In the 2000 movie “Memento” a man suffers short-term memory loss every five minutes following an assault.
In the Nassau County Legislature, Republicans apparently believe voters have forgotten the past 20 years.
How else to explain the GOP’s legislative focus this year – politicize, undermine and gum up any way possible Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s efforts to reassess all property in the county.
And, more recently, the Republicans’ refusal to hire a skilled labor lawyer to represent the Nassau Interim Finance Authority at the bargaining table to help negotiate a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association.
To track down the people who attacked him and killed his wife, the protagonist in “Memento” uses Polaroid photographs and tattoos.
In that spirit, we offer a few memory aids for county voters to keep in mind when viewing the activities of Republicans in the Nassau County Legislature.
We start around the time “Memento” was released in 2000 when Nassau County, one of the richest counties in New York state, nearly went broke.
The county, which had been under Republican control for decades, would have gone bankrupt had Nassau not gone hat in hand to the state Legislature and asked for a $500 million bailout.
The result? The county received $100 million in state aid and authority to borrow $400 million. But there was a catch. The county was put under the control of NIFA.
And why was one of the wealthiest counties in New York state unable to pay its expenses?
There were many reasons. One of the major reasons was the amount of money paid to its employees beginning with the police.
Not long ago, Newsday published an exhaustive study of Long Island’s scandal-plagued political system that showed how Republican officials in the late 1960s began awarding public employee unions led by the police generous contracts in return for political support.
The police, who set the pace for the other county unions, were in fact among the highest paid officers in the nation.
Nine of the top 10 highest paid county employees in New York State in 2018 were still working as Nassau County police – a year in which the average salary for Nassau officers actually came down to $104,263 – compared with $145,000 in 2013.
But officers still get as many as 70 paid days off each year and payouts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars when they retire.
The reduction in police pay – and a decline in the county’s deficit – might be attributed to NIFA’s participation in the last police contract negotiations in 2014.
As could the decline in the county’s deficit in 2018 to $27.5 million in red ink – down from the $122.4 million hole in 2017, according to the county comptroller’s annual financial report released Tuesday.
County Comptroller Jack Schnirman attributed the decline in the deficit to $60 million in savings from reduced personnel expenses, including fringe benefits.
In 2014, the PBA approved NIFA’s presence as did Republican legislators.
But now the PBA doesn’t want a NIFA representative at the table. And surprise, surprise neither do Republican legislators.
In fact, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove the directors of NIFA for spending $125,000 on their labor lawyer.
Nicolello said that NIFA’s hiring of lawyer Gary Dellaverson thwarts the Legislature’s will because the county pays NIFA’s bills. He said he was particularly bothered by Dellaverson’s flat monthly fee of $25,000.
For a county that pays officers hundreds of thousands of dollars when they retire, spending $125,000 on a highly qualified labor lawyer seems like a small and worthwhile investment – something voters may want to remember.
A second major cost to the county has been a troubled property assessment system that has Nassau obligated to pay $70 million or more annually in refunds.
A recent analysis of Nassau County’s property reassessment found that the new assessments are well within every major professional standard of accuracy.
This was a significant accomplishment after eight years during Republican Edward Mangano’s reign as county executive when there were no reassessments and no certified assessor in charge.
During this time, $2.7 billion was shifted from people who challenged their property taxes to those who didn’t – who just so happened to be younger, less affluent and more likely to be a member of a minority.
And the county was left with a $70 million bill each year payable to the people who successfully challenged their property tax bill – often at the urging of county legislators. This occurred at a time when firms hired to challenge property tax bills were among the largest campaign contributors to the county executive and legislators.
Nassau County Republicans also said nothing during this period when half the property owners in Nassau County were overpaying their taxes and the other half were underpaying their taxes.
They also said nothing when experts analyzed the reassessment overseen by a certified assessor and found that county assessments were essentially correct.
Instead, Republican legislators have called for the firing of the county assessor, passed legislation vetoed by Curran to hold a referendum asking for the county assessor position to be made an elective position, demanded to see the formula used by the assessor to establish property values and just this week introduced an “Assessment Bill of Rights.”
All with a straight face.
The “Bill of Rights” would require, among other things, the county assessor to live in Nassau County. Why? Isn’t getting more accurate assessments more important? Oh, guess where County Assessor David Moog lives. Queens.
Missing from the Republicans’ list is that the county assessor be certified.
Apparently, Republicans believe that having an uncertified assessor from Nassau elected by their political machine is better than a certified assessor who happens to live in Queens and has demonstrated his ability to do his job right.
The proposed legislation would also limit the county executive’s ability to change the level of assessments so that people who were underpaying their taxes by a large amount would keep their advantage longer — with someone who has been overpaying their taxes footing the bill.
The bill would also require the county assessor to hold multiple hearings throughout the county to answer questions from residents – something he and Curran have already done.
Not so coincidentally, the Republican legislators’ rear-guard action against fixing the assessment system was joined by the PBA, which rented billboard trucks to display the false message that Curran was raising taxes and blare the song “Rich Girl” as if Curran was actually making money by fixing the tax system.
In the end, the protagonist in “Memento” used his memory aids to track down the people who attacked him and killed his wife.
We hope voters will use this editorial to track down the people who have helped make this county’s finances such a mess.