Local publications recently reported that nine financial firms put in bids to evaluate Ed Mangano’s plan to lease Nassau’s sewage treatment plants (STP) for at least $600 million. The county’s intent is to pay off $500 million of its bonds for sewer improvements and retire at least $100 million of its county-wide debt. The deal is that Nassau gets at least $600 million, a financial firm gets a guaranteed return of at least 4-8 percent for 49 years and the taxpayers get to pay it through their sewage rates/tax. Of course these firms will find it’s a great deal for Nassau—$600 million plus that is then paid back with a lot of interest by sewage tax/rate payers, who will be billed by a private investment firm. Found money at other people’s expense.
Unfortunately, we, the taxpayers are the other people. For the county to refinance its debt in a way that will hold its citizenry hostage for 49 years under monopoly conditions by an investment firm that needs to make a profit for its stockholders, is unconscionable.
Bonding for sewer projects is similar to mortgaging your home. A $500 million loan is easily manageable for a sewer system worth billions that serves 85 percent of Nassau’s residents. Municipal bonds average between 1-2 percent and are paid back by homeowners and businesses living within the sewer district through their taxes. However, under the county’s plan, the proposed investor will set our sewer rates for the next 49 years. Investors expect at least a 15 percent return for their investment. We will see our sewer rates skyrocket as sewer charges won’t be subject to the 2 percent tax cap. Nassau County will get well over $600 million, and its elected officials will tell us that they created a surplus without raising taxes—but sewer rates will skyrocket to pay off this one shot and the private investment firm’s huge profits.
Mangano needs this deal because he has driven the county into debt and he can only raise county taxes 2 percent per year. And now that Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mangano have replaced NIFA with political allies, the deal is back. Most of the NIFA members who opposed this back-door borrowing back in 2012 have been replaced with members whom favor private-public partnership, one of whom actually works for the financial firm that first sought to broker the deal. Of course, the Nassau legislature should protect the taxpayer, but the Republican majority has been nothing but Mangano’s lap dogs.
Unlike Suffolk, Nassau does not have a policy that prevents the county from using sewer district funds for county-wide purposes. So, the county can take the sewer district’s account and pay off county-wide debt. It’s unfair that only those residing in the sewer district will be paying these sewer charges to the investor, while those who do not live or do business in the district will not see this huge tax increase.
This is a very attractive proposition for both the investor and the county. The investor will be guaranteed profits from 85 percent of Nassau’s residents for the next 49 years and the county will fill its budget-gap for one year and end NIFA’s control of its finances. But the investor will never put a dime back into the STP. The current improvements and the “ideas” for ocean outfall will all be paid by the upfront lease payment to the county and the county will supposedly then have a “surplus.” And the burden will fall on us, the people.
—Claudia Borecky and Dave Denenberg, directors, LI CAWS