Nassau County agencies missed their revenue targets by nearly $8 million last year as home sales failed to meet projections, rainy weather discouraged golfers and officials delayed implementing a host of new fees, county officials said.
A report issued last month by Nassau's independent Office of Legislative Budget Review said county departments ended 2014 with a combined $7.96 million shortfall in revenue from fees, payments and collections.
Nassau's Office of Management and Budget projected $165.7 million in revenue from 23 departments. Agencies received only $157.8 million in revenue, according to the report.
A dozen departments failed to meet their budget projections, topped by County Clerk Maureen O'Connell's office, which missed its $36.4 million revenue target by $5.8 million.
Among the departments that saw revenue exceed projections was Social Services, Health and Public Works.
The report attributes the overall shortfall in the clerk's office to sluggish home sales, which fueled a $9.2 million deficit in mortgage recording fees. The shortfall was offset somewhat by a $4.4 million surplus in deed recording fees.
Clerk's office fell short
O'Connell said her office submitted a budget proposal, projecting $31.5 million in revenue in 2014. OMB raised the projection to $36.4 million. The clerk's office ultimately brought in $30.5 million. "Our projections are consistently spot on but we can't control what other departments do," O'Connell said. "We are very conservative and realistic in our projections."
Eric Naughton, Nassau's deputy county executive for finance, said that when OMB finalized the 2014 budget in September 2013, "the amount of activity [at the clerk's office] was very good." He noted that the clerk's revenue submission in 2013 was $24 million, but the office actually brought in $39.2 million.
The Parks Department missed its $19.5 million revenue target by nearly $1.8 million, the report said. The biggest culprit was $1 million in unrealized golf revenue and a $500,000 shortfall at the Aquatic Center in Eisenhower Park.
Spokeswoman Mary Studdert attributed the drop to heavy rains that forced courses to close more often than usual. The National Weather Service said 2014 was the fifth-wettest year on Long Island since the agency began measuring rainfall at MacArthur Airport in 1984.
The Aquatic Center closed for eight weeks last summer for renovations to the heating and air-conditioning system, leading to the revenue shortage, Studdert said. "We project revenues to fully rebound," she said.
Delay in fee hikes didn't help
In June, county lawmakers voted to hike a host of fees, boosting the price to play golf, reserve baseball fields at Nassau parks and rent cabanas or park at Nickerson Beach.
But county officials agreed not to immediately implement the hikes, as Nickerson cabanas already had been reserved, Studdert said. Also, some schools and nonprofits that use the ballfields had not budgeted for the increase. Most fee increases did not go into effect until early 2015, Studdert said.
Lawmakers also approved a new tax map verification fee under a program allowing residents to get up-to-date information on land documents from the Assessment Department. Assessment did not implement the fee until March 2015, leading to a $1.5 million agency shortfall last year, the report said.
The police department missed its revenue target by $2.5 million due to a drop in tow truck franchise fees and fees for emergency ambulance transport, the report found.
Police spokesman Gary Shapiro attributed the shortfall to individuals who received checks for ambulance billing from their insurance companies but failed to submit those payments to the county.
Nassau offset the $7.9 million departmentwide shortfall with increased revenue from sources such as county permits and licenses, along with fines from the now-defunct school-zone speed camera program, the report said.
Ten agencies had higher than expected revenue, led by the Department of Social Services, which ended 2014 with a $1.9 million surplus due in part to a rise in Medicaid-related recoveries. Commissioner John Imhof attributed the surplus to "prudent budgeting and judicious managerial oversight."
The Health Department ended 2014 with a $1.7 million surplus. The county collected higher than anticipated Medicaid receipts for early intervention services that are provided to special needs children, Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said.
Nassau Comptroller George Maragos reported last month that the county ended 2014 with a $10.7 million budget surplus, primarily because it borrowed $121.1 million to pay for property tax refunds, legal judgments and settlements, and police termination pay. But Maragos said the county's structural deficit -- the difference between its recurring expenses and recurring revenues -- was $191.2 million.