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Nassau County legislators delay vote on police reform plan

A legislative committee on Monday postponed consideration of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's police reform plan, which must be approved by the county legislature and filed with the state by April 1.

Lawmakers delayed a vote until next week after county police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said he planned to update Nassau's submission to the state at least once more.

Ryder initially objected to the delay after Legis. Denise Ford, chairwoman of the public safety committee, sought to table the proposal until next week at the request of Democratic lawmakers.

Ryder said he'd already explained his plan to legislators.

"I'm here to answer more [questions], and now I'm being sent away after two and a half-hours," Ryder complained.

The county's police reform plan needs the approval of the Republican-controlled legislature, which meets on March 22.

A coalition of community activists published a competing proposal called "The People's Plan" on Feb. 18.

Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, at first expressed concern about delaying the committee vote, noting that failure to pass a plan by April 1 could result in Nassau's loss of state funds.

In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo required municipalities with law enforcement agencies to submit plans that address police reform and elimination of racial bias.

Under Cuomo's order, the local governments must consult with members of communities that interact with police most frequently.

"It would have been premature to take steps toward approving something as crucial as police reform at a time when substantive amendments to the proposal are pending," said legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

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"The amendments keep changing because we keep accepting more changes," Ryder said.

Also Monday, majority Republicans held a hearing at which they criticized the Curran administration for spending $98 million of the nearly $103 million it received last year in federal pandemic aid on salary expenses for county employees.

Nassau County Attorney Jared Kasschau said in a memo last June that, according to U.S. Treasury Department rules, CARES Act funding can be used to reimburse the salaries of employees' whose jobs were "substantially dedicated" to responding to the pandemic.

Republicans held the hearing a week after Curran, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, announced a $75 million surplus for 2020.

The county last year had forecast a deficit of $749 million for 2020 and 2021.

But the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county's financial control board, won authorization in December to refinance county and NIFA debt, resulting in hundreds of millions in savings to Nassau in the short-term.

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Nassau's finances took a hit during the pandemic because of declining sales tax revenues during the economic shutdown.

Republican lawmakers questioned why the administration didn't spent more of the CARES Act money on services for the public, such as coronavirus testing.

"It's fine that we covered a lot of it with payroll, which we're allowed to do," Ford said during the hearing.

But Ford questioned "the amount of money that we allocated toward payroll, when we already funded a lot of these positions" in the county budget.

"It seems like we covered ourselves, sometimes at the expense of other people," Ford said.

Officials said Nassau received a total of $195 million in federal funding in 2020, including the $103 million from the CARES Act.

Administration officials noted that $37.2 million of the total went for economic support for residents and businesses, and $18.1 million was spent on housing support such as assistance to renters.

Also Monday, Nassau legislators approved payment of $30.7 million to NuHealth, the public benefit corporation that runs Nassau University Medical Center and the A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility.

The settlement money will cover unpaid medical bills for health care NuHealth provided at the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow.

Also Monday, a legislative committee approved legislation to strengthen county financial disclosure laws.

The measure would require potential occupants of county-owned buildings to disclose campaign contributions.

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