Days before a state monitoring board is set to review the soundness of Nassau's finances, County Executive Edward Mangano announced another $23 million in cuts for next year's $2.6-billion budget.
Mangano said Thursday he will impose a freeze on hiring of all but essential employees for a savings of $15 million; reduce spending on supplies and contracts by $5 million; save $2 million by merging several county departments, and another $1 million by eliminating 5,000 unused phone lines.
"The 2011 budget was balanced before these new spending cuts," Mangano said at a news conference in Mineola. "These new budget cuts are designed to strengthen the county's fiscal situation even further."
On Tuesday, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board, will hold its first public meeting since September. At that time chairman Ronald Stack said Mangano's proposed budget was not balanced, and member George Marlin asserted the county was "on the edge of a fiscal abyss."
When NIFA could act
If Nassau runs a deficit of 1 percent or if there is a substantial likelihood of a budget gap of that size, NIFA is required by law to take control of the county's finances, freeze union wages and order Mangano to come up with a financial remediation plan.
The board hired former New York top judge Judith Kaye to advise it on its powers. Mangano, meanwhile, hired his former law firm, Rivkin, Radler, to represent him on NIFA-related issues.
At his news conference, Mangano was accompanied by two fellow Republicans: county legislature Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt and County Comptroller George Maragos. All repeated several times that the budget is balanced.
"We are bound and determined that the budget will remain in balance no matter what it takes," Schmitt said.
Questions about delay
But after the news conference, Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) questioned why the reductions were not in the budget Mangano presented to legislators in October. The administration's new savings plan is a "drop in the bucket compared to what we really need," Yatauro said in a statement. "His message does not spell out if these cuts will impact the county's ability to provide services to our residents."
Mangano said staff reductions already have cut the county workforce to its lowest level since the 1950s - though critics note that many of the positions he eliminated were already vacant. There are now about 8,150 county employees, officials said. Mangano said the only new hires will be those deemed essential, such as police and correction officers, to prevent excessive overtime costs.
Mangano acknowledged he had backed off his request for the county legislature to authorize $75 million in borrowing to pay anticipated tax refunds in 2011, in addition to $50 million approved in October for this year's projected costs of successful tax challenges. He said he will wait until the debt accumulates before asking the legislature to borrow, as past county executives have done.
He had indicated earlier that NIFA "may take the position that the authorization to borrow for those expected refund costs should be in place by the end of this year," but Democrat lawmakers refused to provide the votes needed to borrow, wanting to wait until the money is needed.