NIFA warns county about possible budget deficit

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Laura Curran during her State of the County speech on Wednesday in Mineola. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority warned last week that the county’s budget is at risk of a shortfall over $100 million, even as it praised County Executive Laura Curran for her financial decisions.

In a memo to NIFA directors, Executive Director Evan Cohen wrote that the county could have a deficit as large as $104.7 million in the 2018 financial year. He noted that this figure did not include costs associated with negotiating new county labor contracts.

But Cohen also offered praise for Curran and her proposed budget.

“The positive takeaway is that the administration is taking steps to pay the large Restivo judgment with operating revenue,” he wrote, referring to the court ruling that the county must pay $45 million to John Restivo and Dennis Halstead after both were exonerated following 18 years in prison.

The $104 million in projected risks is about $3 million more than NIFA, which oversees county finances, projected in December, but Cohen said this was “notable” due to the county’s effort to fund the Restivo judgment in the meantime.

Cohen wrote that the sum of projected risks could be reduced further if the current economic strength is sustained, initiatives are enacted by the Nassau County Police Department, and if measures to increase revenue and decrease spending are approved by the Nassau Legislature.

The last one could be a bit of a sticking point. In the past month, Curran has proposed a number of initiatives to raise revenue — such as bringing back park fees, or charging more for red-light camera violations — that got an icy reception from county legislators.

The proposal to reinstate park fees was met by a strong backlash from Nassau residents, with one Little League organization in Seaford receiving a $16,000 bill to play at Washington Avenue Park. The Legislature responded by passing a bill that prohibits charging fees on charitable organizations to use county parks.

Last week Curran proposed a variety of fees, mostly concerning parking and traffic, that she said would generate $3 million in revenue. But the Legislature’s presiding officer, Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), said those fees were unnecessary.

“The fee added on to red light cameras, the extra $5, it’s too much,” he said, referring to an initiative that the Curran administration projected would add more than $1 million in revenue. “The consensus among Democrats and Republicans is it is already too high.”

Cohen wrote that such disagreements will harm the county’s financial standing.

“Strong management and Legislative cooperation will be essential to any chance of success on that fiscal front,” he wrote.

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