Nassau County’s snowballing budget woes are only beginning.
Pat Foye, Deputy Nassau County Executive for Economic Development, put in his resignation Monday, the same day the county filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of the New York State fiscal watchdog panel that took over the county’s finances last week.
Foye refused to elaborate beyond a statement in which he said he does not support the lawsuit against the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA). But his statement, which also cited “smears” that he called “reprehensible,” was issued the same day Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, held a press conference to detail why he believes the six members of NIFA are “ethically challenged.”
“The advice [County Executive Ed Mangano] has received to sue the state—the same state to which the county now looks for legislative and other support—and for others to smear duly appointed members of a state board created to help elected county officials fix Nassau is irresponsible and wrong,” Foye said in the statement. He added the lawsuit: “will be costly, very likely will fail and, most importantly, win or lose, will add nothing to a long-term solution of the county’s many woes.”
In a statement issued Monday evening through his spokesman, Mangano thanked Foye for his service but said he disagreed with Foye’s opinion on NIFA enacting a so-called control period. Nassau County attorneys filed its lawsuit against NIFA Monday afternoon at State Supreme Court in Mineola. But the war of words was already waging well before the lawsuit was officially commenced.
“These people were never elected” Schmitt exclaimed, claiming that NIFA is trying to usurp power from Mangano and the county legislature. The six members, all volunteers, were appointed over the years by various governors since the board was first created under a prior fiscal crisis in 2000.
NIFA had voted unanimously ruled that the county’s $2.6 billion budget had a potential $176 million hole in it—seven times the state-mandated 1 percent minimum deficit trigger to take over, or $26 million. The board did not take the more drastic step of declaring a fiscal emergency, which would have given the board the power to freeze public employees’ salaries. Under the control period, NIFA can veto county contracts and have a say on the county’s short- and long-term borrowing.
Schmitt said he plans to hold legislative hearings in which he said he will call each NIFA member before the rules committee to explore their background and their reasons for supporting the takeover despite the county’s claims that the 2011 budget is balanced. He accused the board of being politically motivated.
Politically, the board is diverse. Ronald Stack, the chairman, Leonard Steinman and Christopher Wright are Democrats, Thomas Stokes is a Republican, George Marlin is a Conservative and Robert Wild is an independent. Stack has denied that he has an agenda beyond fixing the county’s finances.
Schmitt said NIFA is trying to force the county’s hand to increase property taxes, something Schmitt reiterated he “will not do.” Under its mandate, however, NIFA does not have the power to raise taxes.
Nassau County Legislative Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) criticized both Mangano and Schmitt for failing “to respond responsibly and professionally.”
“Whether you agree with the decision or not,” Yatauro said after Schmitt’s announcement, “it has the authority to involve itself in our financial crisis. We must work together in a cooperative manner to provide renewed confidence in our fiscal condition for the economic marketplace and all our residents. Lawsuits will create greater hardships for beleaguered taxpayers, and inappropriate, harsh comments will only make the solutions more difficult.”
-With Timothy Bolger