Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, a Democratic candidate for county executive, said Monday that the county ended last year with a $38 million budget surplus — even as he acknowledged a $73 million deficit by county financial control board standards.
Maragos characterized his office’s year-end financial report as a “good news for the taxpayer.” He cited $274 million in county reserve funds and other money that has been set aside that he said should be used to restore budget cuts, such as those to NICE Bus, or even cut taxes.
“I think they have an opportunity to give residents a break,” Maragos, who left the Republican Party last fall, said of GOP County Executive Edward Mangano and the county legislature.
But those funds consist largely of borrowed money and are earmarked for specific purposes, such as paying employee pension obligations, lawsuit judgments and settlements.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s financial control board, says the county cannot use borrowing proceeds or other one-time revenue sources to restore programs or provide tax relief, as they are not sustainable.
“It’s a little troubling for that to be suggested at this point,” NIFA chairman Adam Barsky said Monday.
Mangano’s finance deputy, Eric Naughton, said in a statement: “While the administration may agree with some of the Comptroller’s desires, NIFA has made it very clear that the county cannot use [reserves] to pay for recurring expenses.”
Maragos’ $38 million surplus calculation uses “one-shot” measures such as reserve fund transfers and the use of borrowed money to pay property tax refunds and other expenses.
Without those measures, the county ran a $72.9 million deficit last year. That figure is down from $189.2 million in 2014 and $125.3 million in 2015. But it’s still well above the deficit target of about $29 million that could bring NIFA’s state-mandated control period to an end.
Speaking of Maragos’ report, NIFA member Chris Wright said: “The dead giveaway that this is an ignorable word-and-number salad is this: the county is in a NIFA control period because the county has incurred a substantial deficit.”
Naughton noted the shrinking deficits in recent years, and also said borrowing to pay tax refunds will end after this year. The county aims to meet NIFA’s request for a structurally balanced budget by 2018, Naughton said.
“The county executive has accelerated the financial condition of the county,” Naughton said of Mangano, who has not yet announced whether he will seek a third term this fall.
The other Democrats running for county executive criticized Maragos’ report of a surplus. County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) said he “must really think taxpayers are dumb.” Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said: “Nassau residents deserve better.”