Nassau Dems, GOP Reach Tax Refund Deal

nassau legislature
The Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola.
The Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola.

Democrats and Republicans in the Nassau County Legislature broke a stalemate Monday and unanimously approved emergency measures to borrow $40 million toward paying about $400 in backlogged real estate property tax refunds.

About half of the tax refund settlements will be sent to residents with the rest going to businesses, pending approval of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), the New York State-appointed fiscal control board. The deal includes expected approval of another $35 million in September to pay judgments from businesses owed on the condition that another $20 million in rebates will be paid from the county’s operating budget—a total of $95 million that should cut the backlog by a quarter.

“There are times when bipartisanship does work, and this is one of them,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said before the vote. “It’s a step in the right direction and it may be one of a few down the road.”

The breakthrough came more than a year after members of the Democratic minority started withholding the three votes the 10-9 GOP legislative majority needed to approve bonding for the settlements as a bargaining chip in a redistricting debate, which ended earlier this year.

“Even though it took a long time … working together does work and that is why this is going through today,” Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said. “Let’s hope that it is a sign of the future.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) missed the vote but he released a statement that read: “I’m pleased we can come to a bipartisan agreement that pays Nassau homeowners the refunds they are rightfully owed, while reducing our reliance on borrowing in the future.”

Gonsalves noted that the deal means $3 million in county funds can be redirected to youth groups that suffered deep cuts last summer, some of which were later restored. She also added that residents recovering from Superstorm Sandy will be able to use the funds most.

The deal comes less than a month after Republicans frustrated with Democrats withholding the needed votes filled the legislative chamber with a dozen pallets of paperwork related to the tax refund settlements, some of which date back to the 1990s.

Long-time county borrowing to repay the tax refunds in part sparked a fiscal crisis a decade ago that led to NIFA’s creation. It is not clear if NIFA will approve the borrowing or when the board will meet next.

“This plan ensures homeowners will be given a priority in receiving their rightful refunds,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said in a statement. “Bipartisan cooperation has allowed us to pay homeowners their rightful refunds, correct errors we inherited from the past and move Nassau County forward.”