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Nassau Democrats block $275 million in capital borrowing

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, center,

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, center, with Democratic colleagues at a news conference on Monday, announcing their opposition to $275 million in capital borrowing. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A Nassau County legislative committee voted Monday to lower the threshold for a vote by lawmakers on county contracts to $1,000, but Democrats blocked $275 million in borrowing for capital projects in an effort to force Republicans to create an independent office to investigate county contracts.

Borrowing to fund the $275 million capital budget for 2015 and 2016 requires 13 votes; the GOP majority has 12 members to the Democrats’ seven.

Affected capital programs include bulletproof vests for police officers; pedestrian crossings at Uniondale Avenue and Front Street in Uniondale; $3 million for improvements to Manorhaven Boulevard in Port Washington and $2 million for improvements to Centennial Park in Freeport.

Democrats said they would not provide the necessary votes until County Executive Edward Mangano and the GOP legislative majority approve an inspector general.

“We need independent fresh eyes as we move forward,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). “And without that the contracting process continues to be flawed.”

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) responded that “stonewalling the capital plan is reckless and unrelated to Nassau’s contracting process, which is the most transparent in the state.”

The clash followed a series of contracting controversies that have roiled county and state government.

In December, former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, were convicted of federal corruption charges.

They were found guilty of using the senator’s power as majority leader to pressure three companies to give jobs, fees and benefits worth $300,000 to Adam, doing favors in Albany for the companies in return, and intervening with Nassau County to help one of the companies, AbTech Industries.

The Skeloses are appealing.

Mangano and GOP lawmakers proposed the $1,000 contract threshold following reports that the administration has awarded hundreds of no-bid contracts since 2011 to politically connected firms for amounts just under $25,000 — the amount that currently triggers a legislative vote.

The measure, passed by the Rules Committee, requires approval by the full legislature.

County Attorney Carnell Foskey said lowering the threshold “increases the level of transparency tenfold” for county contracts.

The administration also wants to hire a director of procurement compliance, a position recommended by a panel Mangano formed last year. Mangano’s first pick for the job turned down the position last week after the administration found “inconsistencies” on his resume.

Democrats want a new inspector general’s office with subpoena power to probe questionable contracts. They also are seeking additional lobbyist disclosure and elimination of a rule that allows some personal service agreements to be “deemed approved” if the legislature does not act on them within 45 days.

In a March 2 letter to Abrahams, Mangano said an inspector general is unnecessary because it would have the “same investigative authority” as the county commissioner of investigations, a position Foskey holds.

Foskey said “there is no lack of independence” in his role as commissioner of investigations, which has separate staff and responsibilities from his position as county attorney.

Democrats say Foskey is not sufficiently independent because he works for Mangano.

  • Also Monday, the legislature’s rules committee approved a deal to settle a dispute over $4.5 million in funding related to New York Islanders’ owner Charles Wang’s failed Lighthouse Project to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding land. The Islanders will invest $3.5 million at the Northwell Health Ice Center, the team’s new Eisenhower Park practice facility, and $1 million for improvements to the ice rink at Cantiague Park in Hicksville.

The full legislature approved:

  • $61.2 million in borrowing to pay outstanding tax refunds after Mangano provided a written commitment to pay residential homeowners before commercial businesses. The bonding includes $49.5 million for businesses, $10.5 million for homeowners and $1.2 million to administer the bonds.
  • Michael Pulitzer, leader of the Great Neck-Lake Success Republican Club, as clerk of the legislature.

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