Looking ahead, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano sees a very good year. Unfortunately, it's not 2011 - it's the year 2013.
That used to be a punch line, but it was no joke for Republican Mangano as he talked about running the county for the past year after an upset victory over two-term Democratic incumbent Thomas Suozzi.
Nassau County, one of the richest areas in the United States, spent too much over too many years, Mangano says, and he and the county are now paying the price by having to slash spending and hold the line on property taxes, the hot-button issue for Nassau homeowners.
"This  budget and the next budget gets you to turn this county around, to stop the crazy borrowing, to stop the shenanigans, to make this county look like every other county in this state," Mangano said in a recent interview in his Mineola office.
"It does not look like every other county. When it was up, it made deals. It supported towns, it supported sewer districts, not-for-profits. It had a crazy assessment system that cost us $250 million a year, or a billion dollars in borrowing," he continued.
"We need to correct it the right way. . . . It [the budget] is in balance now. It will be balanced next year and we will turn this county around in 2013," he said.
But while Mangano sees himself as laying the groundwork for a better Nassau, his critics see him as an executive failing at solutions and putting the county in a financial state where the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority could take control of the county's finances.
Concerned the state oversight board is prepared to do just that when it holds a public meeting tomorrow, Mangano recently made a dramatic turnaround, saying he will "partner" with NIFA if unions do not provide millions of dollars in concessions.
For weeks, Mangano had strongly resisted any talk of a takeover, insisting his $2.6 billion budget for next year is balanced and does not contain a deficit of 1 percent or more - the trigger for a control period.
"Looking back on the first year of the Mangano administration, I see a pattern of poor judgment, poor management and lost opportunities," said Legis. Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove, the Democratic minority leader.
What his critics say
She said Mangano has not achieved the labor savings he promised, continues to pay operating expenses - including property tax refunds - by long-term borrowing, has raised fees instead of taxes, shifted costs to towns and other localities, and has failed to fix the property tax assessment system.
Still, some political observers are more sympathetic to Mangano's situation. "No question he's had a very difficult year," Desmond Ryan, executive director of the pro-business Association for a Better Long Island.
"He's had to prepare a budget under the direct scrutiny of NIFA, he's had the tax [refund] issues which continue to plague the fiscal status of Nassau County," Ryan said. "He's attempting to establish a sound footing, but in this economy, moving forward, that's going to be tough."
The coming year is shaping up as one in which Mangano will at least have more friends in high places, although the prospects for assistance are still dim. His fellow Republicans are back in charge of the state Senate, with GOP Sen. Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre the presumptive majority leader.
"I'll work closely with him and the police department on homeland security whenever I can," King said. "I'll do whatever I can do to facilitate grant money . . . When Ed Mangano calls, I'll do whatever I can."
Skelos has also expressed his support for Mangano, but with the state facing a budget crunch of its own, it's unlikely that Nassau will get special treatment.
"This is not like the last time," Ryan said of the previous county fiscal crisis a decade ago. "No one from the state is riding to the rescue with $100 million this time."
The budget has also limited Mangano's ability to make small investments that might reap benefits, like a sales tax holiday that would boost spending for local stores, but would reduce tax revenue to the county.
"A sales tax holiday would be a good way to market during the down time - maybe the third week of January, when it's slow," said E. Christopher Murray, president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce, representing some 6,000 small businesses. "Unfortunately, a lot of their options are limited by the financial situation," he said of the Mangano administration.
Assessment system key
Mangano's tenure as county executive will, in all likelihood, be measured on how he fixes, or fails to fix, the property tax assessment system. He said the new tax bill notices that will go out in January should give residents and businesses a better sense of how their property is assessed.
He made assessment reform one his top election priorities in 2009, but has struggled to implement changes during his first year. He retained assessor Ted Jankowski, then fired him in October after complaints from town officials about mistakes in the new school assessment roll, including an erroneous $1.3-million school tax bill for the historic county courthouse in Mineola where Mangano has his office.
Ending a home-energy tax was his second big campaign issue and he signed the repeal on New Year's Day.
But the repeal blew a $39 million annual hole in county's budget, and Mangano has since flirted with asking Albany for permission to increase the sales tax to boost revenue. Although Albany officials said Mangano lobbied for the sales tax, he said he was simply exploring options.
While not conceding he would seek the sales tax hike in 2011, he said it would raise $61 million annually, and be more equitable than a home-energy tax because it would be imposed on everyone, including visitors.
What do 2011 and 2012 hold for Nassau residents, Mangano was asked. "No property tax increase. Home energy [tax] has been repealed. Everybody stays on plan," he said. "Services are not interrupted. Basically, we're tightening the belt of government."