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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau faces key votes on its finances

Jon Kaiman is shown at a Nassau Interim

Jon Kaiman is shown at a Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) meeting in Uniondale on Oct. 9, 2013. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

It's a crucial week for Nassau as a state control board prepares for a potential vote Friday on labor agreements that would end a wage freeze for most county union employees.

In Albany, the Assembly -- which, along with the State Senate, was back in session yesterday -- made quick work of approving a key element of Nassau's plan: installation of speed cameras in 56 school zones. The program is supposed to bring in revenue significant enough to fund significant short-term increase costs of the labor contracts.

The school-zone speed camera measure next goes before the State Senate, where approval also would allow Suffolk to add 69 of the devices.

For Nassau, it's part of the dance leading up to a vote by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that controls the county's finances. Despite critics' concerns about Nassau's ability to fund the increased costs of new labor deals, NIFA is likely to approve the pacts.

The traffic cameras are key because they would provide a new and needed revenue stream for the fiscally ailing county -- although likely not as much money as Nassau was counting on.

On Monday, NIFA head Jon Kaiman said the board was awaiting more information on finances from Nassau -- which he expected to receive Monday night or Tuesday.

Kaiman also said NIFA, Nassau and unions representing most of the county's employees still were working out kinks in the agreements.

NIFA and the county are essentially in agreement, however, on how to clarify legal language on issues including whether NIFA will give up authority to reimpose a wage freeze for some period of time, Kaiman said. The talks are continuing and the contracts likely will come up for a vote Friday, Kaiman said.

Unlike past NIFA chairmen, Kaiman has had a hand in the labor contract negotiations, and he defended the role again Monday.

It's worth noting that Nassau already has found money to increase compensation for nonunion members. And the county, for years, boasted of surpluses -- though they resulted from borrowing, rather than increased revenues or reduced costs.

But Kaiman said it's "important to note that NIFA is not allowing Nassau to borrow to cover the cost of these contracts. We will make them cover it out of operating revenues."

He also said that, should the control board approve the union contracts, "NIFA is not vouching for the county, or for how it will cover the contracts' costs."

Kaiman argued that lifting the freeze would place the burden of Nassau's meeting contractual obligations where it belongs -- with the county's elected officials. "Shouldn't we make them honor their contracts? Shouldn't we make them meet their obligations?"

Well, yeah.

But shouldn't a control board also be concerned -- on behalf of Nassau's workers and its residents -- with whether the county can meet those obligations?

Kaiman said it will be up to elected officials to do just that.

"If there's a problem, then they will have to make the decision on how to make it work," Kaiman said. "They will have to decide on raising fees or cutting services or whatever."

All of which sounds like a look at what some NIFA board members may argue on Friday.

Stand by.

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