MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A critical election is coming up on Long Island, as Nassau County voters will soon pick a new county executive.
CBS2 this week is pinpointing where the candidates stand on the biggest issues. CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday on those very unpopular, ever-rising government fees.
“Illegal fees are theft,” said Brandon Muir of the Reclaim New York Initiative. “Stop stealing from Nassau County residents.”
There are fighting words at the seat of Nassau County government, where $60 million in new fees were tucked into the budget for 2018. There were hikes on everything from red light camera tickets to most real estate transactions – even closing out a mortgage would cost hundreds.
“I think it’s horrible. It’s already so expensive as it is,” one woman said.
“It just keeps going up and up and up year after year,” a man added.
Now, the nearly 1.5 million residents of Nassau County will choose who will write the next budget – with county Executive Ed Mangano facing federal corruption charges and vacating his post.
Republican Jack Martins – a former state senator, and Democrat Laura Curran – a county legislator, agree that fees can no longer be a backdoor tax.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s a tax,” Martins said. “We have the highest fees of anyone in the entire state.”
“If you take all these fees and combine them, it would – the tax cap, it would go way over what the tax cap allows,” Curran said. “So it’s really an unfair money grab.”
The fees have been called illegal because they exceed the cost of services. But how will cash-strapped Nassau County make up the difference.
CBS2 pressed the candidates for details.
“We do paper checks, and in the age of email, is that necessary? That’s over a million dollars right there – through smart management,” Curran said.
“You can start with overtime and see that our overtime numbers are several times what they should be,” Martins said. “We can find $60 million right there.”
Both Curran and Martins said they oppose raising general taxes, but differ on how to do it.
“I think we can do it by making sure that we bring a lot of those outside contracts in house, make sure that we manage every penny responsibly, and get rid of the corruption tax,” Curran said.
Curran – endorsed by Newsday – says money is being wasted on pay for play deals. Martins, who is endorsed by the New York Post and law enforcement, had a different perspective.
“We do not have a revenue problem in the county. We have a management problem, and with real leadership, we will not only be able to balance the budget – we’re going to have surpluses,” he said.
But Nassau County, still under the thumb of a state financial control board, will likely have to answer how it is making up for the shortfall after Election Day – with a new county executive immediately put to the test.
On Monday, the Nassau County Legislature approved the county budget, but without the controversial fees. All of the legislators are up for reelection next week.