County Executive Laura Curran Wednesday night pitched her vision of ethical responsibility, fiscal prudence and economic development in Nassau while acknowledging the fragility of the government she inherited.
In her first State of the County address since taking office Jan. 1, the new county executive warned about the weight of tax refunds on the county’s budget and called for restoring an equitable property assessment system.
“Honestly the state of the county is quite fragile,” Curran said in a 40-minute speech before dozens of top Nassau lawmakers and political leaders at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.
She highlighted her efforts to remove the appearance of impropriety in county government even as her predecessor, Edward Mangano, sits on trial in federal court on corruption charges.
Those initiatives include changing the contracting process and banning her appointees from holding leadership positions in political parties.
“I know we are all reading current newspaper headlines that make us cringe at the picture painted of our county. But I know that together we can paint a different narrative for our county,” said Curran, 50, a Democrat from Baldwin.
Mangano has pleaded not guilty.
Curran said her actions, including new executive orders banning donations from administration officials to her campaign as well as gifts to county employees, would change the ethical underpinning of the county.
“No more free rounds” of golf, she said. “We are here to serve the public, not ourselves.”
She covered a wide range of subjects including: the county’s response to four Nor’easters since she took office; a renewed community and police response to address the opioid epidemic; school safety in the event of a mass shooting; the $350 million Bay Park sewage project; unnecessary tax breaks; a new $45 million police academy, and funding for youth programs and bus routes.
As evidence of the county’s dire fiscal position, Curran pointed to $1 billion owed in property tax refunds, including $125 million to be paid this year.
On Monday, she signed an executive order unfreezing the tax rolls and limiting assessment increases to six percent annually and 20 percent over five years. The Nassau County legislature on Monday approved Curran’s request to borrow $2.2 million to pay firms to reassess all county properties. The move stirred dissent from lawmakers and residents in some minority communities.
Curran spoke of the need for more economic development and congratulated Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for bringing the New York Islanders back to Long Island. She endorsed the $1 billion proposed project for Belmont Park, while advocating for new economic development and transit-oriented housing projects at the Nassau Hub.
County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, also a first-term Democrat, said “I think it’s great to see the county off to a reform-focused start to fight and eliminate the culture of corruption.”
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said: “I thought she did a good job. She touched on the important issues, economic growth, restoring the public’s trust in government, and fixing the assessment system. We in the majority definitely support those themes.”