cutting the number of jobs throughout the County and by $1 million within my own office. In fact, the 2011 Proposed County Budget will have the smallest County workforce since the 1950s.

While keeping the same number of police patrolling our streets, I have worked hard with the Police Department to consolidate duplicative administrative functions. From creating a new Department of Shared Services to entering into purchasing agreements that increase our buying power and thereby lower our costs, we are taking every necessary step to reduce the size of our government. Despite all these efforts, it is still not enough to place our County on stable ground.

To balance our 2011 County Budget, I will order labor savings from Nassau County employees. Since taking office on Jan. 1, I have met with labor leaders to ask for assistance in closing this colossal deficit. While concessions are difficult, I am left with no other options. Together, we must have the ability to restore our County to fiscal stability and ensure that Nassau lives within its means.

I am asking the County Legislature to pass “The Taxpayer Relief Act of 2010” to ensure shared sacrifices are made to prevent property tax hikes. To protect Nassau County’s future for years to come, I will implement significant reforms to address our fiscal instability.

I am introducing legislation to amend County law to eliminate the so-called “County Guarantee” of liabilities for property tax assessment of other levels of government. That change alone will save taxpayers $80 million a year and stop the growth of debt associated with this broken system.

Finally, I am proposing that not-for-profit entities (excluding religious houses of worship) for the first time pay for County sewage service. In an effort to benefit ratepayers, I have also ordered exploration of entering into a public-private partnership for Nassau County’s Sewer District.

Reforming Nassau’s finances is critical to improving our economy. I will never give up fighting for you, the taxpayers of Nassau County.