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Nassau lawmakers vote down borrowing

Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Mondello swears in Michael

Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Mondello swears in Michael Venditto as a new Nassau legislator. (Nov. 19, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Nassau's Democratic legislators on Monday blocked a request by County Executive Edward Mangano to borrow millions of dollars to pay property tax refunds, saying repair of the county's damaged sewage treatment plant and crumbling roads should be financed first.

In a 10-9 party-line vote, Mangano's plan to borrow $165.42 million to pay commercial and residential property tax refunds failed to get the 13 votes needed for borrowing.

However, the legislature's Republican majority approved a series of small business licensing fees expected to raise $1.6 million for the county over the next two years. The new two-year license requirements, passed on a 10-9 party-line vote, will apply to the operators of dry cleaners, self-service laundries and storage warehouses. Junk dealers, scrap metal processors and home appliance repair business owners also will have to register for licenses.

The administration and GOP lawmakers had argued that tax refund borrowing was needed to help property owners rebuild after superstorm Sandy.

"This money is far better in their hands than it is in ours," said newly installed Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Mangano was using Sandy as an excuse to pay tax protest attorneys, who receive as much as 50 percent of refunds and often contribute to Republicans. Democrats also said there was no way of knowing who would get the relief because Mangano had not provided any backup details.

A Newsday review of county records for the $20 million in residential refunds shows that 432 homeowners in heavily flooded Long Beach -- or less than 5 percent of residential property owners -- are due refunds. In East Rockaway, another area hit hard by flooding and sewage overflow, 214 homeowners are due refunds, or about 6.4 percent of all residential property owners. In Baldwin Harbor, where sewage from a broken line flooded basements, records show only one home in the area is due a refund -- for $307.40.

Abrahams said Democrats would consider borrowing to repair the Bay Park Sewage Treatment plant and the county's damaged roads. Gonsalves said those projects would be considered "in the very near future."

Deputy County Executive Tim Sullivan also told lawmakers that the administration allocated $1.9 million for youth groups in its upcoming budget, and noted there would likely be an amendment at Tuesday's county meeting to add an additional $2 million. That would bring the total to $4 million -- more than half of what youth groups had expected this year.

Midway through yesterday's meeting, the debate broke down into name-calling as legislators started yelling at each other, and Gonsalves pounded her gavel to no effect. After the din subsided, Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said dryly: "I would just like to welcome Michael Venditto to the Nassau County Legislature."

Massapequa Republican Venditto, 31, son of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, was sworn in Monday. He won a special election Nov. 6 to replace the late Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa).

He was sworn in by Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello, who said Venditto hailed from "a family steeped in the very finest tradition of public service."

The legislature also voted to name Gonsalves, 78, as Presiding Officer. She had filled the post on an interim basis after Schmitt's death.

"When Peter Schmitt passed I was truly upset over the fact that we lost a devoted public leader," Gonsalves said. "I will do everything I can to promote good government in this county."

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