State Comptroller clears draft county budget; praises Day’s fiscal strategy

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – On all important items, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli cleared Rockland County’s draft budget for the 2015 fiscal year, offering only minor suggestions in the area of anticipated revenues.

According to a report issued last Wednesday, the major revenues and expenditures outlined in the $772 million budget proposal are largely reasonable. The sole exception is a possible revenue shortfall brought about by the expiration of the county’s mortgage recording tax law on February 21, 2015.

“The county may have a $2.9 million revenue shortage if it does not renew its law establishing a county mortgage recording tax,” The report states. “If the Legislature does not renew the law, county officials will have to find another source of revenue to cover this shortfall.”

At the same time, the report confirms the county’s 2 percent tax increase falls within the state tax levy limit. If the budget is passed in its current form, Rockland will rake in about $108 million in property taxes. The report is good news for the county, which has been struggling to boost its credibility in fiscal circles since over-estimations of revenue led to a fiscal crisis, pushed its bond ratings close to junk status and landed it in the spot of the most fiscally-stressed county in the state.

The report is also a step forward for the county’s reputation as a lender. Moody’s upgraded Rockland’s general obligation bond rating to Baa2 in July and cited significant improvement in the county’s budgeting practices.

Rating agencies and investors have looked positively on the county’s efforts to set aside $10 million for annual deficit reduction. That effort, along with promised oversight from the Comptroller, helped Rockland to sell $96 million in deficit financing bonds in March for a net price of $107 million.

Though the cuts have made a positive impact in financial circles, they have worried county employees. The effort to preserve the $10 million led in part to 111 proposed eliminations of county positions, including 37 to the County Sheriff’s Department.