Nassau Comptroller George Maragos Wednesday pulled back from the county's financial control board a multimillion-dollar contract to build artificial turf fields at Eisenhower Park after questions surfaced about its costs.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority was scheduled to consider approval on Friday of the $10.8 million contract with Laser Industries to install artificial turf on seven ballfields.
But Maragos asked the board to return the contract to his office for further review because "questions have arisen" about its cost and about the installation of two artificial turf fields at Cantiague Park that NIFA earlier had rejected.StoryNassau to spend $10.8M on turf fieldsEditorialEditorial: Delay artificial turf fields in Nassau
NIFA in late 2011 turned down an $8.1 million contract to install artificial turf at Cantiague and Bay Park, citing Nassau's budget crisis and questioning county revenue estimates.
County Executive Edward Mangano's administration Wednesday stressed that Laser was the lowest of three bidders for the Eisenhower fields. In addition, Chief Deputy Rob Walker said the county had provided NIFA with an analysis that showed revenue at Cantiague Park had risen tenfold, from $25,000 before the artificial turf fields were installed to $250,000 in rentals already booked for this year.
NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said, "While I generally support turf fields as a municipal investment, there are concerns among the board members, including myself, as to whether this is an appropriate time for the county to be pursuing such a project."
Meanwhile, at least one NIFA board member and NIFA staff questioned Wednesday how the Cantiague fields were constructed.
Walker told Newsday that the artificial turf for one field, which he estimated was worth $300,000, had been donated by the Landtek Group, which also built a hood over the ball field's backstop. County workers installed the turf, "so it cost us nothing," he said.
He said the other field was built through a legislative "community revitalization project." Legislators propose CRP projects, financed through borrowed money, in their districts. Usually they are joint ventures with local towns or school districts.
Administration officials said Laser built the CRP field and also donated its leftover turf for the other field.
A spokeswoman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said Legis. Rose Walker (R-Hicksville) and Laura Schaefer (R-Westbury) each contributed $200,000 of their CRP money toward the field.
Although the legislature must approve most donations or gifts to the county, the turf donations were made to Friends of Nassau Recreation, which effectively bypasses legislative approval.
Maragos in a 2013 audit criticized the nonprofit group for keeping such poor records of the money it receives from park users that his auditors could not determine whether funds were missing.
Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said such donations need more legislative oversight. "How can you get a gift of turf that we don't know about?" she asked. "We have voted to accept a horse, or a chair and table, but we're willing to overlook nearly a half-million dollars in turf fields? If it's not transparent to us, to NIFA and the public, then it's an abuse of power."
Officials of Laser and Landtek could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.