A Nassau legislative hearing to review the county’s $2.6 billion 2012 budget turned chaotic early Friday afternoon when residents and MTA Long Island Bus drivers refused to cede the floor, demanding more time to be heard during a 30-minute public comment session.
Peter Schmitt, a Republican from Massapequa and the county Legislature’s presiding officer, walked out of the meeting, only to return a half-hour later. Meanwhile, Grover Howell, union chairman of MTA Long Island Bus and a driver, railed against a decision by County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican from Bethpage, to privatize the municipal bus system, which serves upward of 100,000 riders annually.
Grover and many others at the hearing said the county, by all appearances, has already hired Veolia Transportation, even though the Legislature has yet to approve a contract with the Illinois-based company. Grover demanded to know when a public hearing would be held on the matter. He noted that the county has severed ties with MTA Long Island Bus and needs a new carrier to take over its routes by Jan. 1, 2012, or there will be no bus system. The county, he said, has no choice but to hire Veolia, because it has no other carrier lined up.
Grover said no one knows precisely what to expect with a private carrier like Veolia. Routes could be eliminated or fares hiked, he said.
“They’re in the business of making money,” he argued.
Schmitt said a public hearing and vote on the Veolia contract would be held once the Legislature receives it from Mangano’s office. Democratic legislators said they expect to receive the contract in mid- to late November, after the upcoming election, in which all 19 legislative seats are up for grabs.
“All of the details [of the Veolia contract] are being held until after the election,” said Legislator David Denenberg, a Democrat from Merrick.
Schmitt said that Nassau did not cut ties with MTA Long Island Bus. Rather, it was the other way around. He said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority demanded a $26 million subsidy for the bus system, while imposing a $100 million annual commuter tax on Nassau residents.