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Nassau lawmakers pass $2.99B budget, strip $60M in fee hikes

Reclaim New York executive director Brandon Muir calls

Reclaim New York executive director Brandon Muir calls on the Nassau Legislature to stop increasing fees and remove them from the 2018 budget on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Majority Republicans in the Nassau Legislature voted Monday to strip out $60 million in fee hikes proposed by County Executive Edward Mangano in his 2018 budget, despite a warning by a state monitoring board that it would reject the budget as unbalanced.

Lawmakers voted along party lines to pass the $2.99 billion budget after removing increases to Nassau’s traffic ticket surcharge and to two real estate transactions fees.

The budget passed by the legislature also included a 0.8 percent property tax increase — costing the average homeowner $10-$15 per year — to fund Nassau’s sewer system, which is low on reserves.

Republicans said they would replace the fee revenue by restructuring county debt; boosting estimates of sales tax revenue; using unspent money from the 2017 budget and reducing police overtime projections.

It was unclear whether Mangano, a Republican who is not seeking a third term as he fights federal corruption charges, would sign the budget.

“The administration will wait to see what the response will be from NIFA and if a plan can be developed by them and the legislature to fix what was adopted today,” said Eric Naughton, deputy county executive for finance.

Adam Barsky, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state oversight board in control of the county’s finances, said the GOP amendments fail to comply with their directive that fee hikes be replaced with recurring revenue increases or budget savings.

“By removing vital revenue increases and relying on projections that are too aggressive, the budget is no longer responsibly balanced, and NIFA has no choice but to reject the document as is,” Barsky said.

GOP officials criticized NIFA Monday for not allowing the county to use bond premiums — essentially money generated by borrowing more than needed at higher interest rates — as revenue.

“NIFA created artificial accounting standards that are different from those that existed with other administrations,” said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).

Barsky said the budget cannot be balanced by using borrowed money to cover operating expenses.

Mangano’s 2018 budget proposal called for hiking, by an undetermined amount, the $55 traffic ticket surcharge to raise $35 million. Fees for tax map verification — now $355 — and Block maps — now $300 — would have risen by $100 each to raise $25 million.

The Long Island Board of Realtors, AAA and government watchdogs such as Reclaim New York on Monday criticized the fee hikes.

“Illegal fees are theft,” said Brandon Muir, executive director of the Reclaim New York initiative, at a news conference in Mineola. “Stop stealing from Nassau residents.” Rebekah Mercer, daughter of Long Island billionaire and political contributor Robert Mercer, chairs Reclaim New York’s board.

Democrats had proposed replacing the fee revenue with tactics including the use of $35 million in bond premiums and reducing the use of outside legal counsel. They also proposed spending $1.2 million to hire an independent inspector general to examine county contracts.

Republicans rejected the Democratic amendments and argued that Nassau’s commissioner of investigations should continue to oversee county contracts.

Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his members would have voted with Republicans on the budget if they had backed their inspector general proposal. The GOP, he said, “missed a huge opportunity to protect taxpayers from the high cost of corruption.”

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