County Executive Laura Curran delivered a 23-minute address Thursday night that was at once hopeful, but stark in its assessment of the psychic and monetary toll the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on Nassau.
Without state and federal funding to aid in recovery, Nassau is facing a $300 million budget deficit, Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, noted. “We need state and federal support,” she said.
Sales taxes, the county executive said, are expected to fall 10 percent.
“Let’s do all we can to make sure we’re not shortchanged on federal funding when we need it most,” she said, adding that the county would take a “methodical approach to restoring our economy while preventing another outbreak.”
Normally, the State of the County address is delivered before a room full of lawmakers and dignitaries. This time, Curran was alone in the ceremonial room of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola in order to maintain social distancing.
Curran called on the federal government to rescind the cap on the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, which has cost many Long Islanders thousands of dollars annually. President Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limited the deduction to $10,000 when previously it was unlimited.
She pledged the county would not raise property taxes, despite the looming budget gap, and she said the county would protect the jobs of its current workers. At the same time, though, she said Nassau was instituting a hiring freeze and mandating all department heads to immediately develop cost-reduction plans.
She also said development of the Hub — the economic zone in the center of the county surrounding Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum — would play a critical role in helping to restore the economy locally. The Hub is slated for a series of commercial and residential development projects totaling $1.5 billion.
Covid-19 testing on a wide scale will be key to jumpstarting the economy, she said, as people need to feel safe returning to work. First responders and medical workers would be first to be tested. She also said the county has set up testing centers in the hardest-hit communities, like Freeport and Hempstead, and will soon establish one in Elmont.
She said underlying conditions like diabetes and hypertension are exacerbating the death toll in minority communities.
Curran ran through the list of programs Nassau has undertaken to address the crisis. She also offered high praise for the county’s workers. “You are showing up, and you are getting the job done,” she said.
“This crisis has revealed the heroes already among us,” Curran said.
She also took a moment to recognize “the price we have paid in precious lives,” naming a number of prominent Nassau residents who have died of Covid-19.
To their families and loved ones, she said, “We mourn and grieve with you.”
With the county interconnected with New York City, and the international travel that streams through its major airports, “The virus was destined to come here” to Nassau, Curran said.
County Legislator Steve Rhoads, who represents the 19th District, offered the response on behalf of the Legislature’s Republican majority. The county’s 1.4 million residents are “in a fight we have never been in before, and we are winning,” he said, adding, “Each of our lives has been touched on a personal level.”
“Jobless claims continue to grow,” he said, but he noted, people’s expenses remain, “even though the paycheck has stopped.”
Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore, said the GOP majority was pleased Governor Cuomo delayed school tax collections to June 1, but was disappointed that the delay was not longer. On Monday, the Legislature had voted to push back the collection to June 10. Curran, however, said the Legislature lacked the authority to do so, arguing only the governor had that power.
This fall, residents will receive their first property-tax bills under the new assessment system, Rhoads noted.
Roughly 52 percent of residents are expected to see an increase in their bills, while 48 percent will have their taxes lowered.
The new system is based on current fair market values of properties, after the previous county executive, Ed Mangano, a Republican from Bethpage, had frozen the rolls for a decade. During that period, thousands of homeowners filed for reductions in their taxes called certiorari, and in most cases won the reductions. That caused taxes to spike for those who did not file certiorari, many of whom were in low-income neighborhoods. In effect, it created an unequal taxation system.
A number of residents have complained of errors in the new system over the past year.
Rhoads said the GOP majority was committed to doing all it could to “mute the negative” of the new reassessment, though he did not offer a specific plan for doing so, saying Republican legislators would work toward a “fair, accurate assessment system.”
He also said the Republican majority was “committed to working with the county executive” to ensure critical services continue without a tax increase.