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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Proposed $105 ticket fee plan roils waters in Nassau

At a news conference in Mineola on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, the Nassau Legislature's Democratic minority strongly criticized Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's proposed $105 "public safety" surcharge on all parking and traffic tickets, and said the "illegal" tax and other exorbitant fees are driving residents out of the county. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

The Republican majority of Nassau’s legislature is slated Monday to approve a new $105 fee on all traffic and parking tickets. Why? Because without the money, Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter told lawmakers last week, public safety would be “impaired.”

But the real reason public safety would be “impaired” is because of a bit of county budgetary wizardry.

Here’s what’s happened.

Funds for police in the 2017 budget proposed by County Executive Edward Mangano went down. That county-engineered reduction, twinned with rising personnel and other police-related costs, left a big hole.

Which is why Krumpter put forth his doomsday scenario for lawmakers in the budget hearing, during which he said police could be forced to eliminate community and investigative units without additional revenue — specifically from the new $105 fee.

But the county’s reduction of funding for police had a silver lining — it freed up additional money for the county to devote to Nassau’s general fund, which covers the cost of most other services.

There’s something else.

Massaging the budget eliminated the administration’s need to seek a politically unpopular property tax increase for the general fund. Freeing it, instead, to tie the proposed fee to the mother-and-apple-pie part of Nassau’s budget — policing and public safety.

Why the switch?

“It would have taken an 8 percent property tax increase to cover police costs,” Brian Nevin, Mangano’s spokesman, said Friday. He noted that Nassau lawmakers in the past had scuttled some of Mangano’s other proposed property tax increases.

So instead of going that route, Mangano’s administration shorted the police budget and struck out into new and untested territory: Imposition of the new fee, which would push the cost of a traffic or parking ticket into the stratosphere compared to surrounding municipalities.

Democrats have questioned the legality of the fee, saying it amounts to a tax. Carnell Foskey, the county attorney, in an opinion that seemed to include as much political statement as analysis of law contends it is no such thing. He argued that motorists could “avoid the fee completely by the simple expediency of not breaking the law.”

By that reasoning, the proposed fee isn’t a stable source of revenue either.

On Friday, George Maragos, the county’s Republican-turned-Democrat comptroller and potential candidate for county executive in 2017, recommend across the board department cuts as one way to reduce expenses — and eliminate Mangano’s proposed fee increases, too.

But the chances of that happening come Monday, when the GOP-controlled legislature will vote on the budget, is pretty much nil — particularly with Maragos now working from the other side of the political aisle.

So, what’s a poor county to do?

There’s no dispute that Nassau needs revenue; and, given the federal corruption indictment last week of Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty, and last week’s Newsday report about Mangano’s deciding to boost his salary by $17,000 — increasing property taxes, at this point, could be incendiary.

Which makes legislative approval of the traffic ticket fee as likely as a court challenge.

Could this end up like school speed cameras, which the legislature killed after a public outcry?

Because, come November 2017, every elected county office — except district attorney — is up for re-election.

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