Nassau budget worries finance authority

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After meeting behind closed doors with its lawyers and accountants, a state financial monitoring board said Tuesday it still has grave concerns that Nassau County's budget is not balanced.

Ronald Stack, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said NIFA's board of directors will meet again Dec. 30 at 10 a.m. to review the county's finances.

"The board of directors continues to be concerned about the 2011 budget that begins January 1, 2011," Stack said.

But late last night, in what appears to be a significant change in position, Mangano aide Brian Nevin said "the county executive will partner with NIFA if the unions won't provide concessions voluntarily."

Nevin declined to elaborate, but Mangano has been combative in defending his budget as balanced. Nevin insisted the 2011 budget is balanced.

"We know we can save more than the $14 million NIFA can save by freezing contracts," Nevin said.

NIFA, created by the state in 2000, has the power to take control of Nassau's finances if the county runs a deficit of 1 percent or is likely to have a 1 percent deficit. County Executive Edward Mangano did not attend the NIFA meeting. But Tim Sullivan, his top financial deputy, insisted next year's $2.6 billion budget is balanced.

"There is no deficit," he said in a statement. "In fact, last week, the county executive ordered and recommended $23 million in additional cuts. . . . because of strong management practices the 2010 budget will end with a surplus. Throughout 2011, we will manage our finances and ensure the fiscal year ends in balance."

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The other members of NIFA's six-member board referred all comments to Stack, who noted he warned Mangano in September that his proposed budget was not balanced.

Stack said after the board met they still have "serious concerns about its balance." The NIFA directors met in executive sessions with outside attorney Judith Kaye, the state's former top judge, and representatives from an accounting firm, Grant Thornton, which NIFA agreed to hire as a consultant Tuesday.

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, who put Mangano on one of his transition teams, said late last month that Mangano should be given time to correct the financial woes.

NIFA members warned Mangano in September that $244 million in his budget may not materialize next year, including $60 million in union concessions and $23 million in new revenue from initiatives that require state approval.

Since then, the Republican-controlled county legislature made $60 million in changes to Mangano's budget to provide a cushion if the labor savings don't occur. And last week, Mangano announced another $23 million in cuts that appear to replace the revenue expected from the state initiatives that have yet to materialize.

Mangano and county unions have lobbied Albany lawmakers without success for authority to raise Nassau's sales tax by a quarter-cent, which would bring in an estimated $60 million in new revenue annually. The unions, which are in the midst of a concession plan negotiated with former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi, so far have refused any further givebacks.

With Zachary Dowdy

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