Nassau County Legislature OKs $10M of pandemic relief funds for county celebrations

Nassau County Legislature OKs $10M of pandemic relief funds for county celebrations
The Nassau County Legislative building. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

The Nassau County Legislature voted to spend $10 million of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money on the county’s 125th-anniversary celebration next year, a plan that sparked criticism of Republican County Executive Bruce Blakeman by a key Democrat official.

“The passing of this legislation will continue our program to increase tourism and economic development by marketing the county in a very positive way,” Blakeman said in a statement to Blank Slate. “Past administrations have been negligent to the point of governmental malpractice by not showcasing the top-notch cultural sites, hospital network, beaches, parks, restaurants, entertainment venues, and shopping Nassau has to offer.”

He added, “During this difficult economic period sales tax revenues and tourism have been on the rise and the only way to keep property taxes low is to increase the tax base with economic development.“

District 11 Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), who is soon to be minority caucus leader, pushed back against the move in her long fight to see the funds allotted to their original purpose.

“For months, more than $12 million in itemized ARPA requests to support organizations that promote public safety, fight hunger, combat homelessness, support small businesses, and enhance youth services have languished with the Blakeman administration,” DeRiggi-Whitton said.

“The fact that $10 million for lavish 125th anniversary galas, parades and marketing is ready to fly through the Legislature shows just out of touch the administration is with the needs and interests of everyday Nassau residents,” she said. “It is the latest glaring example of how County Executive Blakeman is continuing to exploit federal recovery funds to promote himself and feed his own ego instead of meeting the needs of Nassau County’s residents.”

The $10 million is coming from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, which was a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus dispersed by the federal government to municipalities to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds can be allocated to COVID-19-related relief, which includes projects to assist hard-hit industries and economic recovery, such as through tourism as justified in the county’s expenditure of these funds Monday.

This money will go toward the county’s funding and promotion of galas, parades and other events for its 125th anniversary celebration in 2024.

The measure was passed along party lines by the Finance and Rules committees on Dec. 4, with support coming from the Republican members. It was approved in a final vote Monday in the Nassau County legislature.

DeRiggi-Whitton has been a staunch advocate for the disbursement of the county’s pandemic relief money, pushing for the funds to be spent on water infrastructure upgrade projects or even to be put in the hands of small business owners, not-for-profits and individuals still recovering from the pandemic.

As a member of the county Legislature’s Rules Committee, DeRiggi-Whitton said she voted against the measure because of concerns about its implementation.

“I think it’s outrageous to have a gala and things like that-for-profits,” DeRiggi-Whitton said.

She said that while she supports the millions of dollars that go toward the county’s parks to promote tourism and contracts, she disagrees that the COVID-19 relief funds should be going towards this initiative.

“There’s so many things we can do with this money and, in my opinion, it’s what it was really designed for,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It’s supposed to help with recovery from COVID. That’s what it’s designated for…many people are out there suffering.”

With the plans going forward to spend $10 million on the county’s celebration, DeRiggi-Whitton said she has heard of no other plans to disperse the remainder of the pandemic relief funds, which amount to more than $200 million. Those decisions on where the money goes are up to Blakeman’s office, she said.

DeRiggi-Whitton said she does not know what the plans are for the celebrations, but the idea of a gala is in line with Blakeman’s desires.

“This is his taste,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “This is his preference, but I think he’s a little out of touch with the needs of many, many families and businesses, small businesses in our county.”

Going forward, DeRiggi-Whitton said she will be pushing for the continued disbursement of relief funds.

​​The county has until the end of 2024 to allocate the federal COVID-19 relief funds, and until the end of 2026 to spend them. If it does not meet those deadlines, the county will be forced to return the money.

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