With the new 2011 fiscal year less than half a month away and a massive budget deficit, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, R-Bethpage, announced $23 million in "cuts and efficiencies" on top of an already slashed budget.
"Government has gotten fat over the last 10 years and quite frankly we're putting government on a diet," Mangano said at a press conference Thursday at the Legislative building. The new budget cuts "will serve to provide a cushion into the 2011 year," and are about "right sizing government, reducing costs and saving taxpayer dollars," Mangano said, also touting that there would be no property tax increase in the 2011 budget.
Joined by Legislative Majority Leader Peter Schmitt, R-Massapequa, and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, Mangano said the savings will be realized with $15 million gleaned from implementing an immediate hiring freeze on non-essential employees, $5 million in reducing government supplies and contract expenses, $2 million from the Department of Emergencies through shared staff and reduced administration positions, $1 million from a reduction in unused telephone lines and $1 million from a new marketing initiative within the parks system.
"I'm very proud of the fact that the Legislature and the county executive were able to produce a no tax increase budget," Schmitt said, adding that he "vowed to determine that that budget is going to remain in balance no matter what it takes."
Some of the contracts savings will be realized by purchasing supplies through the consortium with Suffolk County and through an effort to "reduce our office supply use," Mangano said. The county is reportedly replacing 18,000 phone lines with a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system.
When asked what was meant by non-essential personnel, Mangano pointed out that the county had reduced its police force to 2,233 "while maintaining the same amount of police on the street," explaining the number was important due to contractual obligations on overtime. Certain mandated positions as well as those which are funded through grants - which bring money into the county - were not cut. The county is reportedly under budget on positions.
Mangano also mentioned that a new bill will be placed before the Legislature for various departmental mergers, including consolidation of the Department of Real Estate, Planning and Development into the Department of Public Works and integration within the Department of Human Services, which will consolidate the Departments of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services, Senior Citizens Affairs, Physically Challenged and the Youth Board under one management system.
The county executive said that an announcement would be made next week as to the new structure of the departments after the Legislature had reviewed the bill. "Yes, we have a management plan in place," he said, adding that "we expect our managers to work more like private sector managers," meaning working outside the typical hours of 9 a.m. to 4:55 p.m.
Any departmental mergers would have to be reviewed by the Legislature before they can be implemented. The next meeting of the County Legislature is scheduled for Monday morning.
"We will act ... after we review the legislation to ensure what the county executive said that it's not going to have an impact on the services," Schmitt said.
According to a Nov. 30 release, Comptroller Maragos predicted that the county would end fiscal 2010 with a projected $5 million surplus. "The financial condition of the county is stable," he said, adding that the 2011 budget is projected to be balanced as well. "It's going to be a difficult year, major cuts have to be made."
Nassau is currently facing a projected fiscal deficit of $343 million. The Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) may take over the county finances if Nassau runs a budget deficit of 1 percent or more. Using the county's current $2.6 billion budget, $75 million would total just under 3 percent. Also, costs associated with pensions and health care for pubic employees are expected to sharply rise in 2011 from the state. "Those dollars can be used in preparation of next year's budget to offset some of those increasing costs," Schmitt said.
"All budgets have risk, we've identified the risk in our budget, we've also identified significant contingencies in our budget should any of those risks come to fruition," Mangano said, adding that "every opportunity that there is to save money we will save money."
NIFA has also expressed concerns about the county's finances, reportedly asking that the total amount of bonding for tax certiorari settlements for 2011 be in place before the fiscal year begins, a move that would require more bonding. Mangano recently came to an agreement with Legislative Minority Leader Diane Yatauro, D-Glen Cove, on $50 million in borrowing for the settlements, lower than the $75 million he originally requested.
"Should NIFA believe that that bonding should be in place prior to the submission to the Legislature, I would like to discuss that with the presiding officer and the minority leader. I have drafted the proper legislation to keep that in check," Mangano said Thursday.
"It takes two years to turn around those structural problems. This budget, the way it's presented, should be supported by everybody. This budget and the next budget gets you to turn this county around, to stop the crazy borrowing, to stop the shenanigans, to make this county look like every other county in the state. And that's the problem with Nassau County, it does not look like every other county."