Nassau County is set to spend nearly $11 million on new artificial turf fields at Eisenhower Park -- more than three years after the project was shelved due to budget deficits.
The county legislature's Rules Committee Monday unanimously approved a $10.8 million contract with Laser Industries of Ridge to build seven new turf fields with bleachers and lighting, drawing applause from dozens of union laborers at the meeting.
The contract was first bid in August 2011, but never came to lawmakers after the county's fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, rejected a similar project amid a $300 million budget deficit.
But NIFA, under new leadership, has supported most of County Executive Edward Mangano's larger expenditures, despite a projected multimillion-dollar shortfall in sales tax revenue in 2014.
"We're in a much better position now and the administration wants to move forward," Brian Schneider, a public works department aide, told the committee.
NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman, appointed in 2013, said he'd reach out to the administration and "they'll need to make the case" for the turf fields project. He added, "It's up to the county to figure out how to best maintain their parks and make necessary long-term investments."
NIFA board member Chris Wright, who opposed the 2011 project, said Nassau's deficit remains an issue: "Although I would rather the county act more fiscally responsibly, if they don't, I'll propose rejecting this contract as well."
Laser Industries has received frequent work from the county and towns, including millions of dollars annually in Oyster Bay. It has contributed $67,000 to Mangano's campaigns since 2010, and in 2014 alone, contributed more than $20,000 to the Nassau GOP Committee.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) read letters supporting Laser from three unions, including Laborers Union Local 1298, which said Laser would give dozens of unemployed members jobs.
"Jobs are scarce and everything we can do to make work available for our union members, I think this body is interested in doing," Gonsalves said.
Environmentalist Jennifer Wilson-Pines raised concerns about chemicals in the turf. "These are things you can't actually put into landfills," she said.
Democratic lawmakers had similar concerns but cited the project's economic benefit for their support. Schneider said Nassau would "markedly" improve revenue from attracting new tournaments at the fields, but had no specific estimates.
"We all know residents love this. The [construction] industry would love this," said Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), "but we'd still be foolish not to ask questions."
The legislature appointed three men to district court posts to fill vacancies, including James Darcy, a Republican Hempstead town councilman who is expected to be replaced on the town board by Bruce Blakeman, a former councilman who later was presiding officer of the county legislature.
The Rules Committee, by a 4-3 party line vote, approved a contract of as much as $300,000 with outside attorneys to represent former Police Commissioner Thomas Dale in a federal lawsuit stemming from the 2013 arrest of a witness in a civil elections dispute. The county, which already has a $175,000 contract with another firm to represent defendants in the case, will pay at least $50,000 to Leahey & Johnson of Manhattan to represent Dale in the Randy White matter, and to also represent the county in another, unrelated lawsuit.
White filed his federal suit in August, claiming that Dale and other police and county officials violated his civil rights in a conspiracy aimed at changing his testimony in a politically charged election case. Dale resigned in December 2013 after his actions came to light.