Nassau compromise good for homeowners

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (March 19, 2012)

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (March 19, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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And so the battle ends.

After more than a year of political infighting, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams Monday brokered a pact that will begin paying Nassau's property owners the tax refunds they've been entitled to for years.

The deal became real after legislative Democrats, for the first time since Mangano released his 2011 budget proposal, provided enough votes for the supermajority necessary to authorize borrowing for successful tax assessment challenges.


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Because of cash-flow problems and political squabbling, Nassau ended up under court order to refund tens of thousands of homeowners.

Had no deal been reached, a judge could have frozen county bank accounts.

Even with the deal, however, thousands of property owners will have to wait for refunds.

Lawmakers approved borrowing for only a fraction of the debt Monday. Under a deal brokered between Mangano and Abrahams, of Freeport, Democrats will support another borrowing in September.

Together, the borrowings will account for only $95 million of a debt that's been estimated as high as $300 million.

But let's put aside the debt, and the issue of how best to fix the broken property assessment system that seems to just keep feeding it, and consider the deal itself.

Democrats didn't get all they wanted, which would have included a guarantee from Mangano that funding for mental health, drug and alcohol, and children's services would be restored in this and future years.

Mangano didn't get all that he wanted -- including more than $160 million in borrowing -- either.

Each side lost something. And gained something.

But Nassau residents gained the most.

Since Mangano took office in 2010, it's been fight after fight after fight, especially on property tax refunds, with neither side giving way.

Democrats first refused to approve borrowing as a way to push Republicans, who have the majority, to modify their legislative redistricting plan.

The fight continued -- although Democrats did approve borrowing for Sandy-related and other capital projects -- as the sides clashed over restoring funding for social services contractors.

Property owners were caught in the middle.

Maybe it was the failure in Albany last week of a proposal to allow Nassau and Suffolk counties to borrow up to $500 million each through the state that added additional pressure.

Maybe it's the upcoming election in November, where all sides ran the risk of being tagged by criticism that they couldn't put the people's business before their own.

Or maybe the sides, after so long, finally learned to navigate their way to a major compromise.

"It took time, but the sides worked it out," Mangano said in an interview Monday. "It is key that we were able to come together."

Abrahams was not available to comment Monday, but a spokesman, Michael Florio, agreed.

"They have a point of view, we have a point of view," he said. "No one is going to get everything they want."

That's the nature of compromise, the nature of governing. The sides are to be commended for getting this one done.

The trick is to keep it going.