Nassau County residents would not see their property taxes rise next year under County Executive Edward Mangano’s proposed $3 billion budget as a result of recent economic growth, Mangano said.
But it includes millions of dollars in fee increases — including a $105 addition to traffic and parking fines — critics say are no better than a tax hike.
The higher fees offset $78 million in added county expenses next year, $57 million of which stems from higher wages, pension contributions and other employment costs, said Brian Nevin, a Mangano spokesman.
Keeping property taxes flat is “part and parcel” with the county’s economic strength, evidenced by its job growth and unemployment rate, the lowest in the region, Mangano said. He proposed a 1.2 percent tax increase last year before the county Legislature removed it by ultimately overriding Mangano’s veto.
“Every single economic indicator is positive as a result of our policies here,” Mangano said in an interview on Tuesday. “That’s why we again have resisted increasing property taxes because our economy is growing pursuant to our policies.”
Nearly $64.4 million in revenue from a new public safety fee would help fund the hiring of 150 new uniformed police officers and 81 civilian public safety personnel, such as 911 operators and security officers, Mangano said.
The fee would add $105 to the cost of any county parking or traffic ticket, hiking the cheapest parking ticket to $220 from $115 and the cost of a red light camera violation to $200 from $95.
That and another $175 fee for booting illegally parked vehicles are among 11 new fees and dozens of other smaller fee increases that would bring the county more than $82.5 million in revenue next year.
Growing the police force with fee revenue will lighten the department’s burden when it comes to staffing public events and department programs, in turn reducing overtime spending, Mangano said. It would also support a counterterrorism force, he said.
“These are fees for services. This service happens to be one of the most important services that has brought Nassau County to be one of the safest large suburban count[ies] in the United States of America,” Mangano said.
County Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), leader of the Democratic minority and a member of the Legislature’s Finance Committee, called the fee hikes a “back-door tax increase” and criticized Mangano for not funding the police hiring more incrementally.
While public safety must be a priority, a $200 traffic ticket charge is “offensive” and higher costs for construction and home improvement permits discourage development and growth, Abrahams said.
“When you see fees that are growing by three times their rate you might as well raise taxes, because these fees are onerous,” he said.
Mangano also proposed fee increases last year that drew criticism from Republican County Clerk Marueen O’Connell, and County Comptroller George Maragos questioned his $35.6 million revenue projection then.
The projection for public safety fee revenue is based on the county resolving 8.1 percent fewer parking and traffic tickets than in 2015, Nevin said in an email.
The Nassau police department’s average compensation for its 2,344 employees was $150,292 in the 2015-16 fiscal year, the second-highest among county police forces statewide, according to a Sept. 8 report from the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank.
Thirteen of the state’s 20 highest-paid local employees were Nassau County police officers, the report says.
The budget aims to pay for the police force’s present-day needs on the backs of residents and nonresidents who break the law rather than every resident who pays property taxes, Mangano said.
“It’s the least onerous way to significantly fund an increase in our police force,” he said.
The Legislature will hold a series of budget hearings before its Oct. 31 deadline to approve a budget, which will be subject to review by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state oversight board that controls the county’s finances.
Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the deputy presiding officer and ranking member of the Finance Committee, said he has not reviewed Mangano’s budget and declined to comment on it, as did Cristina Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Republican majority caucus.
“NIFA staffers are still reviewing the county executive’s budget proposals,” said a spokesman for the board, who declined to comment further.
NIFA was created in 2000 to steer the county back from the brink of bankruptcy and will not be dissolved until the county balances its budget without borrowing for operating expenses. The authority instituted tighter controls over Nassau’s finances in 2011, when it said the county faced a $176 million deficit.
Mangano’s budget would would set aside $5 million in operating expenses to pay for tax grievances next year and reduce borrowing for them to $60 million. The county plans to eliminate such borrowing by 2018, the budget says.
But Maragos has reported that Nassau has borrowed more than $103 million for operating expenses as of Aug. 1. NIFA has estimated the county will have a $130 million deficit by the end of the year.
Mangano submitted a plan to NIFA to cut more than $50 million in spending, reducing the 2016 deficit to $80 million as NIFA has required.