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Circular arguments over tax refund borrowing in Nassau
It’s a Catch-22 as Nassau legislators go ‘round and ‘round over borrowing to pay tax refunds.
For more than a year, the Republican administration of County Executive Edward Mangano has been asking Democrats to borrow different amounts — $102 million, $38 million, $43 million, $165 million — to refund taxpayers who paid overpaid their property taxes because of erroneous assessments.
But Democrats have consistently said no even while agreeing to borrow to pay for capital improvements and employee severance.
Democrats have said they want a fair redistricting plan. But, led by Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), they also complain that they haven't received enough information about the tax challenge settlements, for which the borrowing is supposed to pay.
Ever since Republican Thomas Gulotta was county executive, Denenberg has consistently questioned commercial settlements of $100,000 or more: who were the owners, who were their lawyers, what was the refund amount and where were the appraisals of the property done by the county and by the owner?
Denenberg again asked for that backup during the Finance Committee this week when the administration resubmitted a plan to borrow $165 million.
Expecting Denenberg's questions, a deputy county attorney rolled in a shopping cart full of papers that he said contained the answers.
But Denenberg said he hadn’t seen the papers. “We don’t have anything right now. I’m not going to approve $165 million to be bonded without any backup at all. I’ve never voted without seeing each of those settlements," he said.
Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), who is in her first term, added, “I’m totally embarrassed by our Nassau County government right now. Unless we’re speed readers, we can’t make a decision whether we should borrow on our children's’ future. I don’t know what has been submitted.”
Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) also said he needed more information about the settlements before agreeing to borrow.
That’s when Finance Chairman Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) erupted: “To approve the settlements without the bonding would be crazy,” Nicolello said. “It would accomplish what politically you want to do — to starve the county of money.”
And there's the rub.
The legislature traditionally has approved tax challenge settlements before approving the borrowing to pay for them. But they also traditionally approved the borrowing
County Attorney John Ciampoli says that once the legislature settles a case, it becomes a court-ordered debt and lawyers could attach county bank accounts to get paid. So he says the county needs to have the borrowing in place before the cases are settled. But Democrats say they won’t borrow until settlements are approved.
Hence, the Catch-22.