A state fiscal watchdog said Wednesday it was "deeply concerned" about County Executive Edward Mangano's proposal to borrow $400 million to replace the aging Nassau Coliseum and to build a minor league ballpark.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which controls the county's finances and must approve the borrowing for the project, warned of the "fiscal implications" for the county and said it was not consulted about the proposal.
"As we await necessary information from the county regarding the 2011 and 2012 budgets, NIFA requires details of this new plan, which must be evaluated in the context of the county's fiscal crisis, the wage freeze on county employees and the reductions in services to county residents," NIFA said in a statement.
Said NIFA board member George Marlin: "With the county in a state of fiscal despair -- and the fact that they are laying off county employees -- to saddle taxpayers with another $400 million in debt and to spend scarce dollars on a special election in my judgment is absurd. Cash-strapped Nassau County can't afford fantasy baseball."
But Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said that once "NIFA fully understands the potential of this plan, they will come to realize the tremendous economic benefits and job growth opportunity it offers to our residents. Ultimately, Nassau residents will decide this plan's fate and NIFA should respect their decision."
NIFA's comments came as Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang appeared at the Coliseum to announce their plan to replace the aging arena.
Separately, county officials confirmed a Newsday report that they would work to hammer out a plan to incorporate a Shinnecock Indian casino at Belmont Park racetrack. The county dropped a plan for the casino near the coliseum, after local groups objected.
Up to the voters
Mangano and Wang want Nassau voters to approve a referendum to borrow up to $400 million for an arena that would keep the Islanders on Long Island through at least 2045 and also finance construction of a minor league ballpark nearby at Mitchel Field. Without a new arena, Wang has indicated he would move the Islanders from Long Island once the team's lease expires in 2015.
If the county legislature approves, residents will go to the polls on Aug. 1 to vote on a referendum that would allow Nassau to borrow money through a general obligation bond to construct the two facilities. If the measure passes, a supermajority of the legislature would have to authorize the borrowing, though NIFA could decide to squelch any bond issue.
Mangano said the hockey and baseball teams would pay the county a share of each dollar generated at the two new facilities. The revenue-sharing agreement, coupled with sales tax generated from the sites, would offset and likely exceed the costs of the borrowing, officials said. "In short, this plan requires private-sector operators to compensate the county the costs of financing the plan," said Mangano, who said the plan "is intended to not cost taxpayers one single dime."
"This deal does not put the burden on the taxpayers of Nassau County," Wang said. "The New York Islanders and the arena will contribute a significant part of their revenue stream to pay for our new iconic venue."
Few details on deal
However, it was unclear Wednesday whether Nassau residents will know all details of the agreement before they go to the polls. "If it can be done, it will be," Mangano said when pressed about the information voters will have.
Nevin conceded that it may take time to hammer out details of the revenue sharing agreement. Debt service, he said, will cost the equivalent of about $48 per year per household.
The plan attracted the support of labor leaders who view the project as a boon to the Island's lagging construction industry. "This is long overdue," said James Castellane, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties."We need to put our men and women back to work."With Randi F. Marshall