Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s 2018 budget would raise three county fees by as much as $100, slightly hike property taxes and end the practice of borrowing for operating expenses.
The $2.9 billion plan, submitted to the county Legislature last Friday, would increase spending by about $28 million and grow the county property tax levy by about 0.8 percent, Eric Naughton, the deputy county executive for finance, said in an interview.
The budget would also raise about $59 million from major increases to two real estate transaction fees and the controversial public safety fee, a surcharge to traffic tickets established last year. The hikes are needed to cover increasing costs such as health insurance expenses and litigation; the county previously borrowed for the latter, Naughton said.
The budget is the first in years that does not borrow for operating expenses, which the county’s financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, has long demanded. The milestone comes as Mangano, a Republican facing federal corruption charges, prepares to leave office at the end of his second term this year.
“The county executive has laid a path for whoever comes in next, that they will be compliant with NIFA and that will allow the control board to go away,” Naughton said.
But the large fee hikes face political hurdles in the Legislature, with officials from both parties responding to them with skepticism.
Mangano’s administration wants the public safety fee to increase enough that it adds $35 million in revenue, but is leaving the precise amount up to the Legislature, Naughton said. Naughton acknowledged such an increase could bring the fee back to the $105 Mangano proposed last year, which would more than double the cost of some traffic tickets.
Mangano first wanted the fee to apply to all traffic and parking tickets. But the Legislature slashed it to $55 and applied it only to moving traffic violations.
Additionally, the tax map verification fee and block recording fee would each increase by $100 to $455 and $400, respectively, to raise about $24 million, Naughton said.
“Everyone wants to maintain the current level of services,” Naughton said. “If you want to maintain the current level of services, then you have to have revenue to pay for them.”
The property tax increase, which amounts to $10 to $15 per household, would go directly toward building up the reserve fund for the county sewer system, Naughton said.
It would be the first county tax hike to take effect since 2015. The Legislature overrode Mangano’s veto that year for the first time ever to prevent another increase for 2016.
The Legislature must pass a budget by Oct. 31; it must then be approved by NIFA, which projects Nassau will end 2017 with a $57 million deficit. A NIFA spokesman declined to comment on the budget because the authority is still reviewing it.
The proposed fee hikes were not greeted warmly by other officials.
Matt Fernando, a spokesman for the Legislature’s Republican majority, did not respond to requests for comment. But in a statement to Newsday, he said the GOP will “advance … taxpayer protective principles as we analyze Mangano’s last budget.”
County Clerk Maureen O’Connell, a Republican seeking a fourth term this year, who opposed similar real estate fee hikes in 2015, will hold a news conference Tuesday with real estate leaders to fight them again.
Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), the Legislature’s Democratic minority leader, called Mangano’s plan “another budget that is bad for Nassau taxpayers filled with staggering fee increases.” He condemned it for failing to include funding for an independent inspector general to oversee county contracts, which Democrats have pushed for two years as an anti-corruption proposal.
Candidates for Mangano’s job also condemned his final budget.
Jack Martins, a Republican former state senator, condemned fee hikes in a statement issued before Mangano’s budget was released.
“From a broken assessment system, to high property taxes, to rising fees on just about everything, Nassau residents are paying the price for mismanagement and a lack of control about how we make our own decisions about the county’s financial future,” Martins said last Friday.
Democratic county Legislator Laura Curran noted that smaller increases to several other fees, including those to use county parks and beaches, are also set to go into effect next year.
“The Mangano administration’s fiscal mismanagement has turned fees into just another tax hike, gouging residents and potential businesses and visitors,” Curran said in a statement Saturday.