Nassau legislature approves $106 million in cuts to real estate, parking fees

The Nassau County Legislature voted Friday to eliminate $106 million in real estate and traffic fees, with all 11 members of the Republican caucus voting for the cuts, and the eight Democratic caucus members abstaining.

The votes in the Republican-led legislature came after Democratic County Executive Laura Curran proposed a commission to study the fee issue.

The Republican-sponsored bills would eliminate a $55 public safety fee for traffic tickets and a $355 fee to verify a property’s section, block and lot, while reducing a $300 mortgage recording fee to $50.

Curran’s $3.5 billion budget proposal for 2022 relies in part on $106.45 million in revenues from the fees.

Curran, who is seeking reelection against Republican Bruce Blakeman, a Hempstead Town Council member, has not said whether she would veto the Republican bills.

All 19 seats in the county legislature also are up for election.

Curran did not comment after the votes Friday.

Meanwhile, the prospects for Curran’s proposal to provide $375 payments to many county residents remained unclear Friday.

Curran had pressed the GOP on Thursday to schedule a vote on her payments plan at the emergency session, but the issue did not come up Friday.

Republicans tabled the measure Monday after calling it up at the legislature’s regular meeting.

Republicans introduced legislation to cut county fees on Sept. 13, two days before Curran proposed her 2022 spending plan.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) warned at Friday’s emergency legislative meeting that Republicans were opening a more than $100 million “hole in the budget,” without putting “forward any level of amendments to support that.”

Abrahams and other Democrats pressed for time for Curran’s proposed committee to discuss the fee issue.

Curran issued a statement before the vote saying she and legislative Democrats would a “County Workgroup which will take a look at current fees and their impact on the long-term financial stability of Nassau. I invite the Majority to participate in this review as well, with an eye towards having recommendations by January 15th.”

Abrahams said, “we in the minority feel that it is prudent, especially at this point, and at this juncture, to not plug any holes into this budget.”

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) argued: “The option today is simple. You can talk all you want about forming a commission, or a committee, or whatever it is. We have an opportunity today to provide lasting financial relief to our taxpayers and our residents. If you vote no, if you abstain, [or] the county executive vetoes this, that will not take place.”

Nicolello continued: “In the next three months, people are going to be buying houses, people are going to be filing mortgage satisfactions, they’re going to be refinancing, so while we wait and dither here at the County, … what’s going to happen is these people are going to be stuck with those fees.”

Republicans called the emergency legislative meeting after Democrats blocked a vote on the fee cuts Monday.

Nicolello has said the county’s fiscal position has improved since the fees were imposed and later raised, and Nassau can now afford to implement the cuts.

Also in March 2020, a State Supreme Court Justice ruled the tax map verification fee was an unlawful tax.

The county is appealing the ruling.

Nicolello and Republicans said it given such uncertainty, it was inappropriate for Curran to continue budgeting such fees.

But Abrahams argued Friday that, “if we were going to be a great savior of Superman stature, these fee reductions could’ve been easily proposed by the Majority” in March 2020, instead of just weeks before the budget must be approved, and elections are held.

If Curran vetoes the fee cuts, a supermajority of 13 legislators would be needed for an override.

Republicans control the chamber by a margin of 11-8.

County legislators have been divided over the fees since as far back as 2010, when former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, was in office.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have voted over the years to approve some fee increases, a review of legislative records shows.

Also Friday, county legislators unanimously approved a bill to bar county elected officials from sending mass mailers to county residents within 45 days of a county election.

Christin Hakim

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