Nassau County lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a plan by Democratic County Director Laura Curran to send $ 375 county checks to many homeowners using federal pandemic assistance.
Lawmakers are also expected to consider Republican-sponsored bills that would eliminate a total of $ 100 million in real estate and traffic fees.
But the competing legislative agendas face resistance.
Curran, who is seeking re-election in November against Hempstead City Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, proposed the cash payment initiative in July.
But the majority of Republicans in the county legislature have expressed skepticism about whether the program is allowed under U.S. Treasury Department rules and whether Nassau has the ability to set up such a sweeping program in a matter of weeks.
At the same time, Curran has called the GOP fee proposal “irresponsible” for tax purposes.
Curran’s $ 3.5 billion budget proposal for 2022, announced earlier this month, is dependent on some of the fee revenue that Republicans want to reduce.
Republicans proposed the fee reductions at a legislative hearing on Sept. 13, two days before Curran formally submitted his budget plan.
The fee law would remove a $ 55 fee for public safety that was added to most traffic violations, and a $ 355 tax card fee used to verify a property’s section, block and lot.
The mortgage registration fee would drop from $ 300 to $ 50.
The charges were set under the administration of former County Governor Edward Mangano, a Republican,
In a statement to Newsday Friday, Curran spokesman Michael Fricchione accused Republicans of “seeking to defend the police by abolishing the public safety fee that provides resources for Nassau’s law enforcement.”
Fricchione claimed that Republicans, after backing what he called Mangano’s “ruthless deception, had proposed fee reductions” less than 48 hours “before Curran presented his 2022 budget.
Fricchione called the GOP move, “just an attempt to derail the county commissioner’s success in putting the county on a solid long-term economic footing.”
Fricchione did not say whether Curran would veto the bill, which was passed in committee with the unanimous support of Republicans and Democrats.
Curran administration officials say they are ready to receive applications from residents for $ 375 payments as early as this week, if the legislature approves the “Household Assistance Program” on Monday.
Curran said the payments are designed to help county residents who fought during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A team of county contractors that administration officials would not identify would run the program through an online portal.
Households earning up to $ 168,900 are eligible for the $ 375 check.
Households with an income of up to $ 500,000 were required to provide evidence of financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Documentation may include evidence of lost mortgages, non-refundable medical bills, increased child care expenses and expenses related to deaths due to COVID-19, officials said.
Curran would use $ 100 million in support from the federal U.S. Rescue Plan Act, passed in March, to fund the payments.
“We are very confident that we have the infrastructure and technology to be successful,” Sean Sallie, Deputy Commissioner for Public Works, told Newsday in an interview Friday.
Legislative President Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) warned that the county may not have the technological capabilities for the company.
Nicolello also questioned whether the program would comply with all Ministry of Finance rules and regulations.
“We still need to be happy with this issue,” Nicolello told Newsday.
“Do we need to know what their plans are to do this, or are they just creating another boondoggle?” Nicolello said.
County officials have filed a legal note with lawmakers claiming Curran’s payment program meets Treasury Department guidelines.
Blakeman has compared the individual payments to sending “peanuts” to county residents who saw their tax bills rise under Curran’s county-wide revaluation program, which went into effect in the 2020-21 tax year.
But Nicolello expressed some support for the payment concept.
“Is it small compared to some people’s tax increases?” he asked. “Yes, it’s small, but for many people in this county, it would pay for the cost of food on the table for a week or part of it, for necessary school supplies.”
All 19 legislative seats are up for election on November 2nd.
In 2020, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that the county’s $ 355 verification fee was “an illegal and unconstitutional fee.”
The county is appealing the verdict.
Nicolello said in view of the lawsuits that the Curran administration should not budget with the fee revenue.
“I think they’re playing the appeals department not reaching it – it’s a big risk,” Nicolello said. “The better course budgeting is to take these out.”
Several years ago, the Republican majority had approved some of the fees they are now seeking to abolish.
Democratic lawmakers, including Curran, who represented the Fifth District, opposed the increases.
Nicolello defended the Republicans’ initial support for the fee increases, given the alternative of reducing county services.
“We were legally insured [we could] do this, “Nicolello said last week.
Nicolello said the county’s economy is in better shape now.
“We have the option of returning that money to the taxpayers,” he said.
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