Comptroller Says Suffern is “Fiscally Stressed,” Village Officials Differ

SUFFERN – A recent report by the state Comptroller’s Office lists the Village of Suffern as fiscally stressed, owing largely to ongoing troubles with financing the local sewer district.

Suffern Mayor Trish Abato expressed skepticism about the way the data had been evaluated. Her response to the comptroller’s evaluation pointed out that the report fails to separate ongoing problems with the local water and sewer districts, which produced a combined $1.3 million deficit, from the rest of the budget. The village attributes the “fiscally stressed” status to its own efforts to right itself, arguing the comptroller assigns points annually for the borrowing of revenue anticipation notes over the past few years.

“We are well aware of the situation and believe that our debt reduction plan is a responsible one,” Abato said in a press release. “The Comptroller’s Office has developed a rating system and unfortunately we don’t fit into their model.”

According to former mayor Dagan LaCorte who recently left office, the regular use of short-term funds comes with “substantial penalties” for villages and does not take into account the continued need for cash flow. “The use of short-term financing to help you over those periods over the billings at minimal cost to taxpayers gave Suffern a significant negative rating,” LaCorte explained.

LaCorte was in fundamental agreement with Abato that the comptroller’s stress test methodology penalizes governments for not maintaining large reserve funds. Suffern saw a $1.2 million surplus in 2007 and dedicated part of that sum toward long-term improvements, but the village was also hindered by lower than expected water and sewer revenues. These shortfalls were covered by $1.3 million in revenue anticipation notes.

Though Suffern has succeeded in maintaining those services in the face of larger competitors, associated expenses have held the village back for almost a decade. According to the Suffern release, updates to the water and sewer plants cost a combined $3.4 million, with $3 million going to the sewer plant alone.

Other expenses have also weighed heavily on the village. Improvements to roads and the DPW plant cost the town $4 million, while damages incurred from Sandy that were not covered by FEMA totaled $250,000.

GOP 2013 mayoral candidate James Giannettino chimed in, blaming the Democrats for the comptroller’s designation. He blasted in an email to the public, “For the last seven years I have questioned the out of control spending, borrowing and contract extensions giving raises with no pay back for the village taxpayers…Last October the then mayor and village board gave generous raises to several employees for doing a good job. I thought that’s what we expect from our employees…We the taxpayers will pay the price for their lack of action to these problems and the fact that at the last two board meetings they voted to borrow an additional $1.5 million for more spending.”

Abato maintained a positive outlook on Suffern’s future. She said, “The infrastructure investments we made in our water and sewer plants ensure that we continue to control our costs and will not be subjected to the whims and decision making of third party, for-profit entities.  Suffern is, and remains a desirable place to live and to raise a family.

“The village appreciates the comptroller’s report and applauds his office’s efforts to keep the public aware of what is happening in their local government. The Village Board has been aggressively dealing with the underlying issues. The board wants to assure the public that the village’s finances remain strong and that the Board of Trustees is committed to sound fiscal policies.”