The state board in control of Nassau’s finances has commissioned a report suggesting the county could cut $87 million in annual expenses through controversial measures such as privatizing ambulance services, defunding school crossing guards and offloading some parks maintenance to towns.
Nassau Interim Finance Authority members on Tuesday approved a resolution to release the report from its consultant, Great Neck-based Capital Markets Advisors, or CMA. The firm was hired in March, when NIFA was projecting that Nassau could end 2017 with a $106 million deficit.
That projection now stands at $54 million, but NIFA is still asking County Executive Edward Mangano to come up with ways that he could reduce spending by 7 percent, or $100 million, from his 2018 budget.
Mangano, a Republican who is not seeking re-election, will submit the proposal to county legislators on Sept. 15. But with all 19 legislative seats up for election in November, it’s unlikely a tax hike to raise revenues would be embraced.
Therefore, the CMA report is a “good starting point” for cost-cutting talks, said NIFA chairman Adam Barsky, even if elements are unpopular with lawmakers and unions.
“Any cut always has a constituency that isn’t going to be happy about it,” Barsky said. “But in an environment where people are not willing to tolerate an increase in taxes, you have to start looking to cut things that are not essential, or shift them to areas that can carry more of the burden.”
CMA’s report — which cost NIFA up to $150,000 — says $15.5 million could be saved by contracting with an ambulance company instead of using unionized police staff.
A hiring freeze would save $15 million, while forcing towns and villages to pay for school crossing guards would save $14.5 million, the report said.
Other items that CMA said would bring annual savings of $5 million or more include asking towns to take on maintenance duties at five county parks, eliminating the Youth Services bureau and cutting highway costs by 11 percent.
“They’re coming up with ideas that are pretty draconian in nature,” said Eric Naughton, Mangano’s finance deputy.
He rejected defunding crossing guards or other public safety cuts, said the county already is doing little hiring and expressed doubt that towns would take on more parks.
Nassau Civil Service Association President Jerry Laricchiuta noted problems with past county privatizations, including a jail medical contractor that was replaced this year after several inmate deaths.
“NIFA overstepped its boundaries,” he said. “They should stick to reading numbers.”
A spokesman for the legislature’s GOP majority said the report was under review. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) wasn’t available for comment.
Barsky said the CMA report could also “be a great road map” for the candidates looking to succeed Mangano, but they largely disagreed.
“I think it’s a complete waste of money,” said George Maragos, the county comptroller running in a Sept. 12 Democratic county executive primary. “It’s an unprofessional document by people that are not knowledgeable about operational or contractual issues.”
Maragos’ primary opponent, Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), said CMA had some suggestions worth studying, but “what I won’t do is make draconian cuts to programs like youth services, gang prevention, and police operations.”
The GOP nominee, former state senator Jack Martins, said the report “looks at things two-dimensionally, and we live in a three-dimensional county. These things are critically important.”