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Long IslandNassau

Nassau lawmakers propose eliminating tax hike; NIFA skeptical

Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance

Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, is seen on Oct. 9, 2013. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Nassau GOP lawmakers have submitted legislation that would eliminate a 1.2 percent property tax hike in County Executive Edward Mangano's 2016 budget and cut two new fee increases -- proposals the head of the county's fiscal control board branded as "inappropriate and irresponsible."

The GOP budget changes would replace the $12 million in revenue from the property tax hike and $16 million in increased mortgage recording and tax map verification fees in part by collecting fines on commercial property owners who don't file annual income and expense statements.

Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state oversight board that controls the county's finances, called the changes "insufficient" to balance the budget and said they demonstrate a "disconnect" with the county's financial troubles.

"There are serious flaws in the legislature's focus," said Kaiman, who noted that it's too soon to know if the board will reject the budget amendments. "They fail to see the budget in its totality . . . And to cut revenue at this point is both inappropriate and irresponsible."

All 19 county legislative seats are up for election Nov. 3.

NIFA has warned that if the legislature does not make significant revisions to the budget to raise revenue or reduce spending, the board will make the changes, including a freeze on new hires, cuts to department spending and limiting approval of contracts with outside vendors.

NIFA says Mangano's $2.95 billion budget has $191 million in risky revenue assumptions. They include $20 million from a video gaming parlor that does not yet have a location; $10.7 million in sales tax revenue that may not materialize and $6.7 million in police overtime costs that may be understated.

The GOP amendments would raise $15.8 million by enforcing a 2013 county law that fines commercial property owners who fail to detail the site's income and expenses.

The county delayed implementation of the fine -- 0.5 percent of the property's assessed value -- because of a lawsuit that concluded in May, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said.

The county expects to collect the fines in 2016 but did not include the revenue in the 2016 budget, said Nevin, who declined to say whether the administration would veto the budget amendments.

The GOP majority also would cut $7 million in contracts for which spending has yet to occur, mirroring a Republican plan last year that NIFA criticized and Mangano vetoed.

Republicans would reduce the amount booked for debt service costs by $2 million, saying the county overbudgets for the expense. They also would trim $3.2 million in fringe benefits they say won't have to be paid because of the recent retirement of 171 county employees.

"Our amendments are reasonable and achievable, and will result in a balanced budget," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).

The legislature's Democratic minority, which has too few votes to pass legislation, proposed $54.7 million in revenue increases and expense cuts. They include the elimination of the property tax hike, the entire $42.7 million in proposed fee increases, and revenue from the video gambling parlor.

Democrats would make $2 million in cuts to the use of private legal contracts and reduce spending for part-time, seasonal and vacant positions by $11.6 million, but also increase the county subsidy to NICE Bus by $7.5 million.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the amendments "are the most cost-effective way to manage the daily finances of our county."

Last year, Mangano vetoed legislative amendments to his budget after lawmakers stripped out a 3.4 percent tax increase. NIFA then said it would not approve the amendments and lawmakers made no move to override the veto -- allowing the tax increase to stand.

The legislature is scheduled to vote on the budget and amendments on Oct. 29.


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