Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 30 October 2009 00:00
In the race for Nassau County Executive, Democrat Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove will attempt to retain the post he has held since 2002. He is running against longtime Republican Legislator Ed Mangano of Bethpage.
Tom Suozzi is running for a third term as the Nassau County Executive. The election year may be his toughest because of the tough fiscal times that have hit Nassau County residents. However, Suozzi believes he has done his part to control taxes while improving the financial status of the county. His most recent budget for the 2010 year calls for no tax increase on the county’s portion of the property tax bill, although his Republican opponents have been critical of a 2.5 percent Home Energy Tax that was implemented this year.
“People are fed up with property taxes,” said Suozzi, pointing out that the county portion is only 16.9 percent of the total property tax bill. “We’ve kept the property taxes in the county relatively under control while they’ve gone up dramatically in other places.”
In six of his last seven years, there was no property tax increase in the county budget. “Property taxes have always been the big issue the whole time I’ve been in office. Even with the bad financial condition that the whole world is facing, I couldn’t raise the property taxes,” said Suozzi, pointing out the county has the highest bond rating it has had in the last 13 years. “We’ve managed to keep the county’s finances stable. We’ve done it keeping the property taxes under control. We’ve managed to keep our bond ratings stable.”
In a tough fiscal time when municipalities are struggling with budget cuts, Suozzi believes it has taken tough decisions to present fiscally responsible budgets to taxpayers including the 2010 budget. “It was very difficult to do because we have a lot of increases in expenses that are mandated,” he said, noting that expenses that have increased such as pay raises negotiated in union contracts the county had to absorb. Suozzi said the “no tax increase” budget was made possible by the efforts made to reduce expenses.
Reducing the county’s workforce was the main initiative that was used to contain costs. Suozzi said there are 1,000 fewer county workers now than when he took office in 2002. The 2010 budget also calls for 700 fewer workers than the 2009 budget. “That’s not easy to do. We’ve had to, for example, do a lot of civilianization in the police department so we could keep the same number of officers on the street, but reduce the size of the overall headcount and our crime rate the lowest it’s been in 30 years,” he said.
While his opponents have criticized Suozzi for not making enough spending cuts, he said the Republican caucus of the Nassau County Legislature hasn’t proposed anything specific they would have done differently.
Suozzi has been outspoken on the high property taxes paid by Nassau residents because of the various levels of government and has focused some of his attention on New York State (he had a “Fix Albany” campaign and chaired a statewide commission on property tax relief) because he feels the property tax burden is unfairly being passed down from the state too heavily on the residents of Nassau County. “It’s a statewide systemic problem that needs to be addressed,” he said of property taxes. “The problem is in Albany. Local taxes in New York State are 78 percent above the national average, the highest local taxes in America. We have to fix it systemically.”
In his next term in office, Suozzi hopes to work on economic development and revitalization. He recently presented a master plan for the future development for Nassau County, entitled 90/10 Master Plan. “Ninety percent of Nassau County needs to stay exactly the way it is now. We have to keep all the stuff we love about Nassau County,” said Suozzi, pointing out that the county has four big problems — property taxes, young people not moving to the county, traffic and pockets of poverty. “Ten percent of Nassau County has to be completely re-imagined and redeveloped in a way that expands the tax base, attracts young people to live here, gets people to not necessarily take their car everywhere they want to go and cleans up blighted areas.”
He supports the “Cool Downtown” initiatives to revitalize downtown areas and has strongly supported the Lighthouse Project, which includes a new Nassau Coliseum and development of the area around it. “The Lighthouse Project is essential to the longterm future of Nassau County,” Suozzi said.
Suozzi believes the county is providing better services and has been more fiscally responsible since he took office as Nassau County Executive. “We’re providing services and we’re doing it well. It’s difficult but we’re trying to do it in a way that’s affordable to the taxpayers,” he said.
Suozzi is running on the Democratic, Independent and Working Families Party lines.
The Republican candidate for Nassau County Executive, Ed Mangano of Bethpage, has been involved in Nassau County government, having represented the 17th Legislative District for the past decade. Mangano believes the county is being led in the wrong direction and vows to put the county back on the right fiscal path, easing the tax burden on Nassau residents. He has even formed his own party line. In addition to running on the Republican line, Mangano is also running on the Tax Revolt Party line.
Concerned that the current generation is struggling to stay in the county and financial burdens are being placed on future generations, Mangano vows to help county taxpayers by repealing a 2.5 percent Home Energy Tax that was placed this year on all forms of residential energy including electric, oil, gas and even firewood, fix a broken assessment system that is costing the county millions each year and rid the county of patronage positions.
“Nassau County has been significantly mismanaged over the last eight years with respect to finances. This budget does nothing more than kick the can down the road and it’s a real problem. While it claims it’s a ‘no tax increase’ budget, it’s more sleight of hand because it contains a Home Energy Tax. The independent budget review office said that tax is equivalent to a 4.5 percent property tax increase,” said Mangano of the 2010 county budget, which he voted against. “It creates a further burden on all the citizens of Nassau County.”
If elected Nassau County Executive, Mangano plans on repealing the Home Energy Tax that was put into effect by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and the Democratic majority of the county legislature in order to fill a projected deficit in the budget. The tax remains in effect for 2010 and, according to
Republican critics of the tax, is particularly damaging to seniors who need oil or gas to heat their homes in the winter.
Mangano feels the tax can be repealed and the county can make up the money it would generate by fixing the county’s property assessment system, which he said loses $100 million of the “taxpayers’ hard-earned money each and every year.”
“It is now not only crushing our generation, but it is resulting in indebting future generations to the tune of $1 billion. The state watchdog agency (Nassau Interim Finance Authority or NIFA) says and I agree that the property tax assessment system must be fixed or Nassau County is heading toward insolvency in 2012,” Mangano said.
The problem of a broken assessment system, according to Mangano, is a problem that requires immediate attention and he is committed to fixing it. “This administration managed to take what should be an easily understandable system and create significant errors in it,” he said, adding that despite 300 county employees working on the assessment system and a new computer system, the error rate remains unchanged. “It still continues to lose $100 million a year.”
Mangano proposes freezing property assessments and allow them to be corrected over a period of four years. “We have a plan to freeze, fix and save Nassau County taxpayers $100 million a year,” he said. “Tom Suozzi specifically promised not to borrow to pay back property tax assessments. Yet, he continues to do so. It’s wrong for our generation and it’s certainly irresponsible and wrong to burden future generations.”
Mangano has also been critical of the current administration for having too many high-paying, patronage jobs in spite of Suozzi’s initiative to reduce the county workforce by 1,000. “The people who have lost their jobs are the people that cut the grass, take care of your parks and plow the roads while he has doubled his staff in size, costing taxpayers $22 million a year more. Over eight years, it’s $176 million wasted on excess managements while Nassau County continues to plunge deeper in debt to the tune of $150 million in debt this year with [NIFA] projecting a $226 million deficit by the year 2012,” he said. “The solutions [Suozzi] offers in his four-year plan are nothing more than continued tax increases and it’s just the wrong direction for Nassau County.”
Mangano believes it is time for a new direction for Nassau County. He vows to fix the assessment system, reducing the money being paid out to property tax refunds as well as the interest on money being borrowed to pay them. He also vows to cut back patronage positions, end the Home Energy Tax and create local jobs. “This election is about the person who has the knowledge, experience and desire to fix Nassau County not only for our generation, but for our future generations. I have that experience,” he said.
Mangano is running under the Republican and Tax Revolt Party lines.