Nassau County comptroller is one of three major positions that will be decided on Election Day, Nov. 7. Republican Steve Labriola and Democrat Jack Schnirman are the major party candidates. North Woodmere resident Laurence “Seth” Hirsh is running on the Green Party line.
The Herald asked the two major party candidates key questions in advance of the voters’ decision.
Herald: How do define the role of county comptroller?
Steve Labriola: The comptroller acts as the taxpayer’s watchdog. When elected it will be my job to review contracts and audit expenditures from Nassau County’s $3 billion budget. It will also be my responsibility to guarantee accountability, strengthen transparency, create efficiencies, and root out corruption through the power of audit. The comptroller is elected to ensure checks and balances on the executive and legislative branches. In addition, my role is to report on the fiscal health of the county’s finances and to compile the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The comptroller also administers payroll and health benefits. My role as comptroller will be to restore the taxpayer’s trust by showing exactly where their money is being spent, by whom and for whom.
Jack Schnirman: Nassau County has a corruption problem and this costs taxpayers money. As Nassau County Comptroller I will end the culture of corruption to save taxpayers money and make sure we invest in the services that we all care about. The role of comptroller is to be the independent watchdog on the county’s finances to save taxpayer dollars.
The first point in my plan is to open up and modernize the county’s finances so that everyone knows exactly where the county is and where it is going. We will use scorecards to make sure that progress is tracked and everyone knows how each project within the county is doing.
The second point of my plan is to do independent audits to ask tough questions. I will be an independent watchdog to make sure that the county operates efficiently and saves taxpayer dollars.
The third point of the plan is to clean up and reform the county contracting system. Right now it takes too long for non-profits and contractors to get paid and there is too little oversight. We need to reform the contracting system to get Nassau’s finances back on track.
The last point in my plan is to involve the public. If you report it, we’ll reform it. The best way to make sure that taxpayers get the most out of county government is to get their feedback and make sure that action is taken based upon that feedback.
H: What would you do to help ensure the county is on solid financial footing?
Labriola: Nassau County has come a long way from its dark days, financially. In fact, three separate credit ratings agencies have given Nassau an A or A+ rating. We must keep moving in that direction. I have a comprehensive plan to keep the county on solid financial footing in the future. As comptroller, I will closely monitor the assumptions, risks and liabilities of the adopted budget and report my findings to the people, and the other branches of government. When elected comptroller I will create a whistle-blower hotline so that residents and employees can anonymously report waste, fraud and abuse. I will create an anti-fraud unit to investigate those reports. I will also create a vendor-experience database to monitor county vendors and prevent tax dollars from going towards shady businesses. Finally, I will double the number of audits to make sure no one rips-off the taxpayers on my watch.
Schnirman: The first step to putting the county on solid financial footing is to have an honest conversation about the county’s finances. We will utilize software to make everything is easily accessible and understandable so that everyone knows where the county is at.
Then we will create scorecards to track the progress of the county’s finances and make steps towards getting back on solid footing. I am fully prepared to present realistic solutions to fix Nassau’s broken system.
Tough decisions are required to clean up the corrupt mess left by the Mangano administration. In Long Beach, we made significant reductions in spending, developed and grew new revenue streams, negotiated labor concessions, and right-sized our work force. These are the types of hard choices that need to be made on the county level.
H: How quickly can you expedite the end of fiscal oversight by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority?
Labriola: County executive candidate Jack Martins and I have pledged to free the county from Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) control within two years. NIFA holds the county to a more conservative accounting standard than any other municipality in the state. The county will meet NIFA’s financial standards and eliminate the NIFA GAAP deficit. I have a proven track record of delivering for taxpayers, whether it was helping to bring property tax relief through the creation of the STAR program or when I fought the largest tax hike in NYS history, and I plan to do the same here. Experienced public servants like Jack Martins and myself will be able to navigate NIFA’s requirements and work with our partners in state government to ultimately remove NIFA and restore fairness to our residents by fixing the assessment system and the unfair tax certiorari process in Nassau County.
Schnirman: NIFA has been around for far too long and the only way that we can end NIFA is to fix the county’s finances. This is the work I have done throughout my career and look forward to doing as comptroller. Without fixing the finances we cannot simply get rid of NIFA. There are those that want to get rid of NIFA simply to end the oversight they provide and continue the culture of corruption in Nassau. We have to do the work to end corruption and move our finances in the right direction so that we can end NIFA.
H: How could you check what is viewed as abuses regarding county contracts?
Labriola: As the Reform Party candidate, I believe we need to look to innovative reforms and best practices from around the region to combat the challenges of the contracting process. As a state assemblyman, I helped draft reforms to ethics laws and vendor disclosures that help fight waste, fraud and abuse.
One of the first initiatives I will enact when elected is the creation of a vendor-experience database where county departments can review a comprehensive list of vendor disclosures and avoid doing business with vendors who do not meet Nassau’s standards. I also strongly believe in term limits for all county elected officials so that no one can amass too much power to compromise the controls we put in place.
By applying my experience, when I was chief deputy comptroller, and my four-point reform plan, I will ensure the contract process is streamlined and monitored closely. Vendors who violate the terms of contracts and deliverables will be audited and if wrong-doing is found, they will be prosecuted.
Schnirman: The county contracting system has been crying out for reform for years. District Attorney Madeline Singas has laid out reforms for the county contracting system that have largely fallen on deaf ears. DA Singas needs partners in county government who will work with her to actually move these reforms forward.
The contracting process both takes too long and has too little oversight. We must increase oversight and transparency in the contracting system while also making it more efficient so that vendors and nonprofits are paid on time and we attract businesses to work with Nassau County.