Westchester County Put on ‘Significant Fiscal Stress’ List

John Jordan | September 2018

Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller

ALBANY—Westchester County was among four counties statewide to be characterized as under “significant fiscal stress” according to a report released by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Tuesday.

The State Comptroller’s Annual Fiscal Stress Monitoring System report designated 25 municipalities statewide as being fiscally stressed. Also making the significant fiscal stress list were Nassau and Suffolk counties and upstate Monroe County, as well as the cities of Niagara Falls, Poughkeepsie and Watervliet and the towns of German Flatts, Oyster Bay and Parish.

The stress monitoring system report results were mixed with 10 counties, six cities and nine towns listed in stress, which marked the third-straight decline in the overall number of municipalities listed in stress. The number of local governments considered to be in “significant fiscal stress,” however, more than doubled over the prior year.

“Fewer local governments are considered fiscally stressed, but those with persistent financial problems are struggling to stay out of the red and fix their problems,” says State Comptroller DiNapoli. “While the results may be encouraging in some areas, there are municipalities that should focus on near-term financial risks and implement more prudent long-term planning.”

The latest round of scores was based on 2017 financial information provided to DiNapoli’s office by local governments as of Sept. 5, 2018 and includes only municipalities with fiscal years ending on Dec. 31, 2017. In New York, all counties and towns, 44 cities and 10 villages have a calendar-based fiscal year— a total of 1,043 communities.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said in response to the State Comptroller putting the county on the “significant financial stress” list, “It has been apparent to objective observers that Westchester County is facing serious fiscal problems due to recent past fiscal policies; the Comptroller’s fiscal stress report points out in brief what we expect will be spelled out in greater detail when the results of their five-year audit (2013-2017) of Westchester County is released.”

Latimer in a prepared statement clearly put the blame squarely on the former administration of Robert Astorino for the county’s current fiscal woes. “For almost a decade, the prior leadership used the reserve fund, one-shot revenues and drastic staff reductions to deliver on an ideological commitment rather than prudently developing a steady stream of revenue,” he says. “It is unstainable to have an unrealistic revenue policy—as the Comptroller’s report now points out. This problem didn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t going to be fixed overnight.”

Six communities have been listed in the second-highest category of “moderate fiscal stress.” These include: Franklin and Rockland counties; and the cities of Albany and Plattsburgh. Rockland County Executive Ed Day noted that the latest report moves the county off the “significant fiscal stress” list and is a clear sign his budget reform efforts are bearing fruit.

“Moving from the New York State Comptroller’s ‘Significant Fiscal Stress’ list to the ‘Moderate Fiscal Stress’ list is yet another affirmation that Rockland County’s finances are improving. We made the hard choices and it is rewarding to see them recognized by the Comptroller’s Office,” said County Executive Day.

He added, “Strict budgeting, careful cost-benefit analysis and responsible long-term planning have been the cornerstones of my administration’s policies. And while we have made significant progress, we still have a long way to go until we reach full financial strength. I will continue to make the decisions necessary to keep Rockland County on a strong fiscal track.”

An additional nine municipalities were listed as “susceptible to fiscal stress.” Those are: the counties of Broome, Clinton, Erie and Onondaga; the city of Fulton; and the towns of Clarkstown, Covert, Dayton and Elmira.

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth