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Long IslandPolitics

Nassau County lawmakers balk at boost in NIFA borrowing

County Executive Laura Curran wants the financial control board to be able to borrow more to pay commercial tax refunds.

The Nassau County Legislature meeting on Monday in

The Nassau County Legislature meeting on Monday in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County legislators on Monday voted against a “home rule” message that could have helped give the county’s financial control board the ability to borrow $400 million more to pay tax refunds owed to commercial property owners.

Legislators, however, unanimously approved another home rule measure that would ask the State Legislature to allow the county to charge commercial property owners an annual fee to pay future commercial property refunds.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has been asking state lawmakers to authorize more borrowing by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

She also wants permission for the annual fee as she seeks to clear the backlog of commercial property tax certiorari debt. Both measures are pending approval of the State Legislature, which is scheduled to adjourn Wednesday.

Curran officials said, legally, the measure that was defeated could still be considered by state lawmakers.

“NIFA is a state-created authority and it will be up to Albany to decide what comes next,” Curran spokesman Michael Martino said after the votes.

Administration officials say the increase in NIFA borrowing power is needed to pay about $360 million in tax settlements.

But Republicans said the move would extend NIFA’s involvement in county finances.

“The vote against the $400 million in new NIFA borrowing was a clear message from this legislature that we have no interest in extending the life of NIFA,” said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park).

“Sounds like just a balance transfer on a credit card,” said Legis. Steven D. Rhoades (R-Bellmore).

NIFA, which has a higher credit rating than Nassau’s, was created to help the county borrow money to help resolve the county’s fiscal problems. NIFA can issue long-term bonds that would allow the county to spread out its repayments until 2041, if necessary.

The county would spend $14.5 million more if it were to borrow the money without NIFA, county officials said.

The home rule message on borrowing measure failed 11-7, with Legis. Joshua Lafazan (I-Woodbury), who typically caucuses with the Democrats, casting a no vote along with the Republican majority. Legis. Vincent Muscarella (R-West Hempstead) was not present. A simple majority was needed.

“I voted no because there were bipartisan reservations about the possibility of extending NIFA,” Lafazan said.

The second home rule message seeks a change in the Disputed Assessment Fund to pay commercial property owners who grieve their taxes successfully. The fund has about $100 million, officials said. The new plan would levy an annual charge on commercial property owners to pay for future refunds.

The Curran administration said the revisions to the funds would help ensure refunds are paid out in a more timely manner by making the system less complex.

Currently, refund payments are tied to deposits commercial property owners make when filing assessment grievances. Nassau County Treasurer Beaumont Jefferson said about 12,000 of the 14,000 commercial property owners challenge their tax assessments each year.

Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) told Curran administration officials the plan appeared to be a “repeal and replace” of a program that he believes is working.

“I’m at a loss over here as to why we can’t just make some changes to something that is already working,” Kopel said. “This is not reforming the system, its replacing it.”

Also Monday:

  • Legislators unanimously approved the $208 million budget for Nassau Community College for the fiscal year beginning on Sept. 1. The budget raises full-time student tuition by $124 per semester.
  • David F. Moog, a Curran administration appointee, was confirmed as the county’s new assessor. Moog, 55, of Sunnyside, Queens, was a longtime New York City assessment official.

CORRECTION: Nassau Community College’s budget raises full-time student tuition by $124 per semester. A previous version of this story misstated that amount.

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