Cut $87M to balance Nassau budget next year: report

Cut $87M to balance Nassau budget next year: report
The Nassau County Legislative and Executive Building is seen in Mineola. (Photo by DanTD via Wikimedia Commons)

Nassau County could balance its budget next year with $87.7 million in cuts, including privatizing ambulance service and eliminating spending for crossing guards, according to a report ordered by Nassau’s financial control board.

The report by Great Neck-based Capital Markets Advisors outlines ways the county could save money by either cutting services, shifting services to towns or eliminating unnecessary spending.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority ordered the analysis in March after approving a county budget for 2017 that it projects will have a $57 million deficit.

The report suggests some operational changes that would save money, but the biggest recommended cuts could create political controversy.

Using a private ambulance service rather than the Nassau Police Department would save $15.5 million, and a countywide hiring freeze would save $15 million, the report says. Nearly $14.5 million could be cut if the county stops paying crossing guards and shifts their responsibilities to other municipalities.

The report is not a fiat but a “menu of options” for County Executive Edward Mangano and other lawmakers to consider as they draft a 2018 budget, which is due Sept. 15, NIFA Chairman Adam Barsky said.

“We ultimately don’t care whether it’s these reductions or other reductions they come up with,” Barsky said. “We’re interested in that they balance their budget.”

NIFA paid about $100,000 for the report, Barsky said.

It recommends eliminating services such as volunteer firefighter training, the Office of Minority Affairs and the Veterans Services Agency, as well as across-the-board cuts in some departments.

Park maintenance and youth services should be delegated to local municipalities to save more than $11 million, the report says.

Smaller suggested changes include eliminating paper checks to employees and vendors, and using legal assistants instead of credentialed attorneys for certain work.

The report comes about two weeks before Mangano must release his final proposed budget as county executive. The Republican is not seeking re-election as he faces federal corruption charges.

Given their apparent unwillingness to raise property taxes in recent years, NIFA has pushed county officials to aggressively cut spending to balance the budget without borrowing.

The authority, which has had control of Nassau’s finances since its deficit ballooned in 2011, has threatened to impose cuts on budgets that it says rely too heavily on borrowing or risky revenue sources.

County officials oppose the suggested “draconian” cuts that would “have a severe impact on public safety,” Eric Naughton, the deputy county executive for finance, said Thursday. But “there are ideas in here that we think are worth exploring and have already begun to implement ourselves,” he said.

Nassau is already planning to lose about 300 employees to buyouts this year, which will create “long-term savings,” Naughton said.

NIFA welcomes alternative solutions from the county to close next year’s projected $87 million budget gap, Barsky said. The report is meant to start a conversation about what those might be, he said.

“The mandate to the consultant was not to look at what’s politically popular or unpopular, but what can actually be cut that’s not a required service,” Barsky said.

But the report has already sparked a political backlash.

Former state Sen. Jack Martins, the Republican county executive candidate, called its recommendations “unacceptable” and said the money spent on it should be returned to the county coffers.

“Balancing the budget and making hard choices should be the responsibility of those elected by the people of the county, not an unelected, unaccountable board appointed by New York State — or an outside consultant,” Martins said in a statement Thursday.

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, a Democratic candidate for Mangano’s job, called the report a “complete waste of time” and said across-the-board spending cuts in all departments would be more realistic.

“It’s not a professional approach to take, to recommend items that are not feasible, or that potentially will cost more money once eliminated, or go contrary to policies that the county wants to achieve,” Maragos said in an interview.

Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, Maragos’ opponent in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, said the report speaks to Mangano and Maragos’ fiscal mismanagement.

While it spotlighted some “wasteful practices,” Curran said in a statement, “what I won’t do is make draconian cuts to programs like youth services, gang prevention, and police operations that will weaken our County and put our residents at risk.”

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