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Vote for Nassau County Voter Referendum Bill Set for August 1, 2011

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Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano signs the Nassau Coliseum referendum bill into law on May 31, 2011 as New York Islanders owner Charles Wang looks on (credit: Mona Rivera/1010WINS)

In Nassau County, there will be a voter referendum on Monday, August 1, 2011, asking voters to approve or reject a bill passed and signed into law on May 31, 2011 that aims to raise $400 million in bonds to finance the construction of a new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a minor league ballpark, and various infrastructure improvements in the surrounding area.

Several individuals and groups have
stated their support for the plan to rebuild the Coliseum, home to the New York
Islanders. For example, Islander players, fans, and owner all agree that this
development plan has numerous benefits for both the team and Nassau County. Mike
Mottau, an Islander defenseman, said, “We deserve better. It’s impossible
right now to attract free agents…building a new arena
would return this franchise to where it belongs.” Robert Valli, the founder of a group called Save the Coliseum, stated
that he believes the plan to be a “long-term solution” while Charles Wang,
owner of the Islanders, expressed his enthusiasm
for the plan as he stated that he would be forced to relocate the team if a new
arena was not built.

Labor union heads, local business
owners, and jobless Long Islanders also share the sentiment that the plan will
be beneficial for Nassau County. They insisted that if the Islanders left the
Coliseum because a new arena was not constructed in time, local businesses
might be forced to close and many residents would lose their jobs. On the other
hand, rebuilding the Coliseum would create anywhere from 1,000 to 3,500 new
jobs for residents. County Executive Mangano also explained that as well as
creating new jobs, the new arena would bolster the local economy because it
would attract “big musical acts, major events requiring exhibition space, new players
to Long Island’s only major league sports team and economic stimulus for the
County.”

However, while several individuals
and groups are enthusiastic about this idea, many people have doubts about various
aspects of the project. As this project would cost the average Nassau County
homeowner an additional $50 a year, some residents have expressed their
skepticism about the taxpayer-funded plan.

According to CBS New York, resident Kathy
Gianpapa commented, “From the taxpayers? No, I think we’ve been pushed to the
limit.” Rase Denny, another resident, agreed, declaring, “To go out and borrow
$400 million now I think is very unwise.” Furthermore, some residents are
dissatisfied because the vote is non-binding which means that even if they vote
against the project, the county can choose to ignore the result.

For these reasons as well as others,
some legislators hold the same skepticism towards the project as their
constituents do. Several have also stated their doubts and have raised various
concerns about the project. Democratic legislators indicated that while they
support investments that created jobs such as the construction of a new
Coliseum and keeping the Islanders on Long Island, they believe, according to Legislator
Wayne Wink, “the cost…the matter, and…the timing” are questionable.

One aspect of the bill that Democratic
legislators found to be of concern was the date of the referendum. Due to various
factors such as the fact that the referendum is being held on a Monday – not a
Tuesday when elections are typically held – and is in August when schools are
usually closed and school districts are doing repairs or construction, legislators
believe that a low voter turnout is almost guaranteed and that the result would
not be an accurate portrayal of what the electorate thinks. Additionally, this
special election would cost the county more than $2 million.

For these reasons, the Democrats
proposed to have the referendum in conjunction with either Election Day on
November 8 or Primary Day on September 13, according to Examiner.com, to “erase
or lower the cost of holding the election, to give more time to the electorate
to study the issues, and to have greater participation.”

However, these amendments were
rejected which led to the Democrats questioning why it was necessary to rush a
vote on August 1 as the project will take about four years to complete. They
indicated that the referendum being pushed back to September or even November would
not adversely affect when the project would begin as construction would not
start before spring 2012.

Legislators also pointed out that
they wanted more time to think about the plan because, according to Legislator
Kevan Abrahams, they neither had “the resources in front of them now in order
to vote” nor any information on the set up of the proposal, the contracts, and
construction season. A few also stated that it would be helpful to wait until
critical questions, such as those concerning the arrangement for revenue
sharing and whether the County’s share would be set aside in an account
specifically for repaying the County’s debt, were answered. 

However, despite these concerns,
Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt dismissed questions about the project, stating
that it was “not timely now” and the questions were for another time, “when the
item moves forward.”
 


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