While Nassau Democrats continue to block borrowing for road repairs and other big-ticket capital projects, they voted last week to borrow more than $500,000 to install outdoor lighting at the playing fields at a Massapequa Middle School and to buy wrestling mats for the Lynbrook school district.
At the request of Legis. James Kennedy (R-Massapequa), county lawmakers unanimously approved borrowing $500,000 to pay for lighting at the Berner Middle School athletic fields run by the Massapequa school district. The lights “will allow the school to host night games with other schools,” according to the legislative backup.
Lawmakers also unanimously voted to borrow $10,000 to purchase wrestling mats for the Lynbrook school district, represented by Legis. William Gaylor (R-Lynbrook). “The mats will be available to visiting schools before wrestling matches,” the backup says.
Both deals are “community revitalization projects” — small capital projects proposed by both Republican and Democratic legislators for schools, fire departments and municipalities within their own districts. Lawmakers use borrowed money to pay for items that benefit their own constituents while all county taxpayers repay the borrowing costs with interest.
The community revitalization program has continued for years despite budget deficits, wage freezes and the county’s takeover by a financial control board. Traditionally, there is no public discussion of the projects, which are unanimously approved.
For months, Democrats have rejected borrowing to finance sewers in Sea Cliff, reconstruction of West Shore Road, a vital North Shore artery, and other large projects in an attempt to persuade Republican legislators to hire an independent inspector general to oversee county contracts. Republicans say the position already exists in the job of investigations commissioner, hired by County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican.
Democrats have broken their no-borrowing pledge in cases of public safety — and for community revitalization projects.
“Our fight to stop borrowing is simply focused on ensuring the procurement process in Nassau is better protected by an independent inspector general who will defend the taxpayers from the high cost of waste, fraud and abuse,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
“That doesn’t mean we are against every project that enhances the quality of life for Nassau and requires no new bonding; it just means we will not allow for new borrowing that continues to leave taxpayers vulnerable to the real expense of the County’s broken procurement system,” Abrahams said.
The legislature was scheduled Wednesday to begin public hearings on Mangano’s proposed budget for next year. Attempting to close a multimillion-dollar budget gap, Mangano has proposed more than $80 million in new fees, including a $105 surcharge on every traffic and parking ticket in Nassau.
Republican legislative spokesman Frank Moroney defended the CRP funding.
“This money consists of capital funds that are not legally available to be used for operating expenses,” Moroney said. “Hence they cannot be used to reduce a deficit or balance the budget.”