Nassau’s fiscal control board approved the county’s 2017 budget Wednesday night, citing $36 million in new cuts and revenues scraped together by county leaders after the board’s earlier rejection of the spending plan.
At a meeting in Uniondale, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority voted 4-1 to accept the county’s multiyear plan, which includes next year’s $2.9 billion budget. Board member Howard Weitzman was the lone dissenter, saying he believed the county’s deficit-closing plan would be insufficient.
“It is my opinion that the budget is built on unwarranted optimism and denial of previous history,” he said.
NIFA’s approval came a week after Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano proposed $21 million in cuts at the board’s request, and only hours after the county legislature approved a hike in fees for verifying tax maps during real estate transactions, projected to generate $15 million in new revenue.
Mangano’s plan includes cutting Nassau’s subsidy to NICE Bus by $3.8 million, trimming utility, equipment and other general expenses by $3.8 million, and delaying police department hiring by several months to save $2.7 million.
Despite signing off on the budget, NIFA asserted its right to block restoration of those spending cuts next year without verification by Nassau that it had identified an equal amount of new, recurring revenues, such as fee or property tax increases.
“One-time items to pay for something that’s an ongoing expense is only going to make the problem worse,” NIFA chairman Adam Barsky said after the vote.
The meeting Wednesday capped months of wrangling among NIFA board members, Mangano, and county legislators.
Lawmakers initially adopted the budget in late October without a slate of new fees proposed by Mangano to raise more than $80 million.
The most controversial was a $105 “public safety fee” on all traffic and parking tickets to fund police hiring. The legislature later lowered the fee to $55 for traffic violations and scrapped it for parking violations.
Lawmakers attempted last month to fill the hole created by the fee decreases with a partial amnesty program for businesses that had not complied with a county law requiring timely reporting of finances. NIFA rejected the move because the county law was under court challenge.
NIFA sent the budget back. Mangano last week proposed the $21 million in cuts and legislators backed the $15 million in tax map verification fee hikes, from $225 to $355. Those moves took off the table other potential cuts to youth services, volunteer fire departments and community policing units.
Barsky, however, expressed concern that the 2018 budget process may be worse, since the county executive seat and all 19 county lawmakers will be up for election next year.
“If there was a lack of appetite to make hard decisions this year, that appetite will be much less next year,” he said.