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Nassau lawmakers back ‘partial amnesty’ for business penalties

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and other legislative Democrats have announced legislation to require that future Nassau County budgets include all revenue necessary to fund the budget. At a news conference in Mineola on on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, Democrats accused the Republican majority of delaying passage of a $105 fee on traffic and parking tickets until after the Nov. 8 election. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

A Nassau legislative committee, seeking to offset an unpopular $105 fee on all traffic and parking tickets, on Monday backed “partial amnesty” to businesses that haven’t complied with a disputed county law requiring them to pay hefty penalties if they don’t provide timely information about their finances.

The county legislature’s GOP-controlled Rules Committee, by a 4-3 vote, approved a bill allowing commercial property owners to pay 75 percent of fines they’ve accrued since the law took effect in 2013.

The full legislature is expected to vote on the bill Nov. 21.

Businesses that would be impacted owe Nassau about $105 million. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) didn’t estimate how much the amnesty could raise, but said she is “hopeful that any revenue that may be realized could be applied toward mitigating the public safety fee.”

The ticket surcharge, which would more than double the current cost of some traffic and parking violations, is expected to generate $64 million to pay for hiring 150 police officers and 81 civilian police employees.

Last week, the legislature passed County Executive Edward Mangano’s 2017 budget but delayed a decision on the ticket fee, along with $13 million in business and parks fees.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who opposes the fee hikes, said he supports the “income-expense” amnesty program, but voted against the bill because “we are not supporting this mechanism as a one-shot of revenue.”

The “income-expense” law itself also remains tied up in court battles over its legality.

The law requires owners of revenue-generating properties to submit annual statements to the county assessor detailing their income and expenses. Violators can be fined 0.25 percent — escalating to a maximum of 0.75 percent — of the fair market value of the property.

But Uniondale tax attorney Laureen Harris challenged the law, saying the penalty is excessive and the county doesn’t have the authority to collect.

“Its penalties are so substantial and egregious that there is no rational relationship between the errors that may have occurred with the commercial owner,” Harris said.

In May 2015, state Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano determined the law was constitutional but later issued a temporary restraining order preventing Nassau from collecting the fine. He lifted the order last month but didn’t rule on the legality of the penalties.

The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court is expected to hear the case next year.

Also Monday, the legislature:

  • Approved a $3.1 million contract for an engineering study to determine whether Nassau can divert effluent from the Bay Park sewage treatment plant, which was damaged in superstorm Sandy, via an unused aqueduct underneath Sunrise Highway.

The pact with Manhattan-based AECOM USA will focus on the “physical condition and suitability” of a seven-mile segment of the aqueduct, to determine whether it can be used to direct the treated effluent from Bay Park to the Cedar Creek plant in Wantagh.

Officials say the plan could cost $350 million, $100 million less than what Nassau may need to build a Bay Park ocean-outfall pipe to keep effluent out of the nitrogen-choked Western Bays.

  • Approved a $100,000 increase to a contract with a California nonprofit to monitor the county’s jail inmate medical provider. The amendment with Community Oriented Correctional Health Services brings the maximum payment to $145,000 and extends the agreement into next September.

With the county’s embattled jail medical provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, departing in the coming months, the nonprofit is expected to aid the county in negotiations with, and transition to, a new contractor.

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