Stymied last year by Nassau County legislators in his attempt to raise taxes, County Executive Edward Mangano is now leaning even more heavily on new fees and increases to balance the books. Unfortunately, fee increases are not as reliable as tax increases in providing revenue because people can change behavior to mitigate their impact.
In his proposed budget for 2017, Mangano’s biggest moneymaker is a new $105 fee on traffic and parking tickets to raise about $64 million. But the extra charge could change behavior in a way that would diminish the revenue and leave Nassau short on cash.
In addition, Mangano’s proposed array of new or increased fees on certain businesses wouldn’t raise much money, but it would seem likely to create tremendous irritation and hassle for small-business owners.
Mangano is right that expenses are rising, largely because most county employees are guaranteed 2 percent raises next year. But the argument that he is linking new revenue to cover the needs generating the expenses is unsettling, particularly when it comes to the $105 fee that would bring the total cost of a ticket from a red-light camera to $200.
Mangano projects that the $64 million raised by the new fee on about 600,000 officer-issued and red-light tickets would pay for higher police costs, including 150 new officers and 81 police civilian employees. He says the department needs the workers to decrease overtime, replace retirees and deal with growing security and crime-fighting concerns. But having officers write tickets that finance their own salaries seems dangerous. And assuming Nassau County drivers will keep getting so many tickets as the fines get worse denies human nature.
The more than two dozen new or hiked fees in Mangano’s proposed 2017 budget include $50 for tattoo and piercing artists and $600 for fitness clubs and pet groomers. Fees would jump from $400 to $600 for locksmiths and from $500 to $600 for home-improvement contractors, dry cleaners, coin laundries, storage warehouses and electronics- and appliance-repair businesses. Mangano says the fees would pay the county’s costs to oversee the businesses, but that feels like a stretch. And some new charges just feel like weird cash grabs, including an $80 cremation-clearance fee for estates that don’t claim ashes, and a $25 fee to funeral homes for certifying that bodies don’t have communicable diseases. This could take advantage of families not paying attention at a difficult time.
It would take a property tax increase of about 6.5 percent to raise the money Mangano is seeking with all the new fees, and the revenue would be stable and recurring. The county wouldn’t need money so desperately if its state legislators would band together to end Nassau’s “county guarantee.” That law applies only in Nassau and enriches local school districts and municipalities immensely at county cost. Albany could also help by ending mandatory contract arbitration for overpaid police officers.
So rather than jumping through all these silly fee hoops, maybe Mangano should just propose a 6.5 percent property-tax hike and explain that it’s largely the fault of local members of the Senate and Assembly.
That revenue would be recurring. It would be honest. And it just might move the conversation where it needs to go. — The editorial board