The Nassau Interim Finance Authority voted last week to reject a request from the county to borrow $23 million.
The board voted 6-1 against the borrowing, which would cover half of the $45 million legal settlement Nassau County owed two men — Dennis Halstead and John Restivo — who were jailed for 18 years after wrongfully being convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old Lynbrook girl in 1984.
The county has already paid the settlement out of its operating budget. But the settlement was a massive expense for Nassau and county legislators voted in February to borrow the $23 million to cover a backlog of payments on tax challenge settlements.
One NIFA director, Christopher Wright, said during the meeting that the panel has historically rejected requests to borrow money for tax refunds. Even the lone vote in favor of borrowing, Howard Weitzman, admitted that County Executive Laura Curran should have gotten the request in sooner.
“Whether it was bravo or naivete, they thought they could possibly get through the year without bonding it. Obviously they were wrong,” he said. “However, this is an exceptional situation given that the amount in question … is larger than any municipality in New York, I believe, could handle other than New York City, New York state, and maybe some of the cities upstate.”
On top of denying the bond, the board said that the settlement and the payment of tax certs were a danger to the county’s financial health over the next few years. The board predicted baseline risks of $81 million this year, $91 million in 2019, $146 million in 2020 and $154 million in 2021.
“Many of these initiatives are considered risks in our current analysis because they require legislative action,” said NIFA Executive Director Evan Cohen.
Curran has attempted to close the gap by looking for money wherever she could find it. Among the proposals she made this year to bring in more money were increased fees for Little League teams using parks, drivers running red lights and use of golf carts.
Her proposals failed to pass the county Legislature, where they proved to be deeply unpopular with the Republican majority.
A spokesman for Curran told Newsday that NIFA’s views of Nassau’s finances were “pessimistic,” although he did acknowledge that the payment of tax refunds needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.