The move to build a $350-million arena and a $50-million minor league baseball stadium took a step forward Monday as the Nassau County Legislature's rules committee approved a public hearing on a referendum on paying for the project.
The committee's four Republicans voted to hold the hearing next Monday at the legislature's offices. The three Democrats abstained because they did not have time to study the proposal.
The legislature's eight-member Democratic caucus is scheduled to meet with the Mangano administration on the Coliseum issue Tuesday.
Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker made the pitch for the referendum to lawmakers Monday. The county would borrow the $400 million and expects revenue-sharing from the arena's major tenant, the Islanders, and other revenue to cover the cost.
Walker, under a barrage of questions from Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) and Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), said the numbers on how much the county will make from revenue sharing and other pertinent information would be available to the public and the legislature before the vote, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 1.
"County Executive [Edward] Mangano wants the public and the legislature to have that information more than anyone," he said.
The legislature must approve the referendum by June 1 for it to take place 60 days later. If voters support the plan, the Legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority also must approve.
Jacobs said it would be much cheaper to have the referendum on Election Day in November, citing estimates the referendum could cost $2 million. But Walker said the administration is trying to get the State Legislature to allow the county to use the old lever machines for the vote, and then "the cost would be about $600,000."
Committee chairman and Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said he did not want the vote to be influenced by politics in November. "I want it to be a stand-alone issue," he said. "The people will either want it or they won't."
Walker said Mangano, a Republican, wants to move as quickly as possible. "The Islanders are ready to leave here tomorrow," he said. "They were just being wooed by other areas last week."
The Democrats wanted to know what happens if the county borrows the $400 million and its share of the revenue falls short. Walker said revenue "will exceed the debt service."
Yatauro asked if it were possible to get a signal from NIFA, which must sign off on the project, of its approval or disapproval of the project before a lot of money is spent on the referendum.
Walker would only say that the administration is having discussions with NIFA.