The Nassau County Legislature last night approved a 2015 budget after stripping out a property tax increase sought by County Executive Edward Mangano, setting up a possible battle with fiscal watchdogs who say revenue from the increase is critical to balancing the $2.98 billion spending plan.
After four hours of negotiations, lawmakers unanimously OKd amendments that eliminate the 3.4 percent hike in Nassau's combined tax levy. The increase would have raised $31 million in new revenue.
While the legislature's Republicans and Democrats went against Mangano to remove the tax hike, they reached separate agreements with him Wednesday night to borrow more than $300 million through 2017 to pay off property tax refund debt. In exchange, lawmakers and the administration agreed to a range of measures including increased social services aid, expanded training for police officers to provide opioid overdose antidotes and establishment of a new gun offender registry.
"We've presented a budget that is fiscally sound," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).She called amendments to replace the $31 million "achievable, reasonable and conservative."
Mangano, a Republican, had said the tax increase -- the first he has proposed in five years in office -- was necessary to help offset an "unexplainable" drop in sales tax receipts that could leave Nassau with a $70 million budget hole by year's end.
Mangano must decide whether to veto the budget. His spokesman, Brian Nevin, would only say Wednesday night that the administration would meet with the county's state financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, to "discuss the true impact of the legislature's actions."
The legislature's 11 Republicans and eight Democrats, all up for re-election next year, had said they would reject the tax hike, which Mangano had estimated would cost the average county homeowner $41 a year.
"Whether it's $30 or $40 or $50, that's money out of their pockets," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
To offset the tax revenue, lawmakers reduced the "outdated contracts" budget by $13 million; recovered the value of bond premiums for $11 million, restructured debt to save $7 million and will more aggressively collect fees and fines, for $1.2 million. They also added $1 million for mental health and substance addiction programs.
NIFA has threatened to cut $31 million from the 2015 budget, saying the offsets are not likely to materialize and should be used to address other potential shortfalls.
NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman wrote this week that taking away tax-increase revenue from a county already struggling to balance its budget "can only mean that the legislature has decided to defund the county operations in a manner that we have not seen before."
In a letter to Kaiman Wednesday, Gonsalves expressed dismay that NIFA "would choose to so flippantly disregard" the budget amendments "without study, debate, discussion, explanation, collaboration, or even a process by which the legislature and the public can fully understand the board's decision and direction."
Kaiman responded that he's "been studying, debating and discussing these fiscal issues every day for over a year."
"If you want to get the credit for cutting taxes, you have to take responsibility for cutting costs," he said.The borrowing to begin paying down property tax refunds will begin with $127 million in bonding this year. Democrats agreed to back it in exchange for legislation creating the gun offender registry and a commitment to use unclaimed county funds for social service and youth programs.
With Celeste Hadrick