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Mangano proposes property tax hike

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the 2015 budget in his office on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who ran for re-election last year on a platform of never having raised property taxes, will for the first time seek to hike them in 2015 -- but said most homeowners will be reimbursed by the state.

In unveiling details of his proposed $2.98 billion budget Monday, Mangano said he has sought to increase the county portion of property taxes by 2.2 percent, or $41 for the average homeowner. The administration noted the move would generate $31 million next year for Nassau, but didn't detail how they arrived at the figure.

The tax levy this year for the county's five major operating funds is $807 million. A 2.2 percent increase would generate $17.75 million in revenues.

Mangano blamed an "unexplainable" projected $51 million shortfall in sales tax revenues this year for needing a tax increase.

While touting cost-saving initiatives, including hiring new lower-paid police recruits to reduce overtime, Mangano said the sales tax numbers required "tough choices."

"In light of the sales tax issue that's been presented to us -- and will not be answered by the time that I have to statutorily submit a budget -- there were [few] options," said Mangano, who was expected to file his budget by late Monday.

To offset the tax hike, Mangano said he'll use Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "Property Tax Freeze Credit" program. Qualifying residents would receive a refund for the local property tax increase as long as Nassau complies with the state tax cap.

All households with incomes below $500,000 will be eligible, and Mangano said they do not need to do anything to receive a rebate check in October 2015. Businesses are not included.

"It's not a tax increase for anyone making less than $500,000," Mangano said.

County Comptroller George Maragos projects that Nassau could have a $70 million deficit by the end of this year, largely due to the sales tax decline.

Mangano called the sales tax figures "unexplainable" because they were far out of line with neighboring municipalities. He said the shortfall came despite Nassau having the area's lowest unemployment rate and increased hotel stays.

"It raises questions. The normal indicators are not following the trends that are being reported," said Mangano. He has asked Moody's Analytics, a Wall Street financial consulting firm, to review sales tax figures to find an explanation, including whether numbers reported to the state are accurate.

Mangano's method for balancing the budget could put the GOP-controlled county legislature in a tough position.

Its 11-member majority includes Legis. Michael Venditto, who is running for an open State Senate seat. Venditto has repeatedly criticized opponent Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) for supporting former County Executive Thomas Suozzi's property tax increases.

During last year's county executive race, Mangano relentlessly criticized Suozzi, a Democrat, for previously raising taxes. Suozzi, who was trying for a comeback after his defeat by Mangano in 2009, lost by almost 20 percentage points.

The legislature must vote on the budget by Oct. 30. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said she's "disappointed" the budget contains a property tax increase. "I will spend the next six weeks reviewing the budget to determine alternatives," she said in a statement Monday.

Deputy County Executive Ed Ward said later that the legislature would be fully briefed on the budget as early as Tuesday, adding "I think she's [Gonsalves] unaware this is being reimbursed by the state."

Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said that to avoid a tax increase, he and his caucus would see "if there needs to be greater cuts in expenditures."

"I know, for him, this had to be a last resort," Abrahams said of Mangano. "It would be a last resort for any of us. After going through campaign season, and jumping on Tom Suozzi for doing it, it goes to show you that it takes a lot to be able to run this county. It shows a level of fiscal responsibility."

With Celeste Hadrick

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