For the first time in its 17-year history, Nassau’s fiscal control board has imposed its own changes to the county’s budget, directing County Executive Edward Mangano to make nearly $18 million in spending cuts to all departments.
The directive, outlined in a letter from Adam Barsky, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, to Mangano on Thursday, dramatically escalates the control board’s role in the county’s budget process.
“We were left with no other choice,” Barsky said in an interview. “As painful and difficult as it may be, the county must align its revenue with its expenses.”
In the past, NIFA has requested cuts or revenue increases but left it to Mangano or county lawmakers to choose the areas to cut.
In the letter, Barsky gave Mangano until Tuesday to cut a total of $17.7 million in spending for contracts, equipment, general expenses and utilities from all departments. NIFA is expected to approve the 2018 budget when it meets Dec. 7.
NIFA also told Mangano to boost collections from ticket scofflaws by $1 million and to cut $800,000 in employee health insurance costs.
Deputy County Executive Eric Naughton said the Mangano administration would comply with the directive and was “preparing the spreadsheets which reflect NIFA’s request cutting all levels of expenditures by an equal percentage across the board and will forward it to them.”
Barsky said the spending reductions were necessary because Mangano — a Republican who did not seek re-election as he fights federal corruption charges — and the GOP legislative majority had been unwilling to identify specific cuts to close the budget hole.
“They were just throwing things against the wall to see if they would stick,” Barsky said. “There was no real well-thought-out plan.”
County Executive-elect Laura Curran, a Democrat who takes office Jan. 1, can come back to NIFA next year with proposed budget changes, Barsky said.
“I will be continuing to review the budget and speaking with current department heads as well as other experts to determine where it is appropriate to make cuts, protect taxpayers, and make our government run more efficiently,” Curran said.
Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said NIFA’s cuts show the county must tighten its “fiscal belt to do more with less.”
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) called NIFA’s reasoning “indecipherable,” but declined further comment.
The budget dispute began in October as members of the GOP-controlled legislature voted along party lines to strip $60 million in fee hikes from Mangano’s $2.99 billion budget.
NIFA accepted about half the GOP proposals to replace the fee revenues but rejected others, telling lawmakers to find $31.5 million in additional recurring expense cuts or revenue hikes. Legislative Republicans offered several proposals, but NIFA rejected the bulk of them.
For example, the GOP suggested $15.7 million in contract and equipment cuts but failed to identify how they would implement the reductions. NIFA also rejected plans to seek $3.5 million in additional funds from Suez Environmental, operator of the county’s sewer system, and to raise $1.5 million by hiring more staff at the Department of Consumer Affairs to collect business fines.
NIFA did accept $12 million in GOP budget changes. Updated county sales tax figures persuaded the board to increase revenue estimates by $5 million, Barsky said.
The NIFA board, after hearing from Curran, also believes the county can cut overtime in all departments by $5 million. The final $2 million would be achieved, Barsky said, through debt service savings.