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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Edward Mangano and Steve Bellone: Budget contortionists

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in an undated photo. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island’s county executives, Edward Mangano in Nassau and Steve Bellone in Suffolk, aren’t the first to pitch budgets hyperflexible enough to hold center ring in the circus.

Oh, no, the practice of twisting this-a-way, jumping that-a-way to move money round and round again goes back decades. Still, this year’s performances have got to be the best in a very long time.

In Suffolk, Bellone boasts of not raising general fund taxes, all the while hiking taxes in the police portion of his proposed budget for 2017. But the boosts are not enough to cover the true cost of policing.

And here’s a preview: As per contracts negotiated by Bellone, the next year’s costs for policing — and that does not include retirements, or pension-related costs — are set to zoom even higher.

In Nassau, Mangano proposed a 2017 budget that hikes fees for just about everything. Those to be hit hardest are traffic law scofflaws, who, Mangano contends, ought to be tapped to pay for the county’s new class of police recruits.

The tie of making law breakers pay for law enforcers is a neat piece of public relations. Still, there’s an obvious flaw. The police department is not a park, where major users shoulder the heaviest user fees.

All of which is to say that Mangano’s proposed budget, like Bellone’s, hides the true cost of policing.

And that’s not all.

By seeding revenue here and there, as in fees for Nassau, or a deliberately underfunded police budget in Suffolk, both county executives also manage — and quite deftly — to take themselves out of the equation.

It’s the job of the county’s top elected official to manage the budget, and by extension, to communicate to taxpayers, in clear and unambiguous language, where their money goes. And if something’s expensive, it follows, it’s the county executive’s job to ensure adequate funding.

But, as for past county executives, politics gets in the way.

Are Nassau and Suffolk residents willing to pay the true cost of policing? A majority likely would say, “Oh yeah.” But would they do so if the true cost — salaries, benefits, overtime, retirement payouts and pension pay-ins — were known?

As it is, the increasing cost of policing is beginning to pull away revenue from other county services.

In Nassau and Suffolk, both county executives are considering putting human-services related programs on the chopping block, saying the counties can’t afford them.

Still, the cost of government keeps growing in both counties; and a lot of political appointees — who are not bound by union contracts — keep getting raises.

Nassau and Suffolk both boast of having the lowest number of public employees in years — and, still, tax bills keep rising, even as services begin to deteriorate.

How about a flip in the script? Where county lawmakers dissect, and communicate, rather than — as has happened too many times — take the side of their political party.

To start, two key questions: How much does policing cost? And where’s the money coming from to fund it?

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