A tenor for Trump
There is always a Long Island connection, this one on a high note.
Christopher Macchio, the opera singer who closed out the Republican National Convention Thursday night with the aria “Nessun dorma,” “Ave Maria,” and the surprising choice of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” is a 1996 graduate of Sachem High School who grew up in Holbrook.
Reached by The Point Friday morning, Macchio said he was up all night handling queries from around the world and watching his Twitter followers swell from 300 to 10,000 in that time frame.
While the exposure to such a big audience has been bountiful, with new job offers and sales of his records, online criticism has been harsh as well. “He has used beautiful art in support of fascism,” captures the Twitter sentiment.
—Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli
Nassau County’s budget crunch
The battle of the budget analysis continues in Nassau, with Democratic County Executive Laura Curran and her staff arguing the cash crunch is extreme and the time to act with a debt refinancing plan is now. On the other side of the argument are Republican Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello and his caucus, claiming there is still plenty of opportunity to see whether the economy rebounds or the federal government comes to the rescue, and plenty of money to meet current obligations while the game plays out.
Here’s the down low for those Point readers who love fiscal budget drama.
At the core of the argument is a $75 million payment the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s state control board, must pay on behalf of the county by Nov. 15. NIFA can use sales-tax revenue, or refinance the debt, essentially postponing payment until 2021.
An assessment drawn up this week by Maurice Chalmers, the director of the county’s independent Office of Legislative Budget Review, projects the county would have $27 million in cash left if it paid the $75 million at the end of November. And the county would have $125 million on hand at the end of December. The projection implies the $75 million can be paid without refinancing, but the report acknowledges it would leave the county with less cash than Curran is comfortable with.
County Budget Director Andrew Persich responded that Chalmers’ numbers don’t take into account a $189 million pension payment that the county originally planned to pay in December 2020 but is now deferring until February 2021. Also, by cutting off the snapshot at the end of December, the budget review offices misses a $35 million debt payment due Jan. 1.
Bottom line on Persich’s analysis: paying these bills without refinancing the $75 million is beyond the county’s means by about $67 million. Besides, he argues, a second surge of the pandemic could send revenues plummeting again, and if the county gets too low on cash, the price it’s charged for borrowing will increase dramatically.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
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Assessments still a thorn in Nassau’s side
Over the past decade, no conversation about Nassau’s finances has been complete without some commentary on the county’s beleaguered assessment system, where property tax reductions are once again going to cost the county millions.
The long-term problem was a completely broken and no-longer-accurate roll. Curran’s answer was to create a defensible roll and fight for it, settling or adjudicating cases quickly enough to avoid paying the “county guarantee,” the rule that makes Nassau refund 100% of tax overpayments even though it only gets about 16% of them.
Curran always said the timing would be tough, but COVID made it impossible. The state postponed the deadline for filing appeals three times, finally settling on Sept. 4 as the last day to file.
But the county has to start setting tax rolls by mid-September, long before the last of those will be settled. So the tax rolls will be set with the values still under dispute, and the ones lowered after that will result in refunds the county alone must pay.
The bad news is that as of Friday 71,580 appeals had already been filed, and only 30,134 settled. There are pending offers out on another 20,000, and another week for appeals to be filed.
But there is a tiny silver lining, according to county officials: Nassau won’t have to rush so much, so the pressure to cave is gone, meaning that the county can really take the time to fight out the cases that remain after the deadline has passed.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller