Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Monday introduced a scaled-down $3.3 billion budget for 2021, proposing tens of millions of dollars in spending cuts and calling on the county’s financial control board to refinance hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to avoid a looming financial crisis.
Curran's spending plan aims to blunt the effects of the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The budget proposal depends on having the Nassau Interim Finance Authority refinance $360 million in county and NIFA debt, for savings of $285 million in next year and $150 million in 2022.
The county Legislature is controlled by Republicans, 11-8, and some GOP members have balked at embracing Curran's refinancing approach, saying it would led to extending NIFA's control over the county's finances.
Curran said her proposed budget maintains "fiscal discipline," and includes no property tax increase or layoffs of county employees.
But Curran, who is in her first term and will seek reelection next year, said the county had little choice but to proceed with the refinancing.
"These are extraordinary times, and while this restructuring is not something we’d do in a normal year, this is not a normal year," Curran said in an interview Tuesday. "It actually solves the problem, and I'm looking forward to working in a bipartisan way to get this done."
She continued, "the fact that we aren't reducing services, that we are not doing layoffs, I think is a real testament to real discipline, focusing on what it is we need to do and making sure we're providing it in the most efficient way possible for taxpayers."
NIFA chairman Adam Barsky said Curran's spending plan was "perhaps ... the most challenging budget the county has prepared in recent memory."
Barsky said he hoped to work "to arrive at a balanced budget that preserves as many essential services as possible."
Legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the GOP majority "will conduct a thorough review and analysis of the County Executive's budget to ensure it is fiscally responsible and does not put additional burdens on Nassau taxpayers already struggling with the financial impact of COVID-19."
Curran administration officials warned that if the spending plan were not approved, the county Legislature would have to identify major new revenues or service cuts.
On Tuesday, Curran formally asked the Legislature to approve a "declaration of need" calling on NIFA to restructure county debt. NIFA can refinance its own debt, but the Nassau County Legislature must vote to ask NIFA to refinance county debt.
Nassau had ended 2019 with a $76.8 million surplus, but this year the county is reeling from the loss of sales tax receipts caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The county is projected to run a $749 million deficit in 2020 and 2021.
Curran's $3.286 billion budget is down from the $3.55 billion spending plan approved for 2020.
By eliminating 329 vacant positions, the county will save $69.5 million, the administration said.
Other savings include $16.7 million from a NICE bus contract and $12.8 million in police overtime.
But the budget proposal increases funding for the police department's Problem-Oriented Police Unit, the Community Affairs Unit, the Mental Health Mobile Care Crisis Team and Police Activity League.
Curran also projected $11 million more in revenues from fines from red-light cameras and other programs, and $14 million more in county clerk's fees due to a strong housing market.
William Biamonte, chief of staff for legislative Democrats, expressed appreciation for Curran's commitment to holding the line on property taxes at a time when so many families are experiencing economic hardships."
Biamonte said caucus members would "closely scrutinize" Curran's budget "to ensure this plan addresses COVID-19-related shortfalls while preserving the integrity of essential services that residents rely upon.
PROPOSED NASSAU COUNTY BUDGET FOR 2021
Total: $3.286 billion
Debt: Refinancing of $240 million in NIFA bonds and $120 million in county bonds to save $285 million in 2021 and $150 million in 2022.
Sales tax revenues: $1.023 billion
Savings: $69.5 million by eliminating 329 vacant county positions.
Source: Nassau County executive