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NIFA Mandates Nassau County Pay Freeze

Marlin criticizes proposed sewage deal

For the second consecutive year, Nassau County workers will have their wages frozen.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) made the announcement last week, citing a possible budget deficit this year of up to $100 million.

County Executive Edward Mangano praised the decision as a “stabilizing” force in the budget process.

“The administration and NIFA set forth a multi-year plan that holds the line on property taxes while stabilizing county finances by cutting waste and reining in labor costs,” Mangano said. “The incentive approved by NIFA does just that as it eliminates 100 pay checks from the shoulders of taxpayers.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) also agreed with the move. But he used the occasion to criticize the state of the county budget.

“I agree with NIFA that Ed Mangano needs to do a better job managing the county budget,” Abrahams said. “The fact is, that he hasn’t come close to achieving $150 million in savings and I question whether or not the county executive has the ability to balance the budget without resorting to dismantling the county one piece at a time.”

“Unfortunately, Nassau County is facing very tough times, and the extension of the wage freeze is a necessary component to protect the taxpayers,” added Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt (R-Massapequa.)

The announcement was marked by a statement by NIFA Director George J. Marlin, who, among other things, criticized the county for failing to make necessary savings.

“At NIFA’s December 8, 2011 meeting, I agreed to support the county’s multi-year plan to achieve a GAAP balanced budget contingent on the county cutting $150 million in spending from its 2012 operating budget,” he said. “In my statement, I said: ‘To date, the county has achieved, at best, only 60 percent of those cuts. And the county is two months past its budget-imposed deadline. Today I voted for 60 percent of the county’s capital spending request. If the county does not quickly meet $150 million in cuts, I expect to vote ‘no’on future requests.’”

Marlin especially criticized a plan to privatize the county’s sewage treatment system, denouncing its possible approval as “the biggest one-shot revenue fiscal abuse in the county’s history.”

According to published reports, the sewage deal could have an asking price of up to $1 billion. But Marlin expressed skepticism over the plan.

“The devil will be in the details,” he said. “But I find it hard to believe that the county will negotiate a deal with a for-profit corporation that will not result in significant increases in sewer charges for Nassau’s overtaxed residents.

“It appears to me that the sole motivation for leasing the sewer systems is to get one-shot revenue that at the end of the day will not fix the county’s structural operating deficit,” he continued. “‘One shots’ do not eliminate structural deficits and excessive reliance on them is frowned upon by rating agencies and financial analysts.”

Marlin also addressed the recently approved police precinct closing plan, expressing concern that “the memos of understanding with the police and detective unions announced [recently] may wipe out some, most or all of the police precinct closings projected savings.”

More concerns came over the county’s contracting procedures. Marlin released a letter he wrote recently to the New York State Comptroller’s office, in which he claimed that the county, in 2011, “may have violated regulations, procedures and laws related to contracts over $25,000 on numerous occasions.” The letter added that, “there have also been complaints from charities that provide essential social services for the poor and disabled that the county has delayed…forwarding their federally and state-funded contracts to NIFA for approval.”

He added that Ira McCracken, the examiner-in-charge of the audit is planning an investigation on those same concerns.