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Democrats eye hike in county's NICE contribution

A NICE bus picks up passengers in Mineola

A NICE bus picks up passengers in Mineola on Oct. 9, 2013. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Nassau Democrats want to more than double the county's contribution to the NICE Bus system next year.

The $4 million hike -- bringing the Nassau subsidy to $6.6 million -- is among a list of amendments to County Executive Edward Mangano's proposed 2014 budget. The legislature will consider the amendments on Monday.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) proposed increasing the county's contribution to its Nassau Inter-County Express. NICE, which is operated by Veolia Transportation, has an annual budget of $113 million, with $2.6 million currently funded by the county.

Jacobs said the funds could help restore some service cuts, including to NICE's Able-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for disabled riders near a regular bus route. In 2010, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which previously operated the county's bus system, eliminated Able-Ride in most of northeastern Nassau.

"I know that it's not enough for all the problems that have been brought to our attention, but I'm also aware that it's important to keep this in the limelight," Jacobs said of the proposed increase.

Ryan Lynch, associate director of the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which earlier this month asked the county to increase its bus subsidy, said the extra $4 million would fund about 46,000 additional service hours.

The bus subsidy increase and other amendments to the $2.8 billion budget would need the support of at least one lawmaker from the Republican Party, which controls the legislature. Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) said she will give the proposal for increased bus funding "strong consideration" after seeing specifics on how it would be paid for.

"I'm actually open to these recommendations," Ford said, adding that if the legislature could not come up with the full $4 million, it may still be able to increase the subsidy by a smaller amount. "I do believe in the bus system."

Nassau Democrats submitted 22 budget amendments, which they claim would save taxpayers more than $26 million by streamlining operations and reducing salaries.

The GOP controls the legislature by a 10-9 advantage. Past Democratic budget amendments have not secured the GOP votes needed for passage. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment on the newly submitted amendments, including a provision that would reduce the county executive's pay by $65,000.

The salary was increased by $65,000 in 2007 by a legislative task force, which said then-Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi was paid less than Suffolk's executive. Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who defeated Suozzi in 2009, has continued to accept the same $174,000 salary.

Mangano declined to comment on the Democrats' amendments.

The Democrats would also merge the comptroller's office with the treasurer's, realigning administrative duties and eliminating eight appointed positions. Other amendments would decrease the salaries of legislative staffers and cut the county clerk's budget by 15 percent.

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