Nassau County has its budget for 2012, a $2.63 billion spending plan passed along party lines that calls for the privatization of the county bus system, closing two police precincts and the potential for hundreds of layoffs for county employees.
“This is not a feel-good budget,” Majority Leader Peter Schmitt, R-Massapequa, said Sunday night during a special meeting of the county legislature. “But is is a budget that is real, one that deals with the problems of the county and a budget which will begin to move the county in the direction that will ultimately ensure long-term fiscal solvency.”
The 11-8 vote, which was passed with numerous additional Republican amendments, including $51 million in potential union layoffs and about $80 million more in concessions.
“Tonight is a vote on a budget that consists of initiatives that are going to require a hearing after we pass the budget to realize the savings that the budget is supposedly coming up with,” Legis. Judy Jacobs, D-Woodbury, said referring to Long Island Bus and the precinct closures.
“It’s disingenuous to put forward a budget document saying there’s going to be shared services or shared responsibility,” Legis. Kevan Abrahams, D-Hempstead, said. “I really boggle at how this actually saves money today not knowing how this legislation is going to break in a couple of weeks when there actually is a hearing.”
Schmitt and Republicans have promised to hold hearings on the privatization of the Long Island Bus as well as the specific precincts which have been targeted for closure, but that have not been identified.
“We’re going to have a busy November and December, that’s the way legislature is supposed to work,” Schmitt said.
“This is not the way budgeting is supposed to work,” Jacobs shot back. “To get a budget that does not make sense to me, that doesn’t have a fallback, is not in the best interest (of the residents).”
The Democratic amendments offered called for no layoffs to union members or tax increase but relied upon using $56 million in rainy day funds – approximately half of the county’s reserve fund – something the Republican majority was unwilling to consider, as according to Schmitt, Nassau’s bond rating would drop significantly.
“You overseeing our bond rating is like Dracula overseeing the blood bank,” said Legis. David Denenberg, D-Merrick.
The budget relies on an additional $450 million in borrowing over the next four years as a way to clear out remaining property tax judgments. The borrowing was approved by NIFA, the state control board overseeing Nassau’s finances. Schmitt described the bonds as “transitional borrowing” as the county moves to a pay-as-you-go assessment system.
“I understand that you don’t like the direction that we’re taking the county in,” Schmitt said. “I understand that you would much rather go with tax increases and not have to make some of these tough cuts that are called for to make.”
Nassau union presidents have come out heavily against the proposals, which CSEA President Jerry Laricchiuta had stated would “destroy” the county and amount to 700 layoffs, rendering entire departments unable to function.
“I believe this vote today is a vote for layoffs,” Laricchiuta said. “It does matter if they have separate vote for layoffs, but I believe that this vote makes $51 million in layoffs essential and then the other $81 million in concessions they’re going to weigh against layoffs.”
When combined with wage freezes imposed by NIFA, the total amount the union is affected by is approximately $150 million.
“What they’re not going to say is don’t call 911, or don’t expect the streets to get plowed and if that traffic light’s out, it’s going to stay out for a few days, and God forbid anybody in our family has to go to social services,” Laricchiuta said.