Nassau exec hopefuls Adam Haber, Thomas Suozzi on county's top issues

Nassau County Executive candidate Tom Suozzi greets supporters Nassau County Executive candidate Tom Suozzi greets supporters at a regional meeting held at Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead. (March 28, 2013). Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who wants the county's top job again, was the main speaker at a $650-a-plate Democratic fundraising dinner last week.

Two days later, businessman Adam Haber, who also wants the Democratic nod to run for the office, worked to pull some of the spotlight back on himself by releasing an ethics plan he says will clean up county government.

Move, by Suozzi, the veteran, who likely will be the party's choice during next month's nominating convention. Countermove, by Haber, the novice, who already is planning a primary against Suozzi in September.

The maneuvers are to be expected as the candidates begin fleshing out policy positions and configuring what they hope will be effective campaigns -- against each other and, come November, against Republican incumbent Edward Mangano.

Given Nassau's challenges, however, it's never too early -- yes, even before an anticipated Democratic primary -- to ask Haber and Suozzi about issues, including:

Cutting costs and raising revenue in cash-strapped Nassau.

"We have to stop beating on the county workers," Haber said. Instead of firing more workers, he wants to work on increasing revenue through initiatives such as renting space on county buildings for solar panels.

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Suozzi said he would seek creative ways to reduce costs and increase revenue, including selling naming rights and more public-private partnerships for parks and other facilities.

Like Haber, he also emphasized that Nassau needed to grow the business base. "We have a lot of extra steps business owners need to take, beyond what is required by state law, to get up and running," he said. "We have to do something about that."

Fixing the property tax assessment system and reducing an estimated $300 million backlog of tax refunds and interest.

Haber believes Nassau's assessment department has lost too many employees; he'd like to see some of those positions restored with people with expertise in assessment.

On the backlog, Haber said borrowing "is probably the only thing you can do at this point." He promised significantly more details during the campaign.

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Suozzi agreed on the need for bonding to reduce the backlog, but said it had to be structured to keep interest costs under control. He also said Nassau may have to consider setting aside funds, without using taxpayer money, to pay off future tax certs.

"We have to fix the system," he said. "But there are going to be refunds even in systems where assessments are close to being pristine."

Pushing some of the cost of assessment refunds to towns, villages and school districts.

Both Democrats oppose the idea and said they would drop an appeal of a lawsuit the Mangano administration lost on the issue.

The relationship with the county's financial control board.

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Haber and Suozzi said they would drop the Mangano administration's legal challenges to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority's powers to stop the county from borrowing without NIFA's consent.

Suozzi said he would work with NIFA. "The key is to get the county to the point where a control board is no longer necessary," he said.

"Mangano wanted the authority to freeze wages, which he wanted to do," said Haber. "But he's spending taxpayer money fighting NIFA in court because they stopped him from selling the sewer system."

"He wants it and he doesn't want it," Haber said. "You can't have it both ways."

Superstorm Sandy contracts.

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Suozzi and Haber said they welcomed ongoing investigations by Nassau's district attorney and the state attorney general's office into how Nassau handled contracts for Sandy-related cleanup services.

Both campaigns said there would be more to come about those and other issues, and that they'd provide detailed plans about dealing with them.

Voters deserve that.

Let the primary begin.

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