Checking In With County Executive Ed Mangano
By Michele Justic
When I had last met with County Executive Ed Mangano a few years ago, his mission was simply stated yet complicated to fulfill: restore Nassau County’s fiscal stability. Over the years, he has managed for the most part to accomplish that goal through increasing tourism initiatives and decreasing burdensome taxes. This allowed businesses and households to keep more revenue, which would lead to spending in a healthy economic model.
Superstorm Sandy challenged our notions of what government can and should do to protect and assist residents, and there were many lessons learned for future preparation. But last week’s announcement that the Forest City Ratner Companies, led by executive chairman Bruce Ratner, won the bid for rebuilding Nassau Coliseum was a milestone indicating that Nassau is not only recovering from the storm but will surpass previous expectations.
At last week’s press conference, it was reported that Ratner will spend $229 million to renovate the aging Coliseum into a 13,000-seat state-of-the-art arena. Plans go far beyond the stadium, including an outdoor amphitheater, ice-skating rink, and a separate theater with 2,000 seats, as well as restaurants and a bowling alley. This plan holds much for sports fans and non-sports-fans to celebrate. Potential sporting events include hockey, football, boxing, and more. Family entertainment will also be a major attraction. Economically, it is a huge boost—Forest City Enterprises intends to pay the county a minimum of $195 million over the 34 years of the lease. Ratner promised to bring 2,700 jobs with the project, and more than $11 billion in revenue to the local economy and proclaimed himself a “union-only company.”
Besides for the beautiful renderings of the proposed building, and the proven success of Ratner in creating the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, the bid was chosen over that of Madison Square Garden because it gives the county a cut of gross revenue, while under the MSG plan the county earned money on ticket sales alone. Some 300 events are expected, most already booked, for the new Coliseum.
Indeed, it was an exciting time for County Executive Ed Mangano and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who are coming through a grueling year of trying to repair the damage—to property and to morale.
We can never forget Superstorm Sandy, which came to our shores around this time last year, an uninvited, unwanted guest that long outstayed its welcome. Nassau’s infrastructure and its emergency-response system were put to the limit. Evacuations had been encouraged and many storm shelters were in place, including those for the Orthodox, those with pets, and those with special needs. Yet most chose to ride out the storm and merely stock up on staples, gas, and cash. No one could have predicted the longevity of the effects (some houses unlivable for months afterward) as well as the scope (90% of residents losing power).
In our meeting, the county executive stressed that thanks to the excellent work of the first responders, emergency management crew, volunteer firefighters, and police officers, there was minimal loss of life. Regarding the recovery, the first priority still needed to remain preserving life, making sure hospitals and fire departments, as well as those with critical health needs, received the most attention. The county set up many stations with hot food, laundry machines, and cleaning supplies, to ease some of the immediate suffering. The business interruption, homelessness, and infrastructure disruption proved to be a major frustration that extended much beyond what anyone could have prepared for. In that regard, the county has emergency managers traveling all over, learning how to be better prepared for major storms. Non-electric traffic lights and backup lighting are being prepared, and the county plans on having a greater stock of emergency supplies.
I was pleased to learn that, thanks to federal funds and a county surplus, the storm did not set the county back too much financially. In addition, County Executive Mangano proudly stands by his policy to not raise property taxes and has submitted his fourth consecutive budget to that effect. Mangano also eliminated the home energy tax. His efforts at rightsizing government, making it 20 percent smaller, recently earned the county the top award for local government efficiency in New York State, and that award included $5 million as its prize.
By resisting the urge to raise taxes, the Mangano team has created a turnaround in the economy. The county executive exclaims, “Companies are coming back. Our policies are working. We have seen high job growth, increased sales-tax revenue, and low unemployment.” One achievement he boasts of is the Hain Celestial worldwide organic food company, which now has its headquarters in Nassau. Thanks to his efforts, there is also a marked increase of film production on the island.
While the Coliseum news gathers the most attention, Nassau has been boosting tourism for years by public-private partnerships, including new museums and private development such as a planned stadium for the NY Cosmos soccer team, and twin ice-skating rinks for national events.
This monumental year has brought on the worst and yet brought out the best of Nassau County. Thanks to the careful planning and leadership of Ed Mangano, we can benefit from a successful economy on our beautiful island. v