Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano announced $121 million in budget cuts Wednesday, including employee layoffs and service reductions, in response to a takeover by a state fiscal watchdog.
Mangano, who lost a court challenge earlier this week opposing the takeover by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said he is slashing the county’s $2.6 billion budget rather than calling for a 21.5 percent property tax increase.
“That’s not happening,” Mangano said. “The last thing Nassau County residents need in these tough economic times is a double-digit tax increase.
Mangano said he would present a detailed proposal on the $121 million in cuts to the county legislature next week, but said “hundreds of people” could be affected. He also said some staff cuts will come through attrition; not filling positions currently open. Although some municipal contracts have provisions barring layoffs, he said NIFA‘s unanimous vote in January to impose a “control period” on county finances would supersede those contract provisions.
The county has about 9,000 employees.
“Anxiety, frustration and sadness is what I am hearing from my members,” said Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents about 6,500 county workers. Police, corrections and other unions account for the remainder of the work force.
“We have people who are very frightened; they don’t know if they are going to be able to stay in their homes,” he said. “We’re not the problem; we’re taxpayers, too.”
Mangano, a first-term Republican who ran as a “tax revolt” candidate, also said he will seek approval from NIFA for a wage freeze, which would account for $10 million in savings.
NIFA Chairman Ronald Stack did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but the agency announced it would meet March 24 to review the latest proposal.
Mangano has steadfastly contended the county’s 2011 spending plan is balanced, but NIFA auditors cited a $176 million gap. The county executive said his detailed proposal next week would explain how the remaining $55 million gap not included in his $121 million proposal would be closed.
Some of Nassau County’s fiscal mess is attributed to a convoluted property tax assessment system.
In an arrangement created decades ago, the county pays refunds to property owners who claim their school tax assessments are too high, even though the county has no say in the operation of schools. That forces Nassau to borrow $100 million annually to refund homeowners.
Mangano said NIFA will no longer allow the county to borrow that money, putting additional pressure on his budget.
Nassau also has had to contend with the widespread effects of the Great Recession: shortfalls in sales tax revenue, increases in employee health care and social services costs, police overtime and other issues. But it also is strapped with lavish union contracts; more than half of the county’s 2,400-member police department earned more than $150,000 last year.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.