Report: Monroe County remains in fiscal stress

Monroe County is one of four counties statewide to remain in fiscal stress for two or more consecutive years, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli revealed this week.

DiNapoli’s office releases fiscal stress scores on municipalities, excluding New York City, twice annually. The latest round of scores identified 19 local governments designated in fiscal stress, including six counties, four cities and nine towns, based on the financial information of local governments operating Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020.

“New York’s local governments have overcome some major fiscal hurdles during the COVID-19 pandemic,” DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday. “Federal assistance, the restoration of state aid and resurging revenue have provided them much-needed relief. However, those designated as stressed are less likely to have the flexibility to adapt to fiscal challenges long term. Local officials must budget and plan carefully to avoid fiscal stress and manage their communities through the uncertainties created by the pandemic.”

Some 30 entities ended 2020 in some sort of fiscal stress, the report shows. In this latest round, the city of Poughkeepsie (fiscal stress score of 78.3), the city of Niagara Falls (72.1) and the town of Caneadea (65.4) are in the highest-ranking designation of “significant stress.” The counties of Suffolk and Westchester, the city of Glen Cove and the town of Yates were in “moderate stress.”

Those designated as being “susceptible to fiscal stress” are the counties of Broome, Monroe, Nassau and Oneida, the towns of Centerville, Clarkstown, Colonie, Fort Covington, Pulteney, Sherman and Southport, as well as the city of Albany.

The Office of the New York State Comptroller (OSC) noted that the pandemic that began in March 2020 had a significant impact on local government operations. In the spring and summer of 2020, “revenue projections for many local governments were dire as sales tax collections plummeted, local revenue sources such as parking, recreation and courts were severely diminished, portions of state aid were withheld without guarantee of restoration and concern about the availability of even the most stable revenues — such as the property tax — was high.”

DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System was implemented in 2013 to keep the public informed about the factors impacting local governments’ financial health. The system evaluates local governments on financial indicators including year-end fund balance, cash-on-hand, short-term borrowing, fixed costs and patterns of operating deficits and creates fiscal stress scores.

FSMS also evaluates information such as population trends, poverty and unemployment in order to establish a separate “environmental” score for each municipality.

In fiscal terms, 2021 looks brighter for many local governments, according to the report. Some state aid that had been withheld was repaid early in the calendar year 2021, and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 supplemented revenues lost due to COVID-19 with direct payments to most local governments, to be distributed in two payments over the current and next federal fiscal years.

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‘Fiscally stressed’ Monroe County shows improvement

monroe county logoMonroe County continues to rank among the most fiscally stressed communities statewide, a new report from the state comptroller’s office shows, but the county’s scorecard has improved significantly over the last two years.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System designated 25 municipalities across the state as fiscally stressed. Further, the report singles out 10 communities as having “significant fiscal stress.” Monroe County falls into this group.

Out of a possible 100 points, with zero being the least fiscally stressed and 100 being the most fiscally stressed, Monroe County received a score of 69.2. The county’s worst marks were in its 2017 year end fund balance areas.

At year end, Monroe County’s total fund balance of $39.14 million was 3.04 percent of its gross expenditures of $1.287 billion, according to the report.

The county’s cash ratio also received poor marks. Monroe County ended 2017 with cash and investments of $96.87 million, 35.04 percent of its net liabilities of $276.46 million.

“These ‘fiscal stress’ scores are bogus metrics invented by Albany that only tell us what we already know—the state’s pass-the-buck approach to governing places an incredible burden on local governments and taxpayers,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said in an emailed response. “While Albany continues to make it harder for local governments, residents and businesses to succeed, Monroe County’s credit rating is now all As for the first time in a decade, the county budget ran a $12 million surplus in 2017 and the county property tax rate hasn’t increased a penny in more than ten years.

“Instead of adopting Albany’s tax-and-spend ways, Monroe County will remain focused on growing more jobs, building better, flat-tax budgets and supporting stronger families across our community,” Dinolfo added.

Despite the “significant” rating for Monroe County’s fiscal stress, the data has improved steadily over the last couple of years. For the 2016 year end, the county received a score of 78.8, while for 2015, Monroe County earned a score of 82.1.

“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,” DiNapoli said. “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 monitoring system, which was implemented in 2013, evaluates local governments on nine financial indicators and creates a fiscal stress score. Indicators assess fund balance, cash-on-hand, short-term borrowing, fixed costs and patterns of operating deficits. The system also evaluates population trends, poverty and unemployment in order to determine a separate environmental score.

Of a possible score of 100, where 100 is the worst environment and 0 is the best, Monroe County received a score of 16.7.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer