Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's proposed $2.79-billion budget for 2013 is a great tool to evaluate what's been done well, and poorly, during his term. Looked at via this broad view, a lot has been handled right. At times, though, that's been in spite of the county executive rather than because of him.
First off, Nassau is controlling spending. That hasn't always been Mangano's choice: He would prefer to borrow and spend more. But with Democratic legislators who've blocked his borrowing consistently, mostly for political reasons, and a state control board that has hindered it sporadically for fiscally responsible ones, Mangano has managed to keep the county financially afloat without raising taxes.
The cuts brought criticism, but Mangano had little choice. The primary slash has been in payroll, and county staffing is down as much as 20 percent since he took over in 2010, never a popular move.
Mangano also saved money by privatizing the county's bus service, and imposing a police realignment that (sort of) closed half the county's eight precincts. Both actions enraged the groups they affected.
On the revenue side of the 2013 budget, Mangano also, in the face of threats from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, refrained from including fantasy income like $750 million from a sewer privatization deal that's not likely to happen, though that money is still in the county's multi-year plan.
Nassau County has made perhaps its biggest strides in residential property tax appeals, which are now being adjudicated before the tax bills are paid. This keeps the county from having to refund money that has actually gone to school districts and municipalities rather than Nassau, the unique "county gurantee."
Some of his biggest failures are in the same area: Residential assessments in Nassau are still inaccurate, thus all the appeals. Worse, there's been no progress in solving problems with commercial property tax assessments. These represent a bigger pie, and still aren't handled quickly enough to prevent the county from paying out big refunds.
One bad move Mangano has made in his 2013 budget is to continue using youth services as a political pawn. They get a big zero for 2013, down from what had been $8 million annually until massive cuts began this year. Mangano, a Republican, says he can't find the money because Democratic county legislators won't let him borrow. In fact, $8 million is peanuts in the context of this budget, less than one-third of 1 percent, and it was the promise of spending on such needs that got Nassau's red-light cameras, and their revenue, approved. Studies show spending on youth services is both prudent and preventive. Failing to do so doesn't really save money; it just leads to more spending, on prisons and other social services, down the road.
Also bad news: County reserves will decline another $60 million this year. Ratings agencies don't like that, and the lower the balance gets, the more interest rates rise for borrowing.
There's an awful lot on Mangano's budgetary plate, and much of it is being handled well, but the parts that aren't tend to leave a terrible taste in the mouths of a lot of county residents.