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Nassau needs right lawmakers to live up to county’s potential

The Nassau County Legislature listens to public comment

The Nassau County Legislature listens to public comment during a meeting on Dec. 14, 2016, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County government is badly in need of a fresh start, and in Tuesday’s election it’s guaranteed to get one, at least in the county executive’s office. But that new leader, whether Democrat Laura Curran or Republican Jack Martins is elected, is going to need help from the county legislature.

Nassau County is rich in opportunity and blessed in many ways. Nassau County government is riddled with problems and challenged in many ways. Because of that, the government is holding the county back. Effective and engaged lawmakers working together and moving Nassau forward would be a big change, indeed.

The broken property-tax assessment system bleeds as much as $100 million a year and has led the county to rack up more than $1 billion of its $3.5 billion in debt, even as it shifts the tax burden to the county’s poorest property owners and enriches tax refund companies. Thanks largely to tax refund costs, and to generous compensation for police officers, the county’s budget is badly out of balance. The bus system faces route cuts practically every year, and crucial social services, such as youth programs, are often threatened by budget shortfalls. Because Nassau’s elected leaders have been unable to manage the finances, the county’s state oversight board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, has imposed a control period for the past six years.

The public’s loss of faith in the government’s honesty is even worse than the loss of faith in its competence. Departing County Executive Edward Mangano is under federal indictment on corruption charges in dealings with a vendor. Former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre is fighting corruption charges related to a county contract. And investigations have uncovered a contracting system that is in many ways a license to reward the politically connected with taxpayer money.

Some improvements have been made in the county’s ethics rules and contract oversight. More are needed. The next legislature will need to address this first and foremost. But it also will need to address economic development at the Hub, the opioid crisis and infrastructure in disrepair.

Much must be done to help Nassau live up to its potential. And it will take willing legislators to do it.