Jun 03, 2011
The Nassau County Legislature voted 11-7 on Monday to allow a referendum set for August 1st to determine whether the county can borrow up to $400 million to finance a new arena as well as a minor league baseball stadium. County Executive Edward Mangano approved the legislation immediately following the vote.
The New York Islanders are under contract to play at Nassau Coliseum through 2015, and owner Charles Wang has said that he will move the team unless a deal for a new facility is in place before that time.
The measure passed mostly along party lines, with Democratic Legislator David Denenberg voting with the Republican majority and Legislator Howard Kopel missing the vote.
Details regarding a potential contract with operators of the facilities have yet to be made available, although more details regarding the contracts will be made available in mid-June in advance of the referendum vote.
“The important thing is that residents have a voice and have an opportunity to decide if the want to underwrite the cost of a new arena,” Mike Deery, spokesman for Town of Hempstead District Three Councilman James Darcy said. “He feels strongly that the county should disseminate enough information that residents will be able to make an informed decision when they go to the polls. We’re waiting to see what the county’s details on this will be. How the debts would be repaid. All of those details are very important to the decision making process.”
Democrats in the legislature have questioned the timing of the plan, given the county’s $176 million deficit that has lead to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) taking over their finances. Even if the referendum passes, NIFA, as well as the County Legislature, must approve of the borrowing. All county spending over $50 thousand must be approved by NIFA and with the midsummer vote expected to be well in excess of that, it may also be subject to NIFA approval.
“We believe in smart development,” Owen Rumelt, the Democratic candidate for the Town of Hempstead’s Third Council District said. “There is the bigger question of whether it is being done the right way.”
With the vote scheduled for August 1st, Rumelt shared Democratic concerns about the timing of the vote and its potential cost as a midsummer election.
“To schedule a vote in the middle of the summer at the cost of $1-2 million doesn’t make sense,” Rumelt said. “They’re not allowing absentee ballots. Military can’t vote. They’re trying to suppress the vote as much as possible. They could do this on Election Day. What’s the rush?”
Republicans have countered that an August vote helps gauge public opinion sooner rather than later.
“As far as the August date, the essence of this thing is to keep moving forward,” Nassau County Legislator Fran Becker said. “It’s better to understand what’s going to happen in August than in September. It allows people to look at this thing on its own merit. In November you have all of the stuff going on where people walk into the booth and forget it’s even there. Let the people decide now.”
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