Comptroller: Nassau facing $45M deficit

County Comptroller George Maragos. County Comptroller George Maragos. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau Comptroller George Maragos is projecting the county will end the year with a $45-million deficit unless steps are taken to raise revenues or cut costs.

Maragos said Friday that the projected gap assumes the county legislature and Nassau's fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, will not authorize $75 million in borrowing budgeted to pay property tax refunds in 2012.

But even if borrowing is approved, the county still faces a deficit of less than $30 million, Maragos said.

Maragos, a Republican, released his midyear report on the 2012 budget at a news conference in Mineola. He suggested the county could fill the gap and restore the county's depleted reserves by raising $90 million in "budgetary enhancements," including canceling nonessential contractual services and purchases, tying county fee increases to the consumer price index, selling naming rights to county facilities and increasing parking fees.

As expected, Maragos said Nassau ended 2011 with a $50.4-million deficit. He said the gap "is primarily the result of NIFA and the legislative [Democratic] minority failing to work with the administration to approve $43.2 million in bonding for property tax refunds."

However, his report shows that much of last year's deficit was due to collecting $81 million less than budgeted in red-light camera fines and state aid. It also shows that the 2012 deficit is being driven by higher salaries and overtime costs, which are projected to be $76 million over budget.

Borrowing to pay tax refunds never made it to NIFA for approval. The 10-member Republican legislative majority could not persuade the nine Democratic lawmakers to provide the additional three votes needed to authorize borrowing.

"The county had a deficit for a simple reason: They spent more than they took in," said NIFA member Chris Wright. "Unfortunately, the comptroller's gratuitous advocacy of borrowing for operating expenses has the potential to distract the county from its need to save hundreds of millions of dollars."

Under NIFA's generally approved accounting principles, which do not count borrowed money or one-time revenues toward balancing the budget, the county's deficit last year was $173.4 million.

County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, blamed Democrats for Nassau's financial problems while Democrats accused Mangano of mismanaging the budget.

"The Democrats created Nassau's fiscal mess and have refused to provide the votes necessary to close the deficit until their own political demands are met," Mangano said. "I put forth a plan, approved by the legislature and NIFA, to put Nassau on road to fiscal health. It is outrageous that the Democrats have not provided one vote to implement this plan."Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Mangano "has not achieved the projected savings he promised; he has given out tens of millions in crony contracts and wasted millions on baseless lawsuits; overtime in the county under his watch has run amok.; he went back on his word to the youth and seniors in the county by cutting their funding; and he has consistently begged the legislature over and over to bail him out by borrowing and creating more and more deficits for years to come . . . "

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