MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The precarious finances of Nassau County may now be in jeopardy. Three verdicts awarding nearly $100 million to victims may blow a hole in the budget.
Costly court cases from the past are coming back to threaten fiscal progress and shock both the new county executive and taxpayers, according to CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.
“In 2018, I think they are headed for a fiscal disaster,” said Nassau Interim Finance Committee member Howard Weitzman, “You have three judgments now which total over $90 million – none of which were budgeted for.”
At this Port Washington intersection, a motorcyclist was critically injured in 2014. A jury just ruled the county should have installed a stoplight, not a stop sign, after Roni Kota’s left leg was amputated, resulting in a $19 million judgment.
Oceanside victim Nicolette Iacone suffered traumatic brain injury in a car accident 11 years ago. The county was found liable for failure to trim hedges or remove signs blocking the intersection, resulting in a $25 million settlement.
A third judgment, awarded to men exonerated in a wrongful imprisonment case and freed after 18 years in jail, came to $45 million.
Nassau County homeowners are outraged.
“People that run our county should be the ones held responsible,” said Peter Patrikis.
“Be vigilant on things that do need to be adjusted, need to be fixed, like stoplights,” said Christopher Eng.
“If you don’t cut hedges around stop signs, if you don’t fill pot holes, if detectives don’t do the work they are supposed to without taking shortcuts, it can have tremendous consequences,” said Lawrence Levy of the Hofstra National Center For Suburban Studies
County Executive Laura Curran’s 2019 budget and property reassessment proposals were getting good grades from some state fiscal monitors, but now taxpayers question whether the jury awards will send Nassau spiraling backward.
“Jurors don’t realize that it comes out of taxpayer money, and they sympathize with plaintiffs,” said Linda Kule.
“Wait a minute, is that a reasonable amount of money that we’re handing out, or is in just because we are emotional about the situation?” said Helen Reale.
Political watchdogs say borrowing to pay off big judgments is not sound fiscal practice and just transfers debt to our children. But since alternatives – huge property tax increase or draconian service cuts – means borrowing is probably what the county will do.