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Denenberg backs capping Nassau fee hikes

Nassau Legis. Dave Denenberg, announces his candidacy for

Nassau Legis. Dave Denenberg, announces his candidacy for the State Senate on March 6, 2014, at the American Legion Post in Seaford. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Nassau County Legis. Dave Denenberg is proposing a cap on county fee increases similar to the state’s local property tax cap, saying that the recent cost hikes for various activities and services are “nothing more than disguised tax increases.”

Denenberg (D-Merrick) – who is running for an open state senate seat against fellow County Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) – held a news conference Tuesday to say that he’s introduced a bill to limit county fee increases to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. He’s also proposed that the county cannot increase any fee more than once in a two-year period.

“Fees are money out of peoples’ pockets the same way taxes are,” said Denenberg, noting that some recent fees increased by as much as 50 or 100 percent.

The action, which Republicans called a "campaign stunt," comes months after the GOP-led Legislature passed County Executive Edward Mangano’s plan to raise fees for a wide range of services, including golf at Eisenhower Park, permits for home renovations, admission at Old Bethpage Village Restoration and cabanas at Nickerson Beach.

The increases and new fees - ranging from a $1 admission bump at county museums to a $275 contract registration fee for county vendors – were estimated to generate $15 million in new revenue to offset the cost of new labor contracts.

Those increases came about a year-and-a-half after lawmakers approved another set of fee hikes, including many new small-business licenses, meant to raise $1.6 million for the county over two years. 

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Budget Review reported last year that Nassau residents and businesses paid roughly $100 million in new or increased fees between 2011 and 2013.

Denenberg’s bill would have to be placed on the legislative calendar by Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) to be considered for a vote. Gonsalves, in a statement, did not indicate whether she would call the bill, but said: “For someone who has raised fees and taxes many, many times as a county legislator, Dave’s motivation is very questionable. This is just a campaign stunt.” 

Gonsalves was referring to Denenberg being, at times, among the Democratic lawmakers who supported fee increases proposed by Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi between 2002 to 2009.

But Denenberg replied that he did not always support those initiatives when his party proposed them, either. He added that Republicans, when they were in the legislative minority, frequently called fee increases “backdoor taxes,” so they should be willing to support a cap on them, as they support the state cap.

“Unlike taxes, you don’t see these coming,” Denenberg said.

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