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NIFA will impose spending cuts in Nassau for the first time

Nassau County legislators during a meeting on Monday,

Nassau County legislators during a meeting on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau’s financial control board for the first time will impose spending cuts for county departments and programs after county lawmakers proposed more than $30 million in changes to the 2018 budget the board said were inadequate.

Adam Barsky, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said $10 million to $15 million in deficit-reduction measures offered by the GOP majority were based on overly optimistic revenue assumptions or failed to generate recurring expense savings.

NIFA, which was created in 2000 and took control of the county’s finances in 2011, repeatedly has threatened to make its own cuts to past Nassau budgets. But the board each time backed down after elected officials made changes to the spending plans.In an interview Monday, Barsky said the clock has run out on the legislature’s ideas.

“They’ve offered everything they plan to propose,” he said. “Now NIFA will have to impose its own cuts.”

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) defended the legislative amendments, saying they would generate recurring savings for the county.

“Right now, the ball is in NIFA’s court,” said Gonsalves, who is retiring at year’s end. “A lot of research went into these proposals.”

In a letter to NIFA Monday, Gonsalves offered a variety of proposals to close a $31.5 million budget hole.

The GOP said it would adopt a proposal by the Democratic minority to save $15.7 million by cutting outside legal contracts, equipment and utility costs. Barsky said the savings would be much smaller.

Republicans also would boost sales tax revenue estimates by $5 million and reduce police overtime projections by the same amount. NIFA previously rejected the proposals, saying they were not in line with historical trends.

The GOP would collect $3.5 million in additional funds from Suez Environmental, operator of the county’s sewer system; generate $1.5 million by hiring more staff at the Department of Consumer Affairs to collect fines from Nassau businesses and raise $1 million from traffic ticket scofflaws.

Barsky said there was “no evidence” the ideas would generate recurring savings.

Suez spokesman Mike Martino disgreed the company owes an additional $3.5 million, saying that the company has “delivered $12 million in employee savings annually since the very first day of this contract, which exceeds the $10 million promised in the agreement.”

The budget dispute began last month as lawmakers voted along party lines to strip $60 million in fee hikes from County Executive Edward Mangano’s $2.99 billion budget.

NIFA accepted half the GOP proposals to replace the fee revenues but rejected other amendments. The board gave lawmakers until Monday to find $31.5 million in recurring expense cuts or revenue hikes.

In a meeting with GOP lawmakers Monday, County Executive-elect Laura Curran, a Democratic legislator from Baldwin, proposed reviving the county’s speed camera program to bring in more revenues, according to Republican aides.

In an interview, Curran declined to rule out bringing back the cameras, which were located outside schools. The cameras generated more than 400,000 tickets and $24 million in revenue from September to November, 2014 but drew complaints from residents and were removed after three months.

“We have to look at all options both old and new,” said Curran, who met Monday with Mangano for the first time since her victory over Republican Jack Martins on Nov. 7. “Everything must be on the table.”

Frank Moroney, a spokesman for the GOP majority, said Republicans will not support a return of the cameras.

Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his caucus “will continue to work with all the stakeholders to put Nassau’s finances on the right track.”

In the letter, Gonsalves also said NIFA is applying unfair standards by preventing lawmakers from recovering the value of bond premiums — money generated by borrowing more than needed at higher interest rates — and “has perpetuated the conditions that allow it to maintain a control period.”

Also Monday, lawmakers approved a $4.5 million settlement for the family of Andrea Rebello, a Hofstra University student who was killed accidentally in an off-campus police shooting in 2013. The settlement resolves a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the county in 2014 and a federal civil rights suit filed last year against Nassau.

Rebello, 21, of Tarrytown, was shot and killed by Nassau police Officer Nikolas Budimlic as armed parolee Dalton Smith, 30, of Hempstead, used her as a human shield during a home invasion robbery. The county district attorney’s Office in 2014 said Budimlic would not face criminal charges because he “reasonably perceived threats of deadly force against himself and others and acted accordingly.”

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