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Long IslandPolitics

Fiscal board rejects Nassau budget, wants revision by Monday

Adam Barsky, second from right, chairman of the

Adam Barsky, second from right, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, that if Nassau officials can't find a way to fill $36 million gap in the 2017 county budget plan, his fiscal control board will impose its own cuts. Credit: Barry Sloan

Nassau’s fiscal control board rejected the county’s proposed 2017 budget Tuesday night, and directed the administration of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and legislative leaders to find $36 million in spending cuts or revenue to fill a budget gap that opened when lawmakers slashed a $105 fee on traffic and parking tickets.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority voted unanimously at its meeting in Uniondale to reject Mangano’s budget and to order the county to submit an amended plan by Monday.

Without significant changes, NIFA chairman Adam Barsky said the board could impose its own cuts, potentially rejecting contracts and borrowing.

“NIFA is continuing to put pressure on the county to balance its budget,” Barsky said.

Majority Republicans filed a bill Tuesday to increase the tax map verification fee from $225 to $355, to raise $15 million. County officials said the remaining shortfall of $21 million could be filled by eliminating funding for youth programs and bus subsidies.

“The administration will continue to work with NIFA and the legislature to address all financial issues,” said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin.

Mangano proposed raising $66 million in his $2.9 billion budget through a $105 public safety fee on traffic and parking tickets. He said the revenue would fund the hiring of 150 police officers and 81 civilian police employees.

The legislature voted this month to cut the fee to $55 for all traffic tickets and to eliminate it on parking violations — creating a $36 million hole in the budget.

GOP legislators had planned to fill the shortfall with revenue from a “partial amnesty” program allowing businesses that have not complied with a 2013 county law requiring them to report their income and expenses in a timely manner to pay only 75 percent of their accrued fines. NIFA rejected the plan because the 2013 law is under court challenge.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said NIFA “arbitrarily” denied Nassau a valid funding source.

“While we may disagree with NIFA’s position, we will take the necessary steps to ensure that the 2017 budget results in balance or surplus,” she said.

The county’s budget revisions must include funding for $75 million in tax refund payments, NIFA said. Nassau plans to borrow $60 million for the refunds and pay $15 million from its operating budget.

The board Tuesday also passed 5-1 a resolution calling for $36 million in cuts or revenue hikes. NIFA member Howard Weitzman, a former Democratic county comptroller, was the lone vote against the resolution, which he called “insufficient” to balance the budget, in part because the ticket fee could be rejected by the courts, costing the county $30 million in revenue.

“More cuts are necessary to plug the gaps in the budget to meet the NIFA mandated budget goals,” said Weitzman, who pushed unsuccessfully for the board to require $76 million in total cuts or revenue enhancements.

NIFA member Chris Wright, who did not attend the meeting, agreed with Weitzman and said the county should cut $80 million in spending, largely in departments “with substantial spend, and where larger dollar amounts can be achieved with smaller percentages of cutbacks and service impacts.”

NIFA member Paul Annunziato disagreed that the county’s fiscal picture is “dire,” adding that “it’s important to note the progress the county has made” in reducing its budget risk.

Barsky acknowledged that the budget has an additional $40 million in identified “risks,” including overly optimistic revenue from sales tax. He said the board would “monitor” those risks and could force midyear adjustments if revenue does not materialize.

To close the $36 million hole in next year’s budget, the legislature plans to vote Monday to raise $15 million by increasing the fee to verify tax maps on most real estate transactions. Mangano’s 2016 budget hiked that fee from $75 to $225.

Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of bribery and corruption charges, also is considering the elimination of $4.1 million in funding for youth programs and $3.8 million for Nassau’s bus service, and cutting $1.6 million from community policing programs.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the proposed cuts would force bus routes to be eliminated and spark an increase in youth violence. “These are quality-of-life issues that mean a great deal to Nassau residents,” he said.

Democratic candidates for county executive in 2017 proposed their own budget solutions. County Comptroller George Maragos called for a 2 percent cut in all department spending while county Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) suggested Tuesday using $15 million from the county’s fund balance and saving up to $16.3 million by bringing general expenses, utility and equipment costs down to 2015 levels.

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), another candidate, called for the county to eliminate “unnecessary” automobiles for elected officials and high-salaried positions for “political cronies.”

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman, also mulling a run, said the county must “put tough choices on the table” to balance the budget.

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