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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Mangano tax increase: brave choice, bad sell

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the 2015 budget in his office on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

County Executive Edward Mangano did the right thing, governmentally, by proposing an increase in property taxes. But the way the administration, politically, went about it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Given Nassau's precarious fiscal situation, there was no need to construct an artificial fig leaf to cover the reality that Nassau -- yes, even with fewer employees, less responsibility for managing its sewers and those cash-cow speed and red light cameras -- needs money.

But really.

The administration's tying the tax increase to a state rebate program is at best misleading, and at worst it's insulting to Nassau residents.

For one, there is no 2.2 percent property tax increase in the budget. That number is the equivalent of what owners of single-family homes would pay.

The real deal is that Mangano's proposed budget has a 3.5 percent increase in property taxes -- which, on its face, would appear to violate the state-mandated tax cap of 2.2 percent.

But that's not the case because, under state law, Nassau receives the maximum 1.5 percent credit for last year's zero-increase in property taxes. What that means, simply, is that last year's on-paper-only increase and next year's proposed increase, taken together, leave Nassau under the cap.

The proposed tax increases for Nassau's general and sewer funds work out to an average increase of $40.65 on a home valued at $422,800, county officials said Wednesday. Of that, $32.78 would go to cover increases in the operating fund, which includes police, and $7.87 would go to the sewer fund.

And, now, let's get to the happy talk about a rebate.

Nassau asserts that eligible homeowners would receive a tax rebate check next year under the state "Property Tax Freeze Credit" program. The administration is selling that as a wash.

Of course, there's another, more pragmatic view -- that Nassau homeowners would be paying the county for the privilege of getting their own money, from income taxes, back from New York State. And that's likely why no other Long Island taxing entity, including school districts, has pitched the same flawed line of reasoning.

Mangano proposed a property tax increase only weeks before an election where Long Island Republicans -- led by state Sen. Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre -- are fighting to maintain power in Albany.

That alone indicates Nassau's desperate need for new revenue -- because on Long Island, raising the property tax often is akin to political suicide.

But that's politics. There's also governing. And even with the tax increase, Mangano's proposed 2015 budget has challenges.

There's a proposed increase in spending, to cover the cost of new union bargaining agreements and some $100 million in property tax refunds. But those, and other significant costs, would be financed by borrowing -- in a county already heavily in debt.

In short, there is much, beyond the proposed tax increase, for county lawmakers and Nassau's financial control board to sift through.

Mangano, with his lopsided re-election win last year after a campaign centered on the theme that he had not raised taxes, had a mandate.

Now, he has decided to do otherwise, bucking decades of Nassau GOP mantra.

That was one hard step. But it's not enough, unless Mangano follows through with other steps -- from cutting patronage to more clearly articulating how he intends to get Nassau back on the right fiscal path.

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