County Executive Edward Mangano has proposed charging back $2 million in election costs to Nassau’s towns, cities and villages next year, but cites a state law that appears to exempt Nassau from recovering such expenses.
As part of his 2017 proposed budget, Mangano has asked the county legislature to approve a formula for billing Nassau’s municipalities for providing polling places, voting booths, ballot boxes and other functions during general, primary and special elections.
The backup provided by Mangano cites a 2005 state law that amended county and election law to put counties in control of elections and allow them to recoup expenses previously paid by towns and cities. But Nassau’s towns, cities and villages did not pay those expenses because the county has conducted general, primary and special elections for decades. The only exception has been villages and school districts that run their own local elections — and they rent county voting machines.
Suffolk does not charge election expenses to its towns and villages, officials said.
State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) wrote in a letter to Gov. George Pataki when the 2005 law was passed that it specifically exempted Nassau and Suffolk counties from recovering those expenses. He said it would consolidate all election functions at the county level and allow counties to apportion expenses to towns and cities. Until then, cities and towns were responsible for elections “with the exception of Nassau, Monroe and Suffolk Counties and the City of New York,” he wrote.
Flanagan’s letter is part of the state bill jacket, which the Mangano administration submitted to the legislature. But the first page of Flanagan’s letter, which mentions the Nassau exception, was detached and moved to the very back of the 35 pages of backup provided to county legislators, making it likely to be overlooked.
“The mechanics of how the letter ended up in the back doesn’t bode well for our confidence in the administration as being a trustworthy partner in government,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
“We did not put the pages together in that order,” County Attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement Thursday, but he did not explain how it happened.
Foskey said charging back municipalities for election expenses is legal. He said the 2005 amendments “indicate that these type of costs generally borne by the town and cities may be charged back. If the county had not previously charged back, it does not mean that it cannot start now. The Flanagan letter does not say that it is illegal for the county to charge back.”
Abrahams said he was waiting to be briefed by his counsel but added that the proposal “sounds a bit gimmicky to me. The county executive knows people pay county taxes for services from the board of elections. If it was to happen, the towns will have to find the money and raise revenue. At the end of the day, they’re all the same residents.”
North Hempstead and Oyster Bay towns oppose the plan.
“We’re all facing very serious financial constraints. It seems that it’s unfair to shift fiscal burden from one municipality to another,” said North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth.
Oyster Bay spokeswoman Marta Kane said the measure “would add to the burden of our already hard-pressed taxpayers.”
Hempstead Town spokesman Michael Deery said town officials had not seen Mangano’s proposal and could not comment.
Former Suffolk Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino said Suffolk looked at charge backs years ago but dropped the idea after pushback from the county’s 10 towns. “We viewed it as being a gimmick,” he said. “It doesn’t save any money. It shifts the tax burden” from one municipality to another.
Nassau Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) did not respond to a request for comment.