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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Budget blues in Nassau

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, pictured here Sept.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, pictured here Sept. 15, 2015 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Republican county executive in Nassau this week proposed a property tax increase.

For the second year in a row.

Weeks before Republican lawmakers -- seeking to maintain their legislative majority -- will face voters.

Which ought to give residents some idea of how Nassau County's finances -- as the county approaches 16 years under what was supposed to be a temporary state financial monitor -- are faring.

By proposing a second increase in two years, County Executive Edward Mangano gets a hat tip for political bravery. In Nassau, Republicans, for decades, have thrived on a campaign-winning formula of never raising taxes.

But that almost gets snatched away because the administration -- for the second year in a row -- tried to obscure the necessity of raising more revenue by telling residents that an increase would end up costing them nothing.

The title page of a summary of Mangano's proposed budget plan carries this obfuscating label: "2016 Property Tax Freeze Credit Proposed Budget"

Say what?

The administration's budget does not "freeze" politically unpopular property taxes, it raises the county's overall tax levy by 1.2 percent.

So what's with the credit?

Homeowners with incomes of less than $500,000 are due a state rebate this year under a program designed to reward municipalities that comply with provisions of New York's 2 percent tax cap law. The rebate was coming whether or not Mangano raised taxes.

This is what happens when political rhetoric and fiscal reality collide.

Yes, Nassau has fewer county workers than it used to. Yes, Nassau has outsourced management -- and with that, some of the county's expense -- for bus, sewer and other services.

Yet taxes rise, even as the county anticipates more borrowing, although less in some categories than in recent years.

And Nassau is, for the second time in two years, proposing to significantly raise fees, including for mortgage recording (which would double, to $300) and tax map verification (which would triple, to $225).

Then there are planned revenue streams from initiatives that don't yet exist, such as a video lottery terminal gambling hall. The budget anticipates $20 million in new money coming from a temporary site next year, though the location hasn't been disclosed.

Similarly planned new revenue took a beating this year -- as Nassau residents rose up in protest against the school-zone speed camera program, a proven revenue generator, and against a proposal to put the gambling hall in Westbury.

Still, at this point, Mangano's proposal is just that, a proposal.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state control board, which has come under scrutiny for passing through -- without a vote -- a county contract now at the center of corruption allegations against state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) ultimately must approve the budget.

But first, it has to clear the county legislature. Last year, Republicans stripped out Mangano's proposed 3.4 percent tax increase. Mangano vetoed the move, and lawmakers -- after considering the kind of deep service cuts needed to make up that lost revenue -- reluctantly ended up letting Mangano's veto stand.

It would be no surprise if lawmakers -- all but one of whom are up for re-election -- try to dump the proposed 2016 tax increase.

They have to pass the budget before Election Day.

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