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Laura Curran to sue Nassau legislature over changes to $3B budget

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran at a news

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran at a news conference on March 1. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she will sue the county legislature to reverse changes it had made to her $3.075 billion budget -- including adding $1.6 million to begin reopening closed police precincts.

The Curran administration said the legislature had failed to properly publish notice of the changes in spending.

County Attorney Jared Kasschau wrote to legislators on Friday saying he would present an order to show cause Monday afternoon at State Supreme Court in Mineola. 

The dispute is the latest battle between Curran, a Democrat, and the Republican-majority legislature over next year’s spending plan. Her administration has lashed out at lawmakers' attempts to reopen the Sixth Precinct in Manhasset and Eighth Precinct in Levittown through budget amendments, arguing that the county's finances are not in shape to reverse a countywide precinct consolidation approved in 2012.

Curran proposed her budget to the legislature on Sept. 17. The 19-member legislature last Monday unanimously approved a series of changes, including funding to begin the process of reopening the precincts. 

Curran had characterized the precinct plan as "irresponsible," saying it would cost about $5 million to reopen them. She said the county faces a detective shortage and would have trouble staffing two separate precincts. Curran said Nassau could also risk losing a $3 million state grant the county had won for the consolidation.

Lawmakers also sponsored amendments last Monday that increased the sales tax projection, cut money allocated to salaries and benefits for county employees, and established a contingency fund for new labor contracts with Nassau’s five major unions. The legislature also restored bus routes and boosted staffing levels for offices that serve minority communities.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) had said it was "reckless" of Curran not to set aside funds for new agreements with county unions, which expired at the end of 2017. 

Before the vote, Kasschau raised the issue of publishing legal notices about the changes, saying notice should have been given to the public well in advance of a vote so taxpayers could have time to review them. The latest package of amendments were filed with the legislature Monday at 5:26 p.m., shortly before the legislature passed the revised budget.

Nicolello said the legislature can adopt changes under an emergency resolution.

“If you need to, you can go ahead and sue us,” Nicolello told Kasschau at the hearing.

Curran, in a news release, condemned Nicolello’s remarks as "the opposite of transparency.”

Kasschau, in his letter to Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and the clerk of the legislature, Michael Pulitzer, said they were authorized to hire private counsel “whose reasonable attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses shall be paid by the County.”

“The County Executive’s actions are a colossal waste of taxpayer money," Nicolello said in a statement. "It is astonishing that the County Executive would file a lawsuit to nullify budget amendments this Legislature unanimously adopted that would reopen two Nassau County Police Precincts, provide resources necessary to settle our labor contracts, restore bus services, and adds funds for the Coordinating Agency for Spanish Americans and staffing in the Office of Minority Affairs.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said in a statement that his caucus believed the amendments were adopted "properly and legally ... We do not understand the logic or rationale of the lawsuit. However, we are open to engaging the administration in a conversation about whether this litigation is necessary and in the public interest.”

Proponents of the precinct merger continued to press for their reopening. Legis. Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck), said in a statement, “providing funding to reopen the Sixth Precinct was the cornerstone of a bipartisan budget agreement that was ratified unanimously and negotiated in good faith. I will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure this agreement is preserved regardless of the outcome of any litigation.”

Legis. John Ferretti Jr. (R-Levittown), who supports reopening Levittown's Eighth precinct, said Curran wanted to avoid the optics of "vetoing the amendment to restore precincts a day before Election Day.”

He said Curran "should have the fortitude to veto the amendments, not start outrageous lawsuits at great taxpayer expenses.” 

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