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Nassau eyeing $20 million budget shortfall

Nassau's fiscal experts are closing in on a gloomy conclusion that the county likely ended 2014 with a sales tax deficit of about $70 million -- which could punch a $20 million hole in this year's budget.

The final number is not yet known because Nassau will still receive two more sales tax checks before closing the books on 2014 -- and those checks traditionally bring in about $50 million.

But County Comptroller George Maragos reported yesterday that sales tax collections through November, compared with the same period in 2013, are down 4.4 percent. He projects that total revenues will be down by $71.7 million.

The county legislature's budget review office projected a drop in receipts of $71.6 million.

County Executive Edward Mangano's budget office, which had been projecting $51.5 million less in sales taxes, in late December amended its predictions to a $67.7 million drop.

The county's financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, is projecting a 2014 sales tax deficit ranging from $69 million to $72 million.

Because Mangano assumed a $51.5 million sales tax deficit in 2014 when he proposed his 2015 budget, the larger deficit could mean the county starts the year $20 million in the hole.

But Eric Naughton, deputy county executive for finance, said in a statement, "The administration recognized this issue early in the year and managed the issue to the point where we believe we will finish 2014 with a slight surplus."

Through November, the county collected $1,038.6 million in sales taxes, compared with $1,086.9 million through November 2013.

Officials initially blamed a harsh winter for reduced sales tax revenues. They also acknowledged that superstorm Sandy may have provided a one-time boost to spending in 2013.

Monday, Maragos said, "Flat consumer income growth and shifts to online purchasing continue to look like the new norm."

Budget review director Maurice Chalmers wrote in a memo Monday that analytics company Retail Next reported retail store sales across the nation fell 8 percent during the 2014 holiday season while online sales surged.

"This is a significant factor to monitor since not all online sales are taxed," Chalmers wrote.

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