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Editorial: Help local governments pay for Sandy expenses

A surfer walks past a portion of the

A surfer walks past a portion of the Long Beach boardwalk that was destroyed by superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The municipalities and school districts hit by Sandy are struggling. Cash was already tight, thanks to a property-tax cap and revenues battered by the recession. Expenses continue to rise, with pension and health care contributions soaring.

And then came the superstorm, bringing with it overtime and materials expenses that have (or had) to be paid long before any federal reimbursement checks show up.

In such a quandary, the legislative package State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli sent to the Senate and Assembly offers small, sensible ways to help deal with the problem. It would:

Allow local governments to dip into reserve funds, which are normally off-limits, to pay for Sandy-related expenses.

Allow the option of providing property tax relief of up to 50 percent to owners of heavily damaged homes or businesses, as legislation did last year following Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

Allow the issuance of storm bonds to spread storm-expense payments over five years. Local governments normally cannot borrow for operations.

Extend the time districts and local governments have to replace money taken out of one of their funds and used for another purpose.

The package should be passed and, when the funding crisis passes, wound down in favor of the original tighter rules. These changes wouldn't cure all ills, but they would certainly help.