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NIFA OKs $60 million in new borrowing for tax settlements

Members of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority,

Members of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, led by Chairman John Kaiman, center, hold their meeting at the Marriott Long Island Hotel in Uniondale on March 23, 2015. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Nassau's financial control board approved $60 million in new county borrowing Friday night to pay for property tax refunds owed to owners of homes and businesses who successfully challenged their property assessments.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority at its meeting in Uniondale also unanimously approved $3.7 million in bonding to provide tax refunds for superstorm Sandy victims who saw declines in the assessed valuations of their homes.

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said the county had made significant progress in ending its decades-old reliance on borrowing to pay for commercial tax refunds.

Last year, state lawmakers approved a "pay-go" system that would allow the county to set up an escrow account to hold tax payments when a commercial property owner files a tax grievance. The bill wouldn't go into full effect until 2017, Kaiman said.

"This is the tail-end of what has been a really frustrating process," Kaiman said as he voted to approve the borrowing.

Board member Chris Wright was the lone vote against the bonding, noting that the county's multiyear plan called for it to cut spending, reduce expenses and make progress toward a balanced budget. "The county has taken none or virtually none of these actions," Wright said.

The county is expected to ask for an additional $60 million in borrowing for tax refunds in 2016 and again in 2017, NIFA officials said. In April, the GOP-controlled county legislature unanimously approved borrowing the $60 million.

Democrats agreed to support the bonding as part of a budget deal with County Executive Edward Mangano and Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) that called for the reopening of the Fifth Precinct in Elmont as a full-service precinct. The precinct, which had merged with the Fourth Precinct in Hewlett as part of a 2012 consolidation plan, reopened last month.

Mangano also agreed to speed up the construction of the First Precinct station house in Baldwin, equip county police officers with body cameras and install dashboard cameras in all patrol cars.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said the administration has been working with the county legislature and acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter to finalize pilot programs for the body and dashboard cameras.

In committee, NIFA declined to approve $1.48 million in new borrowing to settle a workers' compensation settlement claim for a county police officer who was injured by a drunken driver on the Long Island Expressway in 2008.

NIFA officials said the officer, Kenneth Baribault, will still be paid but that workers' compensation claims are typically paid out of the county's operating budget.

The control board did not consider a $10.8 million contract with Laser Industries of Ridge to install turf fields at Eisenhower Park after county Comptroller George Maragos raised questions earlier this week about the project's cost. On Thursday, Maragos confirmed that Laser was the lowest of three bidders and notified NIFA that he had no more objections.

Declining to call the item for a vote, Kaiman noted that the board still had concerns about moving forward on the turf field project because of the county's ongoing financial challenges.

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