Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

More than half of those responding to the Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll said they believed Nassau County was headed in the wrong direction.

That would seem to indicate that likely voters in next month's contest between an incumbent and a former county executive -- Republican Edward Mangano and Democrat Thomas Suozzi -- are keenly aware that Nassau continues to have serious challenges.

A surprisingly high number -- four in 10 -- indicated that Nassau's problems today are too large for any executive to address. What's with that -- a sense of helplessness, weariness or, worse, acceptance that strong leadership can't pull Nassau up the mountain again?

The good news is that more than half the poll residents didn't agree, telling pollsters that a county executive could successfully address Nassau's problems.

Which is why the race for county executive is so important. What problems will the next executive face?

County taxes, no surprise, came out as the No. 1 issue in the poll, with almost four in 10 voters expressing concern. The next closest -- scoring nowhere near taxes -- was jobs.

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The pairing of taxes that are too high and jobs that are too few and pay too little makes sense because Long Island is lagging behind the nation's recovery from the Great Recession.

Reducing the county's debt -- debt service accounts for 12.9 percent of Nassau's major fund expenses projected for 2014 -- and making government efficient ranked next.


Despite the outcry over Mangano reducing the number of full-service county police precincts to save money, the issue came in toward the bottom.

Almost dead last was -- another surprise -- superstorm Sandy recovery, which tied with "Other" on the poll's issues list.

The next county executive will face other challenges, too.

Last week, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority -- a state control board in its 13th year of overseeing county finances -- said Mangano's proposed 2014 budget was not balanced under generally accepted accounting principles, which require that recurring expenses and revenues match.

Nonetheless, the authority noted near the end of its report that it is likely to approve the document, once a few changes are made.

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What about a pending proposed contract with the county's largest police union? As of now, about 88 percent of the county's tax revenues go for police services -- a share that's remained relatively flat since Suozzi's administration.

At a time when Nassau should be working to trim costs and reduce borrowing, how would Nassau pay for that or any other pact with unions that are now into a third year of a pay freeze?

Then there's infrastructure. The county's sewer and stormwater system, including sewage treatment plants at Bay Park, are in dire need of improvement.

Mangano wants to borrow more than $700 million -- most of which, the administration says, should be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- to fix the plant. The administration's plan to bring on a private manager remains on the table, too.

And what's the solution for a property assessment system that has come to defy fairness by saddling residents who don't challenge their assessments with higher taxes?

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The state of Nassau County today is far different from what it was four years ago when Mangano beat Suozzi -- or 11 years ago, when Suozzi began the first of his two terms in office.

Can the next county executive, as poll respondents want, meet the county's challenges?

The poll's horse race results -- which show Mangano with a significant lead over Suozzi -- are certain to get the most attention.

Dealing with the county's challenges should get sustained attention, too.