NIFA Blasts Mangano’s Proposed Nassau Budget

NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman, left, and board member George Marlin, right, at their first meeting together Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013.
NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman, left, and board member George Marlin, right, at their first meeting together Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013.

The watchdog agency that controls Nassau County’s budget warned County Executive Ed Mangano of holes in his proposed $2.8-billion 2014 budget three weeks before the county legislature expects to vote on it.

After approving most of a combined $56 million in contracts, the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority echoed Democratic county legislators’ concerns over Republican Mangano’s proposed budget and issued a report critical of his four-year plan—projecting deficits ballooning more than $150 million annually in 2015 and beyond.

“It is our hope that a resolution is forthcoming,” Jon Kaiman, in his first meeting as newly appointed NIFA chair, said Wednesday of another potential big bill: a pending county union lawsuit seeking $231 million in back wages since the board enacted a wage freeze in 2010. While signaling an openness to reaching a settlement, he said the recouping of those wages was “unlikely.”

Kaiman, the former North Hempstead town supervisor, last month replaced Ronald Stack, who led NIFA for most of his tenure on the panel that New York State enacted in 2000 after then-Republican County Executive Tom Gulotta mismanaged Nassau’s finances into near bankruptcy.

“Because of the uncertainty contained in the proposed plan, NIFA will continue to carefully monitor the county and be on the lookout for backsliding,” the board concluded in its review of Mangano’s proposed 2014-2017 fiscal plan.

“When can NIFA lift controls?” asked George Marlin, NIFA’s most outspoken member. “Never, unless the county wants controls to be lifted and stops borrowing for operating expenses, makes the hard decisions and produces a…balanced budget.”

He and the board expressed concern that Mangano is still disregarding generally accepted accounting principles by counting borrowed money as revenue in the operating budget and borrowing to repay property tax settlements.

County Comptroller George Maragos, a Republican, issued a report Thursday also urging Mangano to stop borrowing so much to repay the average of $63 million annually in such tax refunds, of which the county has a $300 million backlog.

The NIFA analysis included a contract amendment reportedly negotiated between Mangano and the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association that could settle the lawsuit. PBA President James Carver called the signal that NIFA would like to sit down an encouraging change from the board’s prior stance under Stack.

Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the Democratic minority leader in the county legislature, has called Mangano’s proposed 2014 budget “seriously flawed” for its failure to plan for the possibility of losing the wage freeze lawsuit, among other expenses.

“We need to know where the money comes from,” Abrahams said this week. “The county executive is just crossing his fingers and hoping for the best.”

The county officials—all of whom are up for re-election Nov. 5—will continue debating and tweaking the budget through Halloween, when the legislature is required to approve it.

Tom Suozzi, the former Democratic Nassau County executive running for his old job after Mangano ousted him four years ago, said the criticism of his successor illustrates the point he’s been trying to make on the campaign trail.

“This confirms what I’ve been saying, that Ed Mangano is a fiscal phony,” he told reporters in a conference call, proposing a plan to pay back the tax refunds with tax credits to save money. “He’s in over his head and we’re in the red.”

Mangano said when he faced Suozzi in their first debate of the campaign this week that the former county exec had his chance to clean up the fiscal crisis and left behind a mess.

“The more we work together, the more efficient we become, the more money we save for all of you,” he told the audience in his closing remarks Tuesday.