Majority Republicans on the Nassau County Legislature on Thursday rejected a plan by County Executive Laura Curran to push off payment of $75 million in county debt until 2021, saying better-than-expected sales tax projections should enable the county to pay the money this year.
In budget amendments filed Thursday, Republicans said the county ultimately would save $95 million in debt service by paying off the $75 million in 2020.
Last month, Curran, a Democrat, released a $3.3 billion budget proposal for 2021 that would cut tens of millions of dollars in spending in an effort to close budget holes caused by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her budget plan also relies heavily on a proposal to refinance $394 million in debt issued by the county and its financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.
Legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said while the Curran budget had projected a 20% drop in sales tax revenue in 2021, the situation has improved to the point where sales tax receipts are expected to decline by only 12% next year.
Sales taxes account for about 40 percent of the county's overall revenue. Suffolk, which has also seen a drop in sales tax revenue due to the pandemic, is projecting a 7.2% drop in sales tax receipts in 2021.
"There many be bumps in the road — there may be a rise in Covid cases and we are certainly concerns about that — but no one is expecting it to be as bad as this past spring," Nicolello said.
Curran spokesman Michael Fricchione said administration budget officials were reviewing the GOP amendments.
"Based on initial review, the Republican majority clearly doesn’t have an economic plan to get Nassau County through the COVID-19 pandemic. County Executive Curran has submitted a no property tax increase budget that prioritizes public safety and provides essential county services. County Executive Curran’s budget protects Nassau’s future," Fricchione said.
The GOP budget amendments also would:
Transfer $4.2 million to NICE bus, restoring previous cuts in service hours; increase funding for a countywide rodent control contract by $450,000; and add $50,000 to the Office of Asian American Affairs for an administrative assistant position
But it remained unclear whether Republicans, who have an 11-8 majority in the Legislature, would continue to object to Curran's plan to refinance the $394 million in debt.
"Our objection to that was that it would cost the county more money over the 30-year period and we would continue to have NIFA as an oversight body in the county," Nicolello said Thursday. "The administration's budget doesn't address the real structural problems that have plagued the county for years."
Legislative Democrats said they would ensure the Republicans' amendments "establish an appropriate, sustainable roadmap for stabilizing our County’s finances and preserving vital services that Nassau residents rely upon."
"With a pandemic-transformed holiday shopping season on the horizon and COVID-19 hotspots impacting portions of Nassau County, we must proceed with the utmost fiscal caution," said William Biamonte, chief of staff for the minority caucus.
"This is especially true when projecting the sales tax revenues that will serve as the foundation of our County budget if accurate — or create a daunting financial sinkhole if over-optimistic," Biamonte said.
A spokesman said the NIFA board had not yet reviewed the Republicans' amendments late Thursday.
The Legislature will vote on whether to adopt Curran's budget on Oct. 29.
NASSAU BUDGET AMENDMENTS
Republican budgets amendements would:
• Restore $4.2 million in funding to NICE bus.
• Restore $445,000 to the district attorney's office to purchase new information technology
• Increase funding to a countywide rodent extermination program by $450,000
• Create a special revenue fund using 2021 sales tax revenue in excess of the adopted budget to pay property tax refunds.
Source: Nassau Republican legislative caucus