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NIFA OKs $136.6 million in borrowing

Nassau County got the go ahead to borrow

Nassau County got the go ahead to borrow $40 million to pay tax refunds. The borrowing had to be approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that controls the county's finances. NIFA board members are, from left, George Marlin, chairman Robert Stack, Christopher Wright and Dermond Thomas. (July 30, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's financial control board Tuesday night approved county borrowing of $40 million to pay overdue property tax refunds, putting an end to a political dispute that had held up payment for more than a year.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that controls the county's finances, also approved borrowing of another $96.65 million for general capital projects, sewer improvements, environmental bond projects, and legal judgments and settlements.

The board approved a total of $136,649,826 in borrowing -- $100 million less for general capital projects than the county originally had requested.

As they voted, NIFA members questioned recent claims by Comptroller George Maragos that the county ended 2012 with a $41 million cash surplus. NIFA contends the county had a $164 million deficit.

Chairman Ron Stack said sarcastically, "To county officials who believe there is a surplus, please call me so we can call an emergency meeting of the board to lift controls."

Maragos spokesman Jostyn Hernandez said, "We stand by our numbers and the county's outside, independent auditors confirmed our numbers."

NIFA member George Marlin said he voted for the borrowing because the county had made some cuts in spending, but not the full $150 million in recurring labor costs as promised.

Beginning in December 2011, legislative Democrats had refused to provide the legislature's 10-member GOP majority with the three additional votes needed to approve borrowing to pay property tax refunds due businesses and homeowners.

Democrats initially said they wanted a fair legislative redistricting plan before they would agree to borrow for refunds, but also contended they had not received enough information to settle many commercial tax challenges.

The legislative logjam broke last month when Democrats agreed to borrow $40 million now and $35 million in September, with County Executive Edward Mangano pledging $20 million in operating money to pay outstanding refunds. The backlog of tax refunds has been estimated at as much as $335 million.

The capital borrowing approved Tuesday night includes an additional $6 million for the county's community revitalization program, which funds improvements in lawmakers' individual districts.

Democrats had insisted that the program be part of the deal last month when they approved borrowing to pay the tax refunds. The county's general capital projects include $603,000 for renovation of the police department's outdoor pistol range and $1.6 million for the police computer aided dispatch system.

The board also approved a $29-million county contract for a joint venture with the engineering firms of Hazen and Sawyer and Malcolm Pirnie to manage improvements at the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant. Bay Park was flooded by superstorm Sandy and still is operating under generator power.

Improvements to the plant will total $934.5 million, if all are approved by the county legislature. The projects include Sandy-related work and general improvements that are not storm-related. County officials say they expect reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for much of the work.

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