Citizens for a Better Nassau
July 8, 2020
Does the county commission have taxpayers in mind?
For several years now, Citizens for a Better Nassau County has chronicled our county commission’s fiscal mismanagement. We’ve seen them time and time again plan to fail by failing to plan for the future. We’ve highlighted how the commission deferred maintenance and capital projects needed for our growing county while allowing the annual operating budget to cannibalize the capital budget. We’ve detailed examples of when our commission paid cash for long-lived assets that should have been bonded over 30 years at historically low interest rates. For a growing county, it only makes sense that future residents help pay for the assets they, too, will enjoy, rather than putting the entire burden on current taxpayers.
We watched in horror as the commission failed to update for many years the impact fees that builders pay – dollars that help ensure future growth pays for itself – even putting a moratorium on these fees during the Great Recession. Were they looking out for homebuilders or taxpayers when they did that?
More recently, we’ve seen the commission combine the two staff positions – the county manager and the county attorney – into one position, held by Mike Mullin. At the time, they touted how this action would save taxpayers money, while paying him more than $300,000 per year, making Mullin one of the highest paid county managers in the state, even though Nassau County is considerably smaller than many other counties.
Now, we’re seeing taxpayer-funded litigation costs skyrocket. Do you really think taxpayers were top of mind when the commission vested so much power in one individual claiming he would do the job of two people? Or, were they feathering his nest because he was doing their bidding?
We are all familiar with the disagreement between Nassau County and Raydient Places & Properties (Raydient) and the East Nassau Stewardship District as to who is responsible for constructing and maintaining parks in the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA). It resulted in yet another lawsuit. Recently, the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court brought clarity to this issue when it ruled in favor of Raydient in a partial summary judgment on the count pertaining to which party is responsible for the construction and maintenance of these public facilities. The court stated that while Raydient agreed to donate land for parks and other civic facilities, the “obligation to comply with all levels of service for parks and recreational facilities under the Comprehensive Plan remains with Nassau County and the BOCC.”
Wasn’t the county commission’s rationale for spending taxpayer dollars for a two-week trip to Tallahassee to protect taxpayers from costs associated with Raydient supposedly reneging on its obligation to construct and maintain all parks in the ENCPA – an obligation the court has determined never existed? And despite the court’s ruling, Mullin has even doubled down and seemingly disputed the court’s ruling at a county commission meeting on June 17. This suggests that litigation costs for taxpayers – which, according to the NCFL Independent, already stands at nearly $400,000 for their dispute against Raydient – will continue to rise.
And didn’t the county commission also hire a public relations firm using taxpayer dollars to put their spin on the dispute? Yes, they did that too.
So, here we sit in a county that has deferred maintenance to crisis levels, carries a huge capital deficit for its growing needs, such as road paving and parks, and is feeling the impacts of a global pandemic that has led to unemployment in Nassau County rising from 2.5 percent pre-pandemic to 11 percent in May. And, if you haven’t noticed, the county commission has increased your property taxes by more than 30 percent over the last two years.
All of these misguided county actions and more, too lengthy to include here, are why people are growing frustrated and question whether the county commission considers taxpayers in its decisions. Fortunately, we have an election coming up and an opportunity to elect leaders that can and do lead.
Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.