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Nassau’s financial control board restores some NICE Bus funding

From left: Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA)

From left: Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) board members Christopher P. Wright, chairman, Adam Barsky, and member John R. Buran, at a meeting in Uniondale, Tuesday evening, April 18, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Nassau’s financial control board Tuesday night finalized a county plan to restore some NICE Bus funding slashed last year — enough to keep service on four of the 15 routes set for reduction or elimination.

At its meeting in Uniondale, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority unanimously approved returning $2.8 million in county subsidies to NICE, using $1.3 million in increased state aid and $1.5 million in recently identified county labor savings.

The county in December had sliced its contribution to the bus system by $3.8 million to help close what NIFA estimated would be a $36 million hole in the 2017 budget. NIFA members had said they would not accept new NICE funding that couldn’t be sustained.

“This seems to work for our purposes,” said NIFA chairman Adam Barsky, noting that reduced labor costs from vacant positions in several county departments would provide continued savings.

The $2.8 million NICE funding restoration was enough to spare the n1, n19, n57 and n78/79 bus lines, which serve a total of approximately 2,340 passengers per day in areas including Freeport, Hicksville and Elmont.

“We were pleased to work with the state for this service restoration,” said County Executive Edward Mangano.

Still, with a remaining $4 million shortfall, NICE early this month went through with the elimination of 7 routes and the reduction of 4 others serving roughly 3,500 daily passengers.

“NICE regrets that any riders are being impacted by these service changes,” spokesman Andy Kraus said in a statement.

He noted that when NICE first identified its 2017 shortfall, it “worked hard to reduce costs, efficiencies and bridge as much as of that gap before it looked toward service reductions.”

Aaron Watkins-Lopez, an organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders Union, a nonprofit advocacy group, said he was heartened by the return of some of Nassau’s subsidy to NICE, but the larger problem remains officials’ lack of long-term funding for the system.

Nearly every year, he noted, the county looks to cut its bus subsidy as a way to close a chronic budget gap, and then scrambles to return some of the money after NICE threatens severe service reductions. Other counties in the state consistently provide tens of millions of dollars more annually to run their systems.

“This is business as usual for Nassau County,” said Watkins-Lopez. “There’s no bigger thinking or strategic planning.”

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