The Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola at sunset...

The Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola at sunset on Nov. 20, 2013. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

A year after the Nassau County Legislature was created in 1996, a spending scandal led lawmakers to clamp a $100,000 annual cap on open-ended service contracts that had been allowed to continue for years without dollar limits or termination dates.

“I don’t know if the taxpayers fully understand how big a step this is,” the late Legis. Judy Jacobs, a Woodbury Democrat, said then.

Now the legislature is looking to impose additional spending caps after lawmakers complained they weren’t being told the full cost of deals they were being asked to approve.

For example, a staff summary submitted to lawmakers last year said costs of a contract to monitor inground oil tanks would exceed $100,000. Under questioning, purchasing staff members said the cost was likely to be $360,000 a year for five years, or a total $1.8 million. “I feel like I’m approving a blank check,” complained Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury).

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) introduced a proposed law that requires a maximum cost be included in all contracts and purchase orders of $100,000 or more. “It’s as simple and fundamental as you can get,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “This is what the legislature is there for. To control the maximum spending.”

Providing only a minimum “is like telling your kids to spend at least $20 on your credit card and not giving them a maximum. We can’t run a government that way.”

The proposed law will go to the full legislature for approval Monday; it was passed unanimously by the legislature’s Rules Committee two weeks ago.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement, “I have been a leader on the issue of contract reform. I am very glad the legislature is following my example. Good contracts are good government.”

An impact statement from the legislature’s budget review office said Curran’s purchasing department had expressed concern that the bill “could increase costs by requiring staff to monitor and amend indefinite quantity blanket purchase orders and requirement contracts.” But budget review predicted the law would have no significant fiscal impact. 

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