Citizens for a Better Nassau
May 27, 2022
The county’s irrational aversion to debt financing of long-lived capital projects has resulted in negative consequences for taxpayers and our quality of life, and it must end. This repeated mistake has cost our community. It has been clear for a long time that Nassau County does not follow best practices in government finance when it comes to its capital budget, despite the advice of a government finance expert, who in 2007 conducted an economic sustainability study.
To start, our area is the fifth fastest-growing county in a rapidly growing state, and the county’s lack of employing best practices has resulted in a massive capital deficit in funding for an array of infrastructure needed for a county that has experienced this type of growth for decades. The great myth here is that the need for infrastructure is only a recent phenomenon due to our population increase. However, the lack of roads, parks, and other infrastructure west of Amelia Island has existed for more than 20 years and predates the recent population increases and the widening of S.R. 200. Yet, we paid cash for the new sheriff’s complex and emergency operations center, public school projects and roads, and we continue to avoid general obligation bonds for capital expenditures all the way through a historically low interest rate environment.
Second, the lack of bond financing has cannibalized the county’s operating budget to pay for capital projects, making the operating budget unsustainable and requiring multiple tax increases on current taxpayers for several years in a row. Despite multiple tax millage increases coinciding with a period of huge property value increases, the county remains relatively broke and still has a huge capital deficit.
The third, and probably the most galling consequence of paying cash for long-lived capital assets, is penalizing current taxpayers by laying the burden on us for subsidizing future growth. One of the axioms of proper growth management is that future growth should pay for itself, as the nature of most capital projects is that they serve multiple generations. Every future projection of population in Nassau County is that we’re going to have far more citizens in the future than we have today – shouldn’t future generations that benefit from these capital investments help pay for them? Financing long-term capital projects without the use of debt is unfair to current residents. It means that current residents pay for benefits for new residents, and this strategy has been largely condemned by studies of outside experts the county has hired.
Finally, the county desperately needs to broaden and diversify its tax base by attracting private capital investment for industrial and commercial uses, but I am perplexed as to why the county hired an economic development director when we already have the Nassau County Economic Development Board (NCEDB). Are we building a taxpayer-funded fiefdom? Observers of economic development in the county would point out that it has an extremely poor track record when it comes to landing large private capital investments and job-creating projects. The county chased away the NCEDB’s last chief executive who worked tirelessly to put Nassau County on the map. For this reason alone, we need to question having an economic development function reporting up through the county manager and commission. Do we want to continue to politicize the one effort that can help us broaden our tax base and address our jobs-to-housing imbalance?
Once the county starts actively addressing these issues, we will all enjoy a positive effect – the relationship between the quality of our future growth and our fiscal health improves. We have the ability to make our county less reliant on residential property taxes to fund all government services while increasing our resiliency to future economic downturns. This would tremendously benefit current and future residents, and we will all benefit from the county taking serious and measurable steps toward addressing these issues that have hamstrung us for years.
Actions speak much louder than words. Let’s hope the county addresses these major issues as soon as possible.
Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.