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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Can NIFA curb Nassau’s overspending?

NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman speaks during a meeting

NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman speaks during a meeting at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Nassau County’s financial control board last week formally put into place measures that are — again — supposed to push county elected officials into budgeting responsibly.

But really.

How can the Nassau Interim Finance Authority make this group — which includes lawmakers nervy enough to give themselves 90-percent raises, while shifting more and more fees to residents already paying high prices for diminishing services — end decades of fiscal crisis?

What’s different about NIFA’s threat to curtail Nassau’s overspending this time around? Especially since the state board — with the exception of a now-defunct hiring freeze requested by County Executive Edward Mangano — has never carried through on such threats before? Nassau taxpayers likely are skeptical.

But for NIFA, the proof will be in the pudding.

Meanwhile, NIFA asks that we consider these four moves:

1) The authority — for the first time ever — has put into place a mechanism to monitor Nassau’s real-time spending and real-time revenues. That should make the authority significantly more active in assessing the county’s situation, instead of waiting for such data.

It’s a change that, in theory, could allow the authority to move quickly should the board end up having to mandate expense reductions.

2) The authority — again, for the first time — has mandated that Nassau balance its first, and last, quarters by realistic expenses with realistic revenues, before the 2016 budgeting year begins.

It’s sort of like demanding first and last months’ rent in advance, as a way of ensuring compliance. The demand also, again in theory, ensures that NIFA’s active oversight is as potent at the end of the year as at the start.

3) The authority will — yep, another first — have information enough to decide among cost-killing measures should Nassau falter in one or more quarters. Don’t look for NIFA to fire union employees, or break vendor contracts. Such moves could trigger lawsuits which the county — in breaking valid contracts — likely would lose.

And don’t look for across-the-board cuts either. The issue there is the potential loss of state or federally funded county positions, which would be difficult to bring back.

However, NIFA could freeze unnecessary hiring, such as part-time golf attendant positions that go to politically connected people. Or the board could curtail spending on non-mandated programs, which could include everything, such as veterans and senior services.

4) The authority — for the first time since Frank Zarb was NIFA’s first chairman — will have partners in deciding what will happen, and when. Mangano and Nassau Comptroller George Maragos have agreed to work with the authority, which could discourage finger-pointing should hoped-for revenues, such as those from video lottery terminals, not materialize, and necessary expenses increase.

In short, NIFA is signaling a new resolve.

Pudding, anyone?

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