Curran proposes ‘bare-bones’ $3.5B budget

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran released a proposed $3.5 billion budget for 2019, which calls for the hiring of 100 employees but no new property tax increases.

“Nassau County is operating on a bare-bones budget,” Curran said in a statement on Monday. “I am holding each department to a tight fiscal discipline. The balanced Fiscal Year 2019 County Budget submitted today does not include a property tax increase. It pays for the services we are delivering now with current revenue.”

The budget includes funding to fill positions at the county’s Assessment Department, which is in the process of fixing Nassau’s property assessment system. Curran said that 100 new hires would be made to help keep the assessment roll current, as the rolls have not been updated in seven years.

“The single most important investment in the budget is the revitalization of the county’s Department of Assessment,” Curran said. “While it is going to take some time and a lot of hard work to clean up the mess I inherited, I am ready to do what it takes to get Nassau County on the right track.”

The budget also includes funding for a new crime lab, a new police academy and a new Family Court building. What it does not include is money for new pacts with the county’s five major unions. Their collective bargaining agreement expired last year and new deals have not been reached.

In a news release on the budget, the Curran administration said it was “developing new revenue sources for future collective bargaining increases” but did not elaborate on what those sources would be.

In addition to new priorities, a chunk of the budget will need to go toward bonds and cert payments that are hanging over the county. The budget must fund more than $175 million in payments on over $1.1 billion in bonds issued by the last county executive, Ed Mangano. An additional $300 million is needed to fund tax debt service for past due certs. The county currently faces almost $1 billion in cert debt, which administration officials called an “enormous financial burden.”

With no property tax increase, Curran will need to find additional revenue streams — an issue that has been tricky in the past. This year, proposals by Curran to increase red-light fees or park fees were shot down by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s financial control board, has also criticized past budgets for having unrealistic revenue expectations.

The 2019 budget, for example, budgets $20 million in payments from off-track betting at the Resorts World Casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. But the Nassau Regional OTB, which handles the off-track betting, disagreed with Nassau this year over the amount and due date, leaving the county with a $12.8 million shortfall, according to Newsday.

“We don’t want to have a revenue issue halfway through the year,” said Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove).

DeRiggi-Whitton said she needed more time to study the budget before she could comment further on it, but said Curran could make the new hires for the assessment department because positions from the Mangano administration had not yet been filled.

“I do agree with trying to get the assessments correct,” she said.

Efforts to reach Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the presiding officer of the county Legislature, were unavailing.

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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