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Editorial: Red ink catches up to Nassau's Edward Mangano

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the 2015 budget in his office on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Edward Mangano wants to raise your taxes.

The same Nassau County executive who said, "I have zero plans to raise property taxes" during his successful 2013 "I held the line on county property taxes" re-election campaign has put a 2.2 percent hike in his proposed budget for 2015.

This is not to say -- considering how bad the balance sheet is for one of the most affluent counties in the nation -- that he didn't do the right thing. Really, he has no other choice.

Mangano already had slashed the municipal workforce and raised many county fees. He is adding 56 school speed-zone cameras, predicting a windfall of $30 million from tickets. He's seeing more agita than ticket money from the program's bungled implementation.

Even faced with a steep drop in sales tax earlier this year, however, Mangano pushed to lift the wage freeze on police and other civil servants, which was saving the county $80 million annually.

Mangano and Nassau Interim Finance Authority chairman Jon Kaiman argued that the county had the money to cover the cost despite the drop in sales tax revenue. Kaiman dismissed protests by County Comptroller George Maragos and others, saying the decline was an abnormality caused by the bad winter. But sales-tax revenue has yet to recover because the 2014 projection was based on a 2013 blip of post-Sandy purchases of cars and big appliances. Mangano, who calls the dip "unexplained," wants to hire an expensive consulting firm to find out what happened.

Had Mangano increased taxes in small increments each year during his first term, he would not now be looking into such a deep budget hole. Also, NIFA might not have placed the county in a control period in 2011 and later that year imposed a devastating wage freeze on public workers.

It's a big concession for the math-challenged administration to acknowledge that it's so much in the red. But the algebra still doesn't work. The county claims the 2.2 percent tax hike will raise $31 million from five major operating funds and the sewer authority. Even so, the county is likely in the hole for, at minimum, about $120 million by the end of the year. Roughly an 11 percent increase would be needed to truly balance the books.

But Mangano's 2.2 percent increase is designed to be under the state property tax cap. Busting the cap would be bad optics, and there is no certainty the votes would be there in the county legislature to do so. And staying under the cap might qualify most homeowners for a refund of about the same amount paid as part of a two-year state program to encourage local governments to find efficiencies through shared services. While the refund is automatic in 2015, in the second year, the county will have to prove it complied with the guidelines. But rest assured, the 2.2 percent increase will stay and be compounded forever.

The refund is no fig leaf for Mangano no matter how hard he tries to find cover. True to his fiscal hall of mirrors, Mangano's tax-hike spending plan is astonishingly labeled "2015 PROPERTY TAX FREEZE CREDIT PROPOSED BUDGET." But even if Mangano won't own up to what he is doing, the county executive is doing what he needs to do to govern responsibly.