Local legislators split on county suit against NIFA

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Local county legislators are responding along party lines to Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s decision to file a lawsuit Monday to block a takeover of county finances by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which ruled that the county’s budget is out of balance by $176 million.

“I think this a time when we all need to be working together,” said Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth (D-Great Neck. “I would hope that we don’t spend a lot of time fighting with the people we are working with.”

A NIFA takeover of county finances will not take away the Legislature’s responsibility or oversight, Bosworth said.

Like NIFA, the Great Neck legislator criticized Mangano for repealing a home-energy tax last year, which was passed by former County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Bosworth, said it’s fine to eliminate revenue sources as long as they are replace adequately.

“There was a $40 million source that was eliminated,” said Bosworth.

Mangano recently stated to Blank Slate Media he has offset revenue shortfalls “10 times already” in the last 12 months by reducing costs.

Nassau County Legisloar Richard J. Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said NIFA’s action was premature.

“The budget has some challenges in it, but Mangano should be given an appropriate amount of time to manage,” said Nicolello.

Elected officials should be protected to govern, according to Nicolello.

“If (NIFA) was wrong in doing this, we should not sit idly by and let it happen, he said.

In a statement Monday, Mangano said he is taking the necessary steps to protect taxpayers against NIFA which has continually expressed the need for Nassau to increase revenue.

“Where I come from, increased revenue is code name for higher property taxes,” said the county executive in a statement Monday after filing the lawsuit in the Nassau County Supreme Court.

“I am confident the court will provide me the opportunity to manage the financial affairs of Nassau County and protect our taxpayers.”

With no plans to raise taxes or let up on budget cuts, which have defined his first year in office, Mangano’s multiyear plan calls for no tax increases over the next four years.

“Although the County Comptroller and County Legislature concluded that the 2011 budget was balanced, NIFA took the unprecedented step to impose a control period not even one month into the budget year,” Mangano said in explaining the suit. “Simply put, NIFA’s action is unfounded, unfair and wrong. 

NIFA failed to provide recommendations to Nassau County regarding reduction of costs and improvement of services, according to Mangano.

Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) charged that all six membersof NIFA had conflicts of interest and were “ethically challenged.” He said he might subpoena NIFA members to appear in order to force them to disclose potential conflicts of interest. The six NIFA members include three Democrats, a Republican, a Conservative and an Independent.

Established in 2000 by the state Legislature to oversee the county’s finances and assist in providing financial stability, NIFA ordered a control period after ruling that the county would run a deficit of $49 million to $176 million – well above the 1 percent threshold that requires NIFA to take control.

In December, NIFA Chairman Ronald Stack said Mangano would still be able to govern while under the authority’s control. Stack said the onus would still rest with the county to come up with solutions to budget problems.

“NIFA’s creation was to ensure that elected officials continue to manage the county,” said Stack. “It was not established to be the governing agency.”

Democrats in the state Legislature say lawsuits will create hardships for beleaguered taxpayers.

“Whether you agree with the NIFA decision or not, NIFA has the authority to involve itself in our financial crises,” said Minority Leader Diane Yatauaro, “We must all work together cooperatively to provide renewed confidence in our fiscal condition for the economic marketplace and all our residents.”

Nassau Deputy County Executive Pat Foye resigned on Tuesday as a result of Mangano’s decision to file suit.

“The advice he has received to sue the state – the same state to which the country now looks for legislative and other support – and for others to smear duly appointed members of a state board created to held elected county officials fix Nassau County is irresponsible and wrong,” said Foye in a statement.

Mangano said he disagrees with Foye’s opinion on NIFA’s recent actions.

E-mail:rjacques@theislandnow.com

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