Nassau legislators have approved County Executive Bruce Blakeman's request to...

Nassau legislators have approved County Executive Bruce Blakeman's request to set aside $10 million in federal coronavirus aid for events in 2024 celebrating the county's 125th anniversary. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau lawmakers on Monday voted along party lines to use $10 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for celebrations in 2024 marking the 125th anniversary of the county's inception.

The 12-7 vote came after Democrats decried Republican County Executive Bruce Blakeman's request to use the money for a series of events and said the funds from the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act should instead be used for public safety, food pantries, homeless shelters, small businesses and youth programming. Republicans voted for the measure, which Blakeman has said would promote the county through concerts, car shows or professional golf tournaments.

In a statement, he said: "During this difficult economic period sales tax revenues and tourism have been on the rise and the only way to keep property taxes low is to increase the tax base with economic development."

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader-elect Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) called the Blakeman administration "out of touch with the needs and interests of everyday Nassau residents."

“It is the latest glaring example of how County Executive Blakeman is continuing to exploit federal recovery funds to promote himself and feed his own ego instead of meeting the needs of Nassau County's residents," she said before the vote.

Blakeman's administration has said it will create a spending plan in January and ask legislators for input.

The federal government in 2021 awarded Nassau County $385 million to be used at the county's discretion for a variety of purposes, including tourism and economic development. 

Under U.S. Treasury Department guidelines, Nassau must designate the funds for specific purposes by Dec. 31, 2024, and spend it by the end of 2026.

The county has earmarked $186.6 million and spent $69.5 million, according to Treasury Department data through June 30. Much of it has been set aside for grants to help small businesses and nonprofits that suffered losses during the pandemic.

Nassau Legislature Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) confirmed vendor contracts tied to the celebrations would be subject to legislative approval. 

"Absolutely. You have control over what we are doing with this," county budget director Andrew Persich told legislators.

Persich said that for every $1 spent on the events, the Blakeman administration projects $3 for local businesses. He said public-private partnerships and sponsors would be sought for some of the larger events. 

Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) and Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) questioned the calculation. 

"It's really hard to put a pin on that," Persich said.  

"Well, you have to put a pin on it," Drucker said. 

"You're asking us to take a ride with you and hop on and hope for the best and you're very optimistic about it, but it's speculative," said Drucker, who suggested using the $10 million for grants for small businesses. 

Spending the relief aid on tourism initiatives has sparked criticism before, including $600,000 for 30-second TV commercials that aired in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, upstate New York and the metropolitan area, as well as on Newsmax, the right-wing TV channel.

Blakeman appears at the end of the ad to declare "Nassau County, golden — coast to coast," beside the county's logo and his name: "Bruce A. Blakeman, Nassau County Executive."

The anniversary celebrations would mark the year Nassau was formed, 1899, when its three towns — Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay — broke off from Queens.

Also Monday, legislators approved allowing liquor and wine stores in the county to stay open two more hours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Additionally, without discussion, legislators approved the Blakeman administration's request to spend $2.1 million to settle a tax grievance dispute with the estate of Charles Wang, the late software entrepreneur, New York Islanders co-owner and philanthropist. The settlement includes 61 acres of property at 5 Sagamore Hill Rd. where Wang lived. 

The item is separate from $2.3 million paid to resolve a 14-year-old claim that the county over-assessed 97 acres of property Wang owned in Oyster Bay. 

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