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The ugly financial truth is clearer in Nassau County

Nassau Comptroller Jack Schnirman's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

Nassau Comptroller Jack Schnirman's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2017 shows an overall debt exceeding $4.3 billion. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County comptroller’s office closed the books on the eight-year tenure of former County Executive Edward Mangano on Monday when it delivered the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2017. It also closed the books on the longtime practice of using deceptive accounting measures.

The report for the first time uses only generally accepted accounting principles, rather than pretending that borrowed money is income. Thanks to that improvement, we now have a clear picture of the mess Mangano left, and the challenges Nassau County Executive Laura Curran faces. Ugly, but clear.

According to the report, the total debt of the county exceeds $4.3 billion, a number that grew by at least $500 million during Mangano’s tenure. The county owes $235 million in pension payments it deferred under Mangano. It also owes about $570 million in unpaid property tax refunds, an amount that rose by about $300 million in the past eight years.

Expenses exceeded revenues by $122 million in 2017. And every penny in the county’s coffers, and more, is spoken for, with the county facing $68 million more in obligations than it has on hand.

To his credit, Mangano cut the county-employee head count and payroll and curtailed the practice of residential tax refunds by settling those tax appeals quickly. But he gave up on maintaining an accurate property tax roll, and, hampered at times by an obstructive County Legislature, he never raised enough revenue or cut enough expenses to bring the books into line.

Curran faces the challenge of doing both, and this is the last report that will blame Mangano for the county’s financial picture. Next year, whichever way the trend goes, the results will accrue to the new administration’s account.