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Nassau votes expected on $375 payments, fee cuts

The Nassau County Legislature is poised to consider

The Nassau County Legislature is poised to consider a plan by County Executive Laura Curran to send $375 payments to thousands of households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County legislators are expected to vote Monday on a plan by Democratic County Executive Laura Curran to send county checks of $375 to many homeowners using federal pandemic aid.

Lawmakers also are expected to consider Republican-sponsored bills that would eliminate a total of $100 million in real estate and traffic fees.

But the competing legislative agendas face resistance.

Curran, who is seeking reelection in November against Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, proposed the cash payment initiative in July.

But majority Republicans in the county legislature have expressed skepticism about whether the program is permitted under U.S. Treasury Department rules, and whether Nassau has the ability to set up such a sweeping program in a just a few weeks.

At the same time, Curran has called the GOP fee proposal fiscally "irresponsible."

Curran's $3.5 billion budget proposal for 2022, announced earlier this month, relies on some of the fee revenues Republicans want to cut.

Republicans proposed the fee reductions at a legislative hearing on Sept. 13, two days before Curran formally filed her budget plan.

The fee legislation would eliminate a $55 public safety fee added onto most traffic violations, and a $355 tax map verification fee used to verify a property's section, block and lot.

The fee for recording mortgages would drop from $300 to $50.

The fees were put in place during the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican,

In a statement to Newsday Friday, Curran spokesman Michael Fricchione accused Republicans of "looking to defund the police by repealing the public safety fee which provides resources to Nassau’s law enforcement."

Fricchione asserted that after backing what he called Mangano’s "reckless mismanagement," Republicans had proposed fee reductions, "less than 48 hours" before Curran submitted her 2022 budget.

Fricchione called the GOP move, "just an attempt to derail the County Executive’s success at putting the County on solid long-term financial footing."

Fricchione did not say whether Curran would veto the bill, which was passed in committee with unanimous backing by Republicans and Democrats.

Curran administration officials say they are prepared to receive applications by residents for the $375 payments as early as this week if the legislature approves the "Household Assistance Program" Monday.

Curran said the payments are designed to help county residents who struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team of county contractors, whom administration officials would not identify, would run the program through an online portal.

Households earning up to $168,900 would qualify for the $375 checks.

Households with incomes of up to $500,000 would need to show proof of financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Documentation could include evidence of missed mortgage payments, unreimbursed medical bills, increased child care expenses and expenses related to deaths from COVID-19, officials said.

Curran would use $100 million in aid from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in March, to fund the payments.

"We’re very confident we have the infrastructure and technology to be successful," Sean Sallie, deputy county public works commissioner, told Newsday in an interview Friday.

Legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) warned the county might not have the technological capability for the undertaking.

Nicolello also questioned whether the program would comply with all Treasury Department rules and regulations.

"We still need to be satisfied on this issue," Nicolello told Newsday.

"We need to know what their plans are to do this, or are they just creating another boondoggle?" Nicolello said.

County officials have filed a legal memo with the legislature asserting that Curran's payments program meets Treasury Department guidelines.

Blakeman has likened the individual payments to sending "peanuts" to county residents who saw their tax bills rise under Curran's countywide reassessment program, which took effect in the 2020-21 tax year.

But Nicolello expressed some support for the payments concept.

"Is it small compared to some people’s tax increases?" he asked. "Yeah, it’s small, but for many people in this county, it would pay for the cost of food on the table for a week or a portion of that, for necessary school supplies."

All 19 legislative seats are up for election on Nov. 2.

In 2020, a state Supreme Court justice ruled the county's $355 map verification fee was "an unlawful and unconstitutional tax."

The county is appealing the ruling.

Nicolello said given the litigation, the Curran administration shouldn't be budgeting the fee revenues.

"I think they're gambling the appellate division doesn't get to it — that is a major risk," Nicolello said. "The better course budgetarily is to take these out."

Several years ago, the Republican majority had approved some of the fees they're now seeking to repeal.

Democratic legislators including Curran, who represented the Fifth District, opposed the increases.

Nicolello defended Republicans' original backing of the fee hikes, given the alternative of cutting county services.

"We were assured legally [we could] do this," Nicolello said last week.

Nicolello said the county's finances are in better shape now.

"We have the ability to return this money to the taxpayers," he said.

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