It was ostensibly a press conference to announce the proposed 2022 budget. But there was no doubt that election concerns were also on Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s mind as she stood in front of the county government building to talk about her spending plan on Sept. 15.
The Democrat is running for another four-year term and will be challenged by Republican Bruce Blakeman, a longtime fixture on the county’s political scene.
In Curran’s view, there was a BC (Before Curran) era in county government that was fixed by her election in 2017.
“In 2017, the year before I came into office, Nassau County reported a $122 million deficit,” Curran began. “We had a mess to clean up, and I was not going to let our residents pay the price for the irresponsible mismanagement of the past.”
What happened under her tenure, she continued, was “three consecutive balanced budgets without raising property taxes, and I directed my team to find creative ways to close the massive gaps in the county’s budget without cutting critical services to our residents. Services like public safety, public health and infrastructure improvements. Three years of strategic fiscal discipline paid off and county finances are now in the strongest position in decades.”
At a press conference the day before, the Republican Legislative Majority challenged Curran to submit a budget with tax cuts.
She claimed she delivered, providing “relief for hard-working homeowners here in Nassau County. This budget provides $150 million in property tax cuts over the next four years, including slashing $70 million in property taxes for 2022.”
According to Curran, homeowners with a $500,000 house will realize a savings of $140 on the county portion of their tax bill.
The county executive said this financial turnaround in the midst of the pandemic was due to “Expense management, debt management, fiscal discipline and a strong economic recovery.”
The discipline allowed the county to finish 2019 with a $145 million surplus, enabling it to navigate the pandemic fiscal challenges better than expected. The year 2020 also saw a $128 million surplus.
She also mentioned the bipartisan agreement with the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) to delay a debt repayment last November. This move, Curran said, saves “taxpayers $117 million in present value and decreased our total debt service by almost $65 million over the life of the transaction.”
Curran touted her administration’s ability to create spending plans without making use of the federal stimulus funds passed by Congress to help governments weather the pandemic.
“So this allows us to use federal money to directly assist our county residents, businesses and taxpayers,” she observed.
Another “fiscal mess” she proposes to fix is the pension obligation deferred by the prior administration of Ed Mangano.
“The county still owes the New York State Pension system $195 million through 2029. We will be paying off this deferral in two installments, with $155 million next year and $40 million the year after that, resulting in the county being current with its employee pension obligations for the first time in over a decade. We’re going to be doing it in two years instead of eight more.”
She concluded, “We have built a strong foundation over these past three years and we want to build on this foundation. This is a holistic, years-long approach to fix messes of the past. I’m making sure we’re on the best position possible going forward so we can handle whatever comes our way.”
In light of her constant assertions that public safety is her top priority, the county executive stated, “With this budget I am proud to increase our investment in the future of our local law enforcement and to ensure that they have the resources and training necessary to perform their work at the highest level and continue to work at the highest level.”
The budget proposes $45 million in new spending and 70 additional positions at the police department, probation, sheriff’s office and other public safety agencies.
“If approved, we will be expanding the number of sworn officers for the first time since 2009,” she pointed out. “Our budget also includes funds for two police classes and two corrections officers classes.”
Curran again mentioned the US News & World Report designation of Nassau County as the safest community in the United States in 2020.
“With this investment we plan to do everything we can to keep it that way,” she said. “And while crime in other parts of the country and even other parts of the state has spiked, major crime has continued to go down since that 2020 safest community designation.”
Curran thanked Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and the law enforcement officers here in Nassau County “for helping us to get us here.”
“Today’s announcement by County Executive Curran will greatly benefit the police department by allowing us to continue to hire police officers now and in the future,” said Ryder in a statement. “This investment in law enforcement will allow us to allocate proper personnel as we continue to decrease crime to historic lows to keep Nassau County the safest community in the United States.”
A spokesperson for the Republican Majority said members will need to study Curran’s proposed budget before commenting.
Legislature Minority Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D–Freeport) said in a statement, “We are encouraged by the county executive’s vision for delivering long-term, reoccurring tax relief to residents. The Minority Caucus will closely review this budget proposal to ensure that the needs of Nassau taxpayers will be met in the most optimal and efficient manner possible.”