Spin Cycle

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Maybe Nassau Comptroller George Maragos has become smarter over the past two years because members of Nassau Interim Finance Authority, who once derided his views, have started applauding his financial advice.

In December 2010, members of the county’s financial oversight board publicly blasted Maragos for issuing a press release suggesting that NIFA could have saved $5.2 million if it had taken his advice and refinanced existing debt.

NIFA Chairman Ronald Stack said the release was “frankly uninformed” while NIFA member George Marlin said Maragos was “advertising his ignorance of public finance.”

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Nearly two years later, two NIFA members on Monday praised Maragos’ public opposition to a county proposal for a private investor to buy $20 million in county debt from homeowners owed property tax refunds.

“County Comptroller Maragos got it right last week” when he said the proposal would add debt to the county’s books, Marlin said.

NIFA member Chris Wright said, “The county comptroller received and gave really good accounting advice that this would be a liability on the balance sheet.”

Their comments came after the NIFA board unanimously agreed to refinance $313 million in existing debt, saving the county up to $30 million in interest costs.

Stack on Monday alluded to Maragos’ past suggestion to refinance: “People have been talking about this for some time,” Stack said. “They talked about it when it was $5 million in savings, $10 million in savings, most recently $20 million in savings .?.?. Well, we’re going to do $30 million in savings.”

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Maragos, who founded and ran a private financial investment firm before winning his public job, reacted mildly to their changed views.  “I’ve been calling it the way I’ve been seeing it for the past years three years. I guess they’re beginning to appreciate me a little more now.”

He added that he was glad that NIFA decided to refinance but said agency could have refinanced two years ago and again today to capture falling interest rates.

“I’m happy to see they acted now and we are going to receive the benefits going forward,” he said.