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Long IslandPolitics

Nassau committee votes to widen access to county parks

A Newsday series showed that many open-space parcels Nassau acquired with proceeds from county environmental bond acts remained closed to the public.

Red Cote preserve in Oyster Bay Cove, Friday,

Red Cote preserve in Oyster Bay Cove, Friday, July 13, 2018. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

A Nassau legislative committee on Wednesday approved a bill requiring public access to all county parkland and open space, over the objections of Democrats who expressed concerns about the bill’s cost and impact on safety.

A committee also passed a bill to limit termination payouts for sick and unused vacation time for nonunion county employees by about 50 percent.

Both measures will go before the full legislature for final votes.

The bill to open up scores of acres of public space followed a Newsday series in July that showed that many open-space parcels Nassau acquired with $100 million in proceeds from the county’s environmental bond acts of 2004 and 2006 remained closed to the public.

Newsday also reported that much of the land was   purchased from individuals with ties to county politics or the selection process.

Legis. Vincent Muscarella (R-West Hempstead) told members of the Public Works and Parks Committee, “recently, it came to light that a number of Nassau County lands which were acquired by the environmental bond act were in fact closed to public access.”

Muscarella said the “county has kind of neglected keeping a watch over those properties to see that they are in fact open and accessible where appropriate.”

Michael Santeramo, County Executive Laura Curran’s director of government affairs, said the administration favors opening access to parkland but legislation is not needed. The Democratic administration has urged legislators to deal with the issue in a new capital plan to be introduced next month.

Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said that discussions should involve community members and police officers. “The bond act was to keep open space for environmental benefits, not to necessarily, in every case, will it result in a recreational benefit,” Bynoe said. 

Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) said the county should avoid a “knee jerk reaction.” He said there may be environmental hazards at some of the sites, and the cost of cleaning up trails and pathways could be significant.

Also Wednesday, the Rules Committee approved a proposal by Legis. Denise Ford to cut termination pay to nonunion employees.

Newsday reported last month that 75 political employees received a total of more than $2.5 million when they left the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano.

Ford is a registered Democrat who ran on the Republican ballot line and has consistently caucused with legislative Republicans.

Also during the committee sessions, GOP lawmakers grilled County Assessor David Moog about Curran’s announcement earlier this month that she was planning to change course on a key provision of her property reassessment plan.

Curran said she was weighing whether to lower the rate at which homes are assessed from .25 percent of their worth to a figure that would be determined after she receives an expert’s report.

Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said the ratios proposed by an outside consultant should not be used in setting the upcoming tax roll. Kopel said lawmakers would not get the report soon enough to absorb its contents.

Kopel urged the administration to stay the course by using the ratio of .25 percent and phasing in assessment increases gradually.

The pointed back-and-forth came as the Rules Committee voted 4-3 to table a $970,000 contract with a vendor for Prognose software that would be used to allow residents to see comparable home sales.

The contract is part of an effort to help residents understand their new home values. Assessment rolls have been frozen since 2011.

“It’s disappointing some members of the legislature have decided against educating the public about their property assessment and the systematic review," said Karen Contino, a Curran spokeswoman.

"This software takes the mystery out the complicated assessment system and provides real-time and accurate  home values,” Contino said. 

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