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New taxi commission approved in Nassau

Nassau lawmakers yesterday approved a new taxi and limousine commission that officials say could fund itself by its second year.

The Nassau County Legislature, by a 17-2 vote, adopted resolutions that establish the stand-alone department, which County Executive Edward Mangano says is needed to better regulate the evolving for-hire vehicle industry.

Nassau now handles registration of taxis and other livery cars through its Office of Consumer Affairs. Mangano aides say they're acting after reports of a "proliferation" of unlicensed cars operating throughout the county -- both long-standing illegally operating cabs and ones booked through newer, app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft.

"This initiative will help better protect residents from unlicensed, illegal taxi and limousine operators who often are uninsured," Mangano said.

While local taxi companies support the new commission, representatives of Uber and Lyft have criticized the initiative. They say the added focus on local registration -- on top of existing licensing requirements for Nassau's individual towns, cities and villages -- is meant to "protect the incumbents."

The administration says the new department will come at no cost to taxpayers as it will be staffed by existing staff. It will employ a commissioner, deputy commissioner, two clerical aides and 10 unionized investigators who will earn a total of $800,000 a year. The department could raise up to $2 million a year in fines and fees, officials said.

The administration did not disclose how much it spends now on taxi registration. Only one or two investigators are devoted to the task in Consumer Affairs.

Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), who joined Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) in voting against the new taxi department, questioned the revenue estimates and said the administration didn't prove the need for "an extra layer of bureaucracy.

"We should be discussing plans for how to consolidate and save taxpayer funds rather than figuring out more ways to spend them," Solages said.

The new department's union positions will likely be filled by the county sewer workers transferred after a private firm takes over management of the sewer system, said Greg May, Mangano's legislative liaison.

May said it could take more than a year, but "the goal is to be self-funding."

Approval for the Taxi & Limousine Commission came yesterday after the proposal was amended to restrict its nine appointed commissioners to five-year terms. The commissioners, who will be unpaid, will set policy. Four will be recommended by Mangano, two each by the legislature's presiding officer and minority leader, and one will be chosen by the Long Island Taxi Operators Association.

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