By ADAM SCHRADER
Published in The Island Now on Oct. 18, 2017
County Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said local elections always involve pocketbook issues like taxes.
“I was expecting to hear more about corruption,” Nicolello said. “In other areas of the county that may be more of an issue, but I’m not hearing that in North Hempstead.”
Nicolello is running against challenger Mal Nathan for his 12th term in a district that covers parts of New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Mineola, the Willistons and Albertson, and parts of Roslyn and Manhasset.
The incumbent, who serves as the deputy majority leader of the Nassau County Legislature, defeated Nathan 66 percent to 34 percent — 6,250 to 3,246 — in the 2015 election.
All majority legislators are running based on their fiscal record, Nicolello said. He said Republicans would like to continue their work in improving county finances.
“We’ve reduced the structural deficit by $70 million. We’ve cut the number of employees by 22 percent since 2000,” Nicolello said. “Our debt while this has been going on is less than when we took over. At the same time, we’ve held on to taxes for the last seven years.”
However, Nicolello said there’s “probably not anything” county legislators can do to reduce taxes.
“Holding the line in taxes, that’s what you try to do,” Nicolello said. “The county’s portion of taxes is down to 16 percent and it’s been diminishing over the last couple of years.”
Nicolello also criticized for the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a public benefit corporation created by the New York State Legislature in 2000 as part of a bailout that saved Nassau from bankruptcy. NIFA monitors and oversees the county’s finances and approves its budgets.
“Everywhere else in the state, bond premium can be used to pay operating expenses,” Nicolello said. “If you’re going to apply rules to every other municipality, they should also apply to the county.”
Madeline Singas, the Nassau County district attorney, proposed establishing an independent inspector general in the wake of an investigation into Nassau’s contracting procedures following former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’s indictment.
“This has nothing to do with the prosecution of crimes,” Nicolello said. “She’s simply wading herself into the political arena, which is her prerogative.”
Counties are one of the few municipalities that have an elected comptroller, Nicolello said. The comptroller oversees the county’s operations, including its contracting operations and audits.
“The inspector general they want to create would have virtually unlimited power within the county budget,” Nicolello said. “It would be an appointed position that’s not accountable to anybody.”
Nicolello said he’s skeptical of having an inspector general whose six-year term would surpass that of the county executive’s.
“You could have George Maragos, who I think is horrendous. That person could sit there for six years and be untouchable,” Nicolello said. “You chose a bad apple, and you’re stuck with incredible havoc.”
Nicolello said the county has already taken a number of steps to ensure the integrity of the county’s contracts and business dealings, like political and financial disclosures.
“We’ve added resources to the commissioner of investigations, appointed [by] the county executive,” Nicolello said. “We have a procurement director, who now looks at every contract.”
In state and federal governments, inspector generals oversee similar investigations into things like corruption.
“Cuomo has one; the mayor has one. They are appointed by the mayor and governor,” Nicolello said. “Which is what we have.”
A redistricting commission voted 10-9 to create 12 districts with a Republican majority and seven with a Democratic majority in 2003, even though Democrats had a majority of registered voters. Republicans held a 10-9 majority in the county Legislature before redistricting. Gerrymandering is currently before the Supreme Court.
“I’m not going to be affected when they do it the next time, so this is purely philosophical,” Nicollelo said. “I would think it would be as political when you have a nonpartisan commission redrawing the lines as it is now.”
Nicolelllo, who has served in the Legislature for 22 years, said that if he wins the seat, he may considering running one last time.
“I’m the poster child of term limits,” Nicolello said. “But I think they should combine term limits with longer terms.”
Nicolello suggested that legislators be limited to three four-year terms instead of an unlimited number of two-year terms.
Balkanization is a “major problem” in Nassau County, Nicolello said, particularly when it comes to economic development. But he said it is a state issue that the county has no control over.
“All of the zoning powers are with the localities, so we can’t do anything about it,” Nicolello said. “We’re all answerable to the state as creations of the state. The constituents don’t understand sometimes that we can’t override what the village or the school is doing.”