Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 17 February 2012 00:00
Since the inception of the Nassau County Legislature in 1996, Peter Schmitt has had a few titles. In addition to Legislator representing the 12th Legislative District, he has been Deputy Presiding Officer, Minority Leader and, since Republicans gained back control of the Legislature in the 2009 elections, Majority Leader and Presiding Officer.
“The future of the county, Massapequa and its well-being is of the utmost importance of me,” said Schmitt during an interview with Anton Community Newspapers, adding that this is especially true because his daughter also lives in Massapequa as will his future grandchild.
As the leader of Nassau Republicans, Schmitt is often the lawmaker who most publicly spars with Democrats over policy-making decisions.Schmitt spoke with Anton Community Newspapers about the economic challenges facing Nassau County. He defended the actions taken by himself, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Republicans in power and further said he will continue to pursue the Republicans’ agenda because of the results of last year’s election, when Republicans held onto the majority in the Legislature. He said those results vindicate their positions and are a statement from the public that they wish Schmitt and the Republicans to continue their policies.
“They’re not going to get away with it – not on my watch,” said Schmitt of the efforts of Democratic legislators to rally support against Republican proposals. “They’re trying to achieve their goals of the last election and the public said no. We’re elected to do what we said we were going to do and we’re going to do it.”
Schmitt’s said it is of the utmost priority to present a budget without tax increases. To do this, he said cutbacks have been made including layoffs of Nassau CSEA workers. Schmitt acknowledged that the layoffs will reduce some services, but said this is far less egregious than keeping all of the positions and then burdening Nassau residents with higher taxes.
“You can’t layoff CSEA workers and then tell residents that their streets will be plowed as quickly,” said Schmitt. However, he emphasized that the layoffs and the resulting savings achieved were absolutely necessary.
“People are barely hanging on,” said Schmitt. “I don’t think unions understand how bad it is out there.”
Schmitt added that further layoffs could come if necessary to achieve a budget without tax increases.
“A lot if this could have been avoided if unions would make a deal,” said Schmitt. “They didn’t think I could get the votes. They were wrong.”
Another union that is battling Schmitt is the PBA, which is strongly criticizing the County Executive’s plan to restructure the police department into four precincts and convert four other precincts into community policing centers. However, Schmitt not only states that the move is necessary to reduce costs, he said it is extremely practical and will not impact public safety. Schmitt said that precincts are divided into sectors and the number of patrol cars in each sector will not change. Furthermore, he said that currently each precinct has officers who never leave the precinct and are making $200,000 in salary to answer phones and file paperwork. Schmitt stated that the average Nassau County police officer makes about $195,000 when salary, benefits and overtime are considered and that superior officers earn about $250,000.
“There have been tremendous increases in communications,” said Schmitt. “The idea that you need eight precincts that you had 40 years ago is ludicrous. The PBA said we should raise taxes on our residents to give them more raises. Enough is enough, so we said no. Police unions are trying to protect their feather bedding.”
Schmitt dismissed claims that the restructuring will impact public safety saying that the Police Commissioner has assured him that public safety will not be impacted and Schmitt further said he follows the recommendations of the commissioner and not of the PBA or the Democrats. He also took a swipe at Democrats, referring to a report that the PBA contributed about $598,000 to Nassau Democratic candidates in 2011.
“The other side made a deal with them,” said Schmitt of the Democrats. “As far as I’m concerned, Scannell and Whitton are bought and paid for.”
Under the proposed plan, Schmitt said that 48 precinct officers would be reassigned as “problem oriented policing” (POP) and that he hopes 100 officers who “do no work” would retire. If those retirements do not come, Schmitt said that layoffs are a definite possibility.
Schmitt also said that Democrats are doing fear-mongering regarding Republican proposals to get their points across, and he says they’re doing it without basis. He referenced the recent privatization of Nassau’s bus lines as an example of this. Schmitt said that the MTA was demanding an additional $35 million and would have cut bus routes in half, something he said would have been detrimental to both county finances and also would have severely impacted public service as many Nassau residents rely on the buses for transportation. Schmitt credited Mangano for his solution of privatizing the buses to keep them running and avoiding the additional payments to the MTA. He added that Democrats were against this from the start, and despite their warnings, the plan, he said, has gone smoothly.
“We did it almost two months ago and the sky didn’t fall and the clocks didn’t stop,” said Schmitt.
Schmitt also took issue with Democratic criticisms of Republican fiscal policies, saying that Republicans have made cuts that have achieved $104 million in recurring savings. He said that Democrats have voted against each of the Republican majority’s cost-saving measures. Democrats presented a budget proposal, which they said called for no layoffs but used $56 million of the county’s reserve funds. Schmitt dismissed this plan saying that lowering a reserve fund would result in Wall Street downgrading the county’s bond rating. He said this would be a financial disaster, as it would then cost the county more to borrow. He further said that the reserve fund is intended for unanticipated bills so the county has access to money for expenses such as the cleanup of a snowstorm.
“That’s why they’re called reserves,” said Schmitt. “Suozzi had projected the reserve fund to be 4 to 5 percent of the total budget and we’re nowhere near there.”
He also dismissed claims by Democrats that Republicans wasted money on redistricting Nassau County’s legislative districts and on the Nassau Coliseum referendum. He said that the Republicans followed the county charter when redrawing the district lines, something he says that Democrats did not do when they were in charge in 2003. He said the validity of the new lines was confirmed by the court decision, which found those lines to be valid, although the decision prohibited their use in 2011. He also said the Coliseum referendum had to be done in August as the Islanders had said that Election Day would be too late to have a decision and many districts were not holding primaries in September. Democrats have charged that the scheduling of the vote wasted money and was done when many were away on vacation in the hopes of getting the project approved. Because of that vote, Schmitt now strongly asserts that public money will not be used to redevelop the property in keeping with the wishes of that vote.
Going forward, Schmitt vows to stick to his promise of no tax increases and said he will continue to do so despite the criticism of Democrats and unions.
“At least we have a message; they’ve presented no plans,” said Schmitt.