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NIFA: Our oversight to Nassau County's finance could last into 'foreseeable future'

Evan L. Cohen Executive Director of NIFA. The

Evan L. Cohen Executive Director of NIFA. The Nassau County Interim Finance Authority held its' meeting at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale on Oct. 15, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Nassau's financial control board warned Tuesday the county could face a potential deficit of $47.5 million in 2020, and said its oversight of the county's fiscal situation is likely to last "for the foreseeable future."

But NIFA Executive Director Evan Cohen said the $47.5 million figure represented the lowest possible risk of a proposed county budget since the board's so-called control period of the county began in 2011. Cohen called that a “positive sign” and said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s budget was built on assumptions that were “mostly realistic, though not assured.”

The report heads to the county legislature, which must adopt a budget by Oct. 30, according to the county charter.

Any changes can be vetoed by Curran. Vetoes can overturned by a thirteen-vote supermajority of the County Legislature.

NIFA’s board can then approve or send the budget back to the legislature and ask for more changes.

A control period is triggered when there is a substantial likelihood that Nassau will incur a 1% deficit or higher within the county's major funds budget. 

In an analysis of Curran's proposed $3.11 billion budget, NIFA said there was "little room for unbudgeted expenditures, and the Control Period is likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future for three main reasons."

The report highlighted concerns about potentially large deficits over the next four years, the county's plan to borrow $200 million in 2019 to pay off a backlog of tax refund claims, and concern about labor costs under future union agreements.

Deficits could reach $76.3 million in 2021, $143.49 million in 2022, and $194.3 million in 2023, according to NIFA's report.

NIFA officials said increases in upcoming labor contracts should be offset by the county's savings from productivity improvements and management efficiencies. Raises to the labor unions could cost $10.5 million each year for each percentage point increase given to county workers.

NIFA officials said "the greatest threat" to ending the control period is the county's "failure" to "successfully implement its assessment reform plan" and make "meaningful" reductions in its tax grievance backlog, while avoiding future backlogs.

The report also expressed concern about large projected deficits in the sewer and storm water system budget.

Last week, the county's office of legislative budget review estimated that Nassau could face a $61.1 million deficit in its major funds in the 2020 budget. 

“The trend continues to follow what we’ve seen in the last few years," NIFA chairman Adam Barsky said in an interview. "There's risks in the budget, but they're less than there has been. I think there's a lot of more conservative estimating being done."

Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said in a statement that the proposed 2020 budget "is balanced. We continue to embrace spending discipline while providing County residents with the quality services they demand and deserve."

Geed said, "We will continue to closely monitor the County’s revenues and expenditures throughout FY2020, as well as local and national economic trends, and we are prepared to take necessary action to maintain budget balance in the upcoming year.”

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